Sunday 14 January 2018

Discovering the worlds between pages

I've been very disorganised recently. Which is probably a bit of an understatement, because by disorganised I mean "pretty much useless at regular blogging" and you can translate "recently" as for the entire of 2017, plus a bit either side. For 2018 I'm not making any resolutions (been there and done that), but I am attempting to make amends.

First on my list of amends is writing about a bookshop I officially visited way back in October 2016. Had I not been back since, I think this length of time between visit and blog would probably make the review null and void, but as I've returned to Gosh! Comics several times I can confirm it's still as appealing as it was during that first, fondly-remembered visit.

As mentioned very briefly in the write-up of the bookshop crawl this was a part of, there was a time when the word 'comic' would've had me outright rejecting this as a bookshop. Age and experience have helped me to know otherwise.

Despite this change of heart, I admit graphic novels are still a relatively new addition to my reading selection, so I'm probably at the level of novice when it comes to commenting on this bookshop's contents. I could see for myself it had a great atmosphere and was bright, colourful and appealingly cool, but I had to look to others to judge the quality of the books. A quick look around told me the customers believe Gosh! is getting things right.

The shop was packed with youngsters, teens, twentysomethings and older. Admittedly the numbers of those visitors dropped as age increased, but there was a wide variety of browsers, and all were enjoying their chosen area of bookshelf.

The comics area downstairs was inevitably popular, but on the ground floor the graphic novel is king and that was where I felt most at home. Graphic novels are as familiar as books, and while I may not have known much about the authors and styles I decided to follow the lead of others, looking at what appeared to be most popular on the recommendations tables, or waiting to find a space near the busiest shelves. It seemed a good place to start and helped me to familiarise myself with the books and the sections.

It also paid off, because when I eventually did find my way to the front of the crowd near what happened to be the busiest shelves during that first visit I spotted a copy of Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. It had been recommended to me by a friend who I already knew to have excellent reading taste, so I like to think bookshop fate played its part in leading me to it – and more purchases since.

As a dedicated traditional book buyer, I admit graphic novels are a concept I'm getting used to in a slow burn sort of way. They'll never replace regular books for me but they are becoming a fine addition to my reading habit, and likewise I'd hope regular books will play a similar role for those who were encouraged into reading via the path of graphic novels.

Gosh! Comics must also have a valuable part to play in this journey, introducing even more readers to the endless possibilities of worlds between pages.

Gosh! Comics
1 Berwick Street, Soho, London W1F 0DR
Tel: 020 7636 1011

Sunday 7 January 2018

Much ado about social enterprise

There are so many bookshops and so little time, so I tend to only write about each bookshop once. Unless it features in a bookshop crawl or undergoes some kind of transformation since the first visit.

In the case of Much Ado Books in Alfriston both boxes have been ticked: this visit was part of a bookshop crawl, the bookshop has been remodelled since my first visit, and another transformation is due any day now.

At the time of my original visit this bookshop was beautiful, and by this visit it continued to be so on a larger scale because a private area of the upstairs had been opened up to the public. This was a welcome addition to the shelf space and allowed for an even greater variety of secondhand books and beautiful things. However a chat with the booksellers and an invitation to a party they were holding involved a loud and proud announcement of their plans for the future.

As you can see from the date of my last blog, I've spent some time agonising about the best way to explain the future of Much Ado Books to you. So instead I've decided to share the bookshop's own words instead:

"We're dedicating Much Ado as a new Social Enterprise, hoping to encourage a love of books and reading and supporting people who currently cannot access all the pleasures books can provide.

"And we're launching a new, experimental space named Prospero's Project – part bookshop, part gallery, part social club, part workshop space... A place unlike anywhere else.

"Much Ado itself will move into our yard and barn – a new home with the same wonderful range of books." [Walk through this picture to reach both.] 

They continue to admit Prospero's Project will be: "a bit experimental, perhaps a bit surprising, and it will no doubt change over time". 

To explain in more detail: "You may already be aware that for decades we have raised funds for causes that support a love of reading. Our new social enterprise will build on this work.

"We have recently piloted a project providing high-quality new books for clients of local Trussell Trust foodbanks. The feedback has been very positive, and suggests the project might grow and bring books to many more people who need a little kindness.

"We are also exploring ways to support a local academy, which is working its way out of special measures. Recent improvements are more than heartening, but budgetary limitations continue to affect the school's library.

"Other projects will no doubt present themselves. We hope Prospero's Project will grow in unexpected ways, letting us share the love of reading that first led us into this business."

Having first met Cate and Nash many years ago I'm in no doubt that they'll put their hearts and souls into this project to make it a success. It sounds like something wonderful – how many of us are both willing and able to do as much as we'd like to help others? The Trussell Trust is an organisation I'm particularly supportive of so I do hope this part of the project can grow.

I'm not telling you much about the bookshop during my visit (when I came away with The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell and The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer) because in early 2018 it's due to temporarily close ready to make way for Prospero's Project, but if the new incarnation is anything like the current one, Much Ado Books is bound to live up to its hope: 

"We envision a wonderful book-lover's haven; a place to lose yourself and to discover something wonderful to read."

Much Ado Books
8 West Street, Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5UX
Tel: 01323 871222

PS. Another highlight of the party announcing this news, I accidentally met author Claire Fuller. This was my first proper, face-to-face conversation with a long-standing author, so it was a real treat that she's one who I respect and admire. What a relief to discover you're friendly, ordinary human beings like the rest of us.