So, I’ve had a bit of an idea. I love independent bookshops – that’s a given. And I also love travelling around the UK. It’s all still new enough to me that it feels like a bit of an adventure, especially when I go to places that I’ve literally never heard of before. So, could I combine the two? Would it be possible to visit every independent bookshop in the UK?
According to The Bookseller:
….in 2018 the number [of independent bookshops] rose by 15 to 883, despite the dominance of online retailers.
I’m pleasantly surprised by how many independent bookshops there are, but this might have made it a lot trickier than I first imagined. (However, I’ve not been able to figure out whether this number includes chains such as Waterstones). I’ve also found it a bit difficult to get a definitive list of all of the independent shops, too. The Booksellers Association has a bookshop search, but again, it includes shops such as Waterstones, Foyles, and WH Smiths, which are big chains.
And that brings me to the next problem – there are also smaller bookshop chains. For example, Blackwell’s currently has 37 stores. I think it would be a bit much to expect myself to go to every single one of those stores, and I’ve been to the Oxford branch, so I’m considering that as done. However, this again makes the numbers game a bit of an issue.
Finally, I’m slightly confused about what could count as a bookshop. This might sound silly at first, but bear with me. For example, I’ve been to the Southbank Centre Book Market, which is one of the few open-air book fairs in the UK. I don’t think I can exclude it because it isn’t in a building, because there are other places such as Word on the Water (also known as the Book Barge) which is a bookshop that floats through London’s canals. But at the same time, it’s a bunch of different booksellers who just happen to sell in the same area. I’m conflicted, so I’m going to put Southbank down as a ‘maybe’.
(And this is only the first problem shop that I’ve thought of – what about places such as Forbidden Planet, which sell books alongside other geeky merchandise? On their website they call themselves an ‘entertainment retailer’, so I’m going to put this chain as a ‘no’.)
However, despite all of these problems, I’m feeling hopeful about this quest! I’ve lived in the UK for 5 years now, and I’ve travelled around quite a lot, especially in London and the South West. I’ve chatted before about Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights as well as many of the bookshops in Hay-on-Wye, also known as the book town. By my reckoning, I’ve visited about 32 independent bookshops, mainly in London but also in Bath, Bristol, Oxford and Norwich, to name a few. And these are just the ones that I can remember. There are some places, such as Edinburgh, Durham, and Lincoln, where I’m sure I visited bookshops, but I just can’t remember which ones.
So, I’ve decided to do this logically, and try and first tackle bookshops near me. I live in Hertfordshire, so some easy ones would be:
I’m also close to London, so a couple of bookshops that I really want to visit include:
- Round Table Books
- Daunt Books (I might have been here before but I don’t remember)
- Lutyens & Rubinstein
- Persephone Books
- Belgravia Books
- Heywood Hill
If I visited all of those, I would get to just approximately 5% of the list. I realise that this is a small number, but seeing as I just thought of this idea, it’s not bad. What I need to do now is find some friends who’d like to visit these bookshops with me (if you’re an Internet friend, DM me on Twitter!!) and make a list of the bookshops that count. That way I’ll be able to more accurately figure out how many I really need to visit.
Finally, if you’d like to keep up with this project, I have a Google Doc that lists the bookshops that I’ve been to so far, and other ones that I want to visit. And if you have any recommendations of shops I haven’t yet been to, leave a comment! It would be super helpful.