Tag Archives: graphic novels

Golden Hare Books

photo 5Golden Hare Books, 68 St Stephen Street, Edinburgh, EH3 5AQ

When I was about sixteen, my parents took us all away on a long summer holiday, during which our family of six – featuring a gaggle of young teenagers – careened through several countries over a number of weeks.

About two thirds of the way through our travels, when we had all begun to miss  our friends and our beds and to annoy each other, we arrived in a new city in the late afternoon. My brothers and I were keen to get to our hotel rooms and relax. When we did, I was surprised and delighted to find – the loveliest thing – that each room had a working, log burning fireplace. I was immediately infatuated and became obsessed with the idea of a room full of books and a roaring fire. Owning such a room is a dream I harbour to this day, though London’s housing market teaches us not to expect anything nearly so lovely.

But on a recent trip to Edinburgh, I got to briefly live out that fantasy in a warm little room packed with books where a fire crackles in the hearth.

Golden Hare Books, in Stockbridge, is comfortable and welcoming. The log fire is kept stoked, and free tea and coffee is laid out for your enjoyment.

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The bookshop is a local favourite, with a loyal following, who get their money’s worth through the membership scheme Golden Hare offers, which includes discounts and a free book on your birthday. They run reading and writing groups, author events and book-signings that are regular and well-attended.

Predominantly a literary bookshop, Golden Hare has a great selection of cookbooks,children’s books, contemporary non-fiction & essays, music & media and graphic novels. I’m fairly passive when it comes to discovering new graphic novels; if I come across something interesting or a receive a (trusted) recommendation, I’ll always buy it and think ‘I really must read more graphic novels’, but I don’t follow the genre very closely and don’t often make the effort to explore. A bookshop like this, with a large and intriguing selection, is always useful in balancing my bookshelves.

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As you’d expect, the shop carries an excellent stock of Scottish literature. In pride of place were Jackie Kay, the Scots Makar, and Ali Smith, who, in my opinion, is Britain’s Greatest Living Writer. And just a few days before popping into the shop, I’d had the bucket list experience of meeting Ali Smith, at a reading and signing at Foyles in London. One of the (many) things I love about Ali Smith is how often she lends her considerable heft to promoting the work of other authors, particularly other women writers including Kamila Shamsie and Jackie Kay. I live to think of them as a little coven who all try to smash the patriarchy in their little way by saying nice things about each other’s books. I decided to buy Kay’s Bantam collection (how could I resist, in Edinburgh?) and when I took it to the till the bookseller and I exchanged a knowing smile, then a breathless ‘isn’t she wonderful?!’. I told her all about meeting Ali, of course, unable to contain my excitement, and a little bit boastful.

In total, a spent about an hour in Golden Hare Books, and although I only bought one book, came away with a jotted down list of about five others for my list.

Golden Hare is a brilliant place for every kind of reader in every kind of mood. I would come here again looking for something specific, or looking for just something new, or not looking for anything at all. I’d also come back for the chat with other readers, for their events, or just to be in a quiet house of books. And I’ll certainly be back on a cold day, for the warming fire.

Type Books

IMG_2083Type, 883 Queen Street West, Toronto, Canada, M6J 1G3

Well, North America, I had almost given up on you.

Over the years, I have watched in horror as every time I visit Toronto, one more of the few struggling independent bookshops has closed its doors for good and no one has kicked up any fuss about it.  Long have I shaken my head in dismay, long have I wagged my finger in disapproval, long have I made (possibly unfair) pronouncements about the defects of an entire continent that is more interested in the latest gadget than preserving books, art and music, the little places (bookshops, libraries, museums and galleries) where peaceful spaces open up into a world of adventure.

I was just about to give up, become world-weary before my time and conclude that future generations of weird kids with over-active imaginations and more creativity than social skills will have to go without the comfort and the joys of real books and rooms full of them.

IMG_2076Then I met Type.  Hallelujah, I thought, there might just be hope for them yet.  For even in a difficult economic climate, and in a social climate that is wholly disheartening to those who want to live by books, Type has succeeded.  I, for one, am relieved to know that even if other great bookshops in this city (a moment of silence, please, for the late and great Nicholas Hoare Books) are dwindling in numbers and having to close, Type marches on in its quest to bring a bit of colour and a bit of joy back into the lives of Toronto’s bookworms.

