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.

Life’s adventures start with a book according to Blue Bear Bookshop in Farnham which was recently voted 10th in The Times UK independent bookshops guide. Named after a cult novel by Walter Moers, The 131/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, the family-run indie bookshop and café opened in 2019 with a glamorous 1920s inspired interior and serving speciality coffee and cake. The much-loved community hub also offers a diverse schedule of literary and cultural events.

The award-winning Haslemere Bookshop was named the best independent bookshop in the south east of England in the 2022 British Book Awards and deservedly so for the friendly knowledgeable service and wide range of books for all ages, extensive collection of maps, guidebooks and information on local authors. Wander upstairs and you’ll discover three-rooms full of potential hidden treasures nestled among the second-hand treats.

You’ll find more than 7,000 books, cards, games, stationery and more served up at The Old Bakery home of Petworth Bookshop and if it’s old books that are collectible and readable you’re after then head to Reader’s Books in Market Square, Petworth.

One Tree Books in Petersfield is turning 30 this year and in their own words are “passionate about all things literary” and don’t worry if you’re not tempted by what’s on the shelves, they can order in just about anything you want. As with many book shops now, they offer so much more and once you’ve browsed and shopped why not take a moment with your purchase to escape to Ginger’s Café which serves breakfast and lunch in a seated area at the back of the shop or takeaway from the front. Join their book club, go along to one of their special events or book launches or make an appointment with the book doctor for yourself or as a gift. A 30-minute consultation includes coffee and a welcome pack, a chat about your reading tastes and what you love most about books. Musicians can shop the wide range of sheet music on the first floor and order what they can’t find.

Who doesn’t want to run a bookshop-café-bar? ask owners of Goldfinch Books in Alton, Gary, Jude and Andrea for whom it had been a long-held dream and the perfect way to combine their love of literature, music, wine and craft beer – sounds perfect! The trio say: “Books are our passion. Each of us at Goldfinch has our own favourite genres, our go-to books, and our top 10 recommendations. Come in and grab a copy of a new release or an old fave. Browse the shelves without pressure, sit and read for a while, enjoy a coffee, relax and take a breath, or chat with friends. We are here if you want a recommendation, or you just want to talk about books (or anything else for that matter).

“Goldfinch Books is more than a bookshop. It is a place to meet like-minded people, and enjoy spending time. It is somewhere to help us remember to enjoy the journey, and relax our focus a little on the destination.”

They have a special interest in and passion for mental health and have plans to support mental health awareness and education with events and initiatives in the offing.

Laurence Oxley in Alresford has more than seven decades of experience to share with customers, stocking both new and second hand books, including rare and collectible editions as well as art materials, cards, Victorian watercolours and maps.

The Cobham Bookshop has been a thriving indie for more than 30 years and no doubt one of its key attractions is that it welcomes dogs so feel free to take Archie or Ruby along while you browse and shop for novels, children’s books, history, biography and all other genres of non fiction.

Godalming is home to A Novel Idea in more ways than one. It’s a bookshop making a difference in the community, founded by Catalyst and the Welcome Project to help people with their mental health and wellbeing. It is run entirely through donations and volunteer staff with high quality donated fiction, non fiction and children’s books. They also sell second hand vinyl, albums and singles covering rock, pop, soul, folk, musicals, films, classical and more.

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.