The door to dreams

Karen Neville

Stepping into a bookshop is like catching up with an old friend, the familiarity and love come flooding back and yet you just know there will be something new to discover. Karen Neville invites you to step inside these independent havens of literature…

As a child I loved pushing open the big wooden door on the bookshop in the town where I grew up to be greeted by an Aladdin’s cave of words wrapped in colourful covers.

There was a whole world waiting to be discovered that ate up much of my pocket and birthday money. The delight I felt when collecting the special copy of Ballet Shoes I’d ordered and handing the assistant the piece of paper with the details felt like I was joining a very special club – the bookshop club.

Sadly that shop is no longer but fortunately for all of us bibliophiles according to the Booksellers Association at the end of 2022 there were 1,072 independent bookshops sharing the love I treasured.

The dream of running a bookshop is a popularly held one and for Alex Forbes it came true in 2020 with the name Fourbears coming from a nickname. They host a wide range of events, book clubs and writing clubs and are happy to chat all day long about books. So be warned, there’s no such thing as just popping into Fourbears in Caversham. Their book subscription service is the perfect gift for the book lover in your life or just a regular treat for yourself. Look out for Fourbears Fest, May 17th to 19th, the first Reading and Caversham Book Festival featuring a range of events for adults and children in multiple venues.

RISC World Shop in the fairtrade shop in London Street, Reading, focuses on sustainable living, human rights, climate change and green living and their selection is carefully curated and ever-evolving and features many of the local interest titles published by Reading star Two Rivers Press. They typically sell books on politics, economics, sustainability, gender, human rights, world fiction, children’s books, gardening, cooking, places, black issues, women, feminism, lbtgq+, local interest development, school books as well as publishing their own titles for schools.

Even the most hard to please reader will find something among the more than 20,000 books adorning the shelves of The Bell Bookshop, Henley. Find hidden gems among the paperbacks, hardbacks and classics, biographies, travel guides, cookery, history, children’s and many many more. This destination bookshop has been feeding the appetite of book lovers around Henley and beyond since 1966 with the shop itself dating back to the 18th century – I’ll bet it has some stories to tell.

You’ll probably recognise Roald Dahl’s Matilda outside The Book House, Thame which has a fascinating story behind it, as does Fat Puffin, a gift from Puffin Books to mark the opening in 1972 as one of the first specialist children’s books in the country – he could write a book about his ‘adventures’ since he’s been standing sentry. Through the shop discover the bookshop’s very own ‘secret garden’, take a seat and dip into your new book. Books range from first books for babies to young adult reads while adults aren’t forgotten with more than enough to sate their appetites too.

Here’s a bookshop with a difference, Newbury Bookshelf is a mobile shop which pops up at Newbury Market on Thursdays and Saturdays and Thatcham market on Fridays. Creator Emily had always wanted to have her own bookshop having worked in one while at uni and has turned her dream into a reality thanks to her innovative approach. Pick her brain for recommendations and you won’t be disappointed, just look out for the blue canopy.

Hungerford Bookshop has attracted such literary luminaries as Robert Harris, Alexander McCall Smith, Sebastian Faulks and Gill Hornby to their events and this month will be enjoying crime and wine with Adele Parks (3rd) and fizz and fiction with Georgina Moore and Becky Hunter on the 24th. All their books are hand-picked with care, and they love to recommend their favourite titles. Come and have a browse including in the basement where you’ll find an impressive array of secondhand and antiquarian books. Join the book subscription service and benefit from their expertise choosing books based on the recipient’s reading tastes or preferred genres.

Founded more than 75 years ago, White Horse Bookshop still operates from its original site in Marlborough where it opened its doors in 1949. Alongside the thousands of titles that line the shelves they also have an extensive art department stocking all manner of materials, run one day art workshops, hold exhibitions and talks in the White Horse Gallery at the rear of the premises.

As author Evie Woods writes in her novel The Lost Bookshop: “The thing about books… is that they help you to imagine a life bigger and better than you could ever dream of.”

Show your support for independent bookshops in Independent Bookshop Week, June 15th to 22nd, part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, an annual celebration of independent bookshops nationwide, and the role they play in their communities.