IMG_2082That sense of joy hits you before you even enter the shop.  The display in the front window of the bookshop changes regularly, but is always inviting.  In late August when I visited, a back to school display featured pieces of white paper, covered in handwriting whimsically floating through the air, suspended above a selection of relevant books.  The effort put into creating such an inspiring and imaginative display, sure to draw in even the most school-resistant child, suggests that this is a place where the beauty and magic of a book, the miraculous potential of a blank page, does not go unnoticed or uncelebrated.

Inside, the large shop has a spacious layout, which might seem a bit too impersonal  with its cold bare floors, were it not for the stubbornly IMG_2080unfashionable, but comforting and homely decorations on the walls.  Several different colour schemes and loud patterns dominate different parts of the shop and multi-coloured bunting pops up here and there so that the whole place feels a bit like your wacky aunt decorated it.  But at Type, it works. The walls are as colourful as the books themselves, which are the main focus, as they should be.  Type illustrates their understanding of the charm of books themselves – without gimmicks or cross-promotional merchandise – in their creative and stunning video advert called The Joy of Books.  If you have been living under a rock for the past year and still haven’t seen it, watch this video (once, twice or on repeat) to be reminded of the potential for magic that is latent any time a reader is presented with a shelf full of books.  I always feel awe when I enter a bookshop or a library or the house of a particularly accomplished collector and see, standing in front of me, a small sample of mankind’s genius, the creative and intellectual output of our civilisation, expressed in more words than I could evenIMG_2075 hope to read in a lifetime, right there, available, waiting to be opened and for the dance of the words on the page begin.  A Kindle or an Ipad fails to give that impression of greatness, durability and possibility. Even if it contains a million ‘books’ (or files as I call them, since that’s all they are) the Kindle cannot impress the reader in the same way a good bookshop does.  It will never make us realise  – through the sheer presence, the endearing physicality of paper pages you can touch –  the amount of words we have not read, and the possibility that they might all change our lives the way a shelf of unopened books can.

At Type, I could sense the legendary words and timeless expressions of thoughts and emotions around me.   Surrounded by so many beautiful and important books, I could almost hear them whispering, promising to share their secrets if I was willing to pick one up and sit with it for a while.  The collection that the booksellers at Type have accumulated is so brilliantly-curated that browsing through it, you can tell that any book in the selection might change your life.  A well-stocked selection of classics is of course mandatory, but the wide range of fiction titles available is refreshingly contemporary.  The balance between old and new is just right, as if to remind us that we are nothing if we do not know our past, but that that past should no longer define us.  In order to help us break free from it, Type offers novels by the greatest writers of our generation and less famous authors who nonetheless deserve our attention.  The poetry section also IMG_2079mixes old and new in exciting ways and encourages the browser to try something they never would have found on their own.  The selection of graphic novels is large, which is appropriate for a form finally coming into its own and being taken seriously.  Personally, I think it might prove to be an invaluable new genre for the internet generation to express its understanding of its own time.  Despite how new and fresh the genre is, at Type, a small typewriter is nestled in a the base of this section, perhaps so that we don’t get too carried away and forget that all books, no matter how innovative the format, are simply the result of the miraculous combination of black letters on a white page.

There are also superb history, politics, philosophy and religion sections where the range of inspired and significant titles simultaneously excited and IMG_2074intimidated me.  And in the back room, beyond the cook book section and books on all kinds of crafts and activities, there is the children’s section.  It’s a small room and contains a few too many toys and other non-book items for my tastes, but it is cosy and bright, with little child-sized chairs dotted around and a great selection of books for all ages. As a child who spent many hours curled up in the children’s sections of libraries and bookshops, I can tell you that a small and quiet nook at the back of a bookshop is all you need to  bring to life the magic that grown-ups need videos and fancy editing to be reminded of.

So shame on us, the adults.   The ones who have accepted this opinion (whose opinion, again?!) that magic is kids’ stuff, that the closest we can get to it is a touch-screen smartphone or a device that is nothing but a pale shadow of a real book.  What Type reminds its readers is that all that stuff is just a distraction for a distracted age impressed with its own petty party tricks.  The real magic starts when you open a book, and let it open something in you, too.

Brick Lane Bookshop

IMG_1836Brick Lane Bookshop (formerly Eastside Bookshop), 166 Brick Lane, London, E1 6RU

Every Sunday morning, Brick Lane in East London comes to life as vendors sell falafel, bubble tea, vintage denim jackets, used typewriters with Arabic letters (no joke, I almost bought one for £15 one day) and everything in between.  The scene is full of the smells of world cuisine, music from boomboxes and voice boxes, the calls of vendors and kids in ripped up jeans sitting on the curb eating a curry.  It’s a lively place at the heart of East London’s vibrant and diverse community and attracts all kinds of different people, from hipster kids looking for their next self-indulgent profile picture to tourists and every kind of market enthusiast you can imagine.  It’s one of the quirkiest markets in London and has thus far resisted being gentrified and losing its character.   The same could be said of the beautiful independent bookshop that sits in the middle of it all.


The front window of the shop invites readers to ‘Take a Walk on the East Side!’ and is filled with books about London, with a special focus on East London and the Spitalfields area.  This trend continues inside with an entire wall full of books about London and East London including Iain Sinclair’s Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, Eddie Johnson’s The Two Puddings, about a pub in Stratford which I’ve heard is both hilarious and touching, and Spitalfields Life, the brilliant book based on the blog of the same name, documenting all the eccentricities of the area and its local stories.

IMG_1828The poetry and fiction sections are excellently-stocked; after a few minutes of browsing I realised this is one of those bookshops where I would not leave until I had inspected every single shelf.  In the fiction section I breezed past Calvino, Flaubert, Kafka and Tolstoy (I’ve really been wanting to read more books by European authors lately; English is great, but there’s a whole world out there!) and worked my way through to Z.   In the end I bought The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter.  Okay, she’s English.  Sue me.  It was £7 and I was happy to spend the money for a book I can’t wait to start reading.

The selection is wide, varied and most importantly, good quality.  No drivel in sight.  The books on the shelves are full retail price, but on the ground in front of them are boxes filled with discounted books from £3.  And there are some interesting choices in there too!  In addition to the discounted books there is a wall full of Wordsworth Classics, which are always about £2.  IMG_1833They’re not the greatest editions in the world, but they make great literature accessible to absolutely everyone (they have a children’s selection too), so even if you can’t afford to do more than admire the rest of the books, you have no excuse not to at least support your local independent by buying something when you can do it so cheaply.  The Brick Lane Bookshop has struck the perfect balance in many ways, with beautiful books you don’t mind paying a bit extra to own, every kind of literary paraphernalia you can imagine, from mugs to notebooks to cards, and then the deals and cheaper editions for those who can’t always afford the good stuff but still want a fix. In other news, it’s possible that I use metaphors of drugs and addiction to talk about books a little bit too often.

Another thing I love about this bookshop is that it embraces the strangeness, the quirkiness and the niche interests of the community of which it is such a central part.  In addition to books about Spitalfields itself, it has books for all the weird and wonderful people who live there.  There is a ‘Cult Sci Fi’ section and though I hadn’t heard of a single book or author represented in it, each book looked better than the last. IMG_1832The cookery section reflects the international community of East London.  Comic books and graphic novels get a much larger selection than in most other independents or chains, which is brilliant.  As this art form becomes more and more mainstream and authors learn ways to make the most of it, we are going to have to start appreciating it as a serious and interesting genre.  Unfortunately, chains often have only a small selection of the same old books and most independents don’t bother at all.  There’s not anything wrong with that per se, but it’s nice to see an independent that’s fully jumping on board.

IMG_1830With a small red armchair in the front window and another one nestled in the back corner for those less sociable of browsers, the Brick Lane Bookshop creates the kind of ambiance that invites you to stay and browse for a while.  But it also invites you to go on an adventure – from your comfortable armchair, of course.  Its unusual selection offers the chance to find a new read you would never have known to look for otherwise, and gives you a chance to learn more of the stories that happened not so long ago in the streets and alleys you thought you already knew so well.  It is a place of discovery and adventure, where any path can present itself to you when you open the first page of one of their special books. And if you can’t decide what to read, the staff have helpfully recommended some of their favourites.  Little white IMG_1829notes pop up now and then between the books recommending a new discovery or an old stand-by.   One of these reads: ‘Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte – my granny’s favourite book and one of mine.  Made my stomach flip.’  I loved reading this because it’s a perfect example of what books and bookshops are really all about  – sharing our stories, passing them down, remembering, retelling and preserving them.  Whether that means misting up re-reading a classic you shared with a loved one or having a deeper experience of your neighbourhood when you know the names of the ghosts who roam its streets, books connect us to other books and other people.  So, really, any time you open a book, you enter an adventure.  And on that note,  let me finish with my favourite passage from Jane Eyre, about trying new things, going new places and having adventures:

“It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself
quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection,
uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and
prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted.
The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride
warms it…”

And on that note, go forth.  Read.  Take a walk on the east side.