Our Bookshop of the Month for March is Southampton’s October Books. Following an extremely well-publicised move, this friendly, not-for-profit bookshop has continued to go from strength to strength, and was recently shortlisted for Independent Bookshop of the Year. We spoke to Joey, one of the October Books team, about upping sticks, their new radical book group and the next chapter for this exciting shop…
1. October Books is a not-for-profit co-operative shop. What is your bookselling ethos and what do you hope your shop brings to the community?
We see October Books as a space to promote books and ideas that tackle the challenges of our time. While we sell a wide range, our speciality is in radical books that give readers the critical tools for understanding the world they live in and offer paths towards a better one. Beyond the books, we offer ecological products and a place for people to find out what’s going on in their area. We also now provide a physical space for local groups with rooms for hire in our community hub.
2. What is it like running an independent bookshop in the age of Amazon?
The shop has had to change with the times, but ultimately people still like to go into a bookshop and physically browse. An independent bookshop is conduit for discovery. Amazon and the supermarkets can sell books, but they can’t sell serendipity like we can. We offer expertise and recommendations, we can find books based on the vaguest of descriptions, and we pride ourselves on being to get in for a customer almost any book that is still in print.
3. Back in November, you underwent a very well-publicised move, relocating 2000 books 150m up the road with the help of a human chain. Tell us about this. How have you been settling into your new premises?
It was a great undertaking to move premises. We had been renting for about 15 years but for the long-term future of the shop we decided to buy a premises. Rather than getting a mortgage from a bank, we issued loanstock to interested locals, borrowing directly from the community. We bought an old bank building on the same street. To move the books from the old stock room to the strongroom of the bank we had about two hundred people form a human chain passing the books from hand to hand. We cleared the room in about an hour and within days the news of it had travelled across the world.
We’ve been very busy in our new place. The shop itself has been more bustling than ever, while we have had a lot to do getting the new place up to order and clearing out the rest of the old premises. There’s still a lot to do but we’re pleased with how things are progressing.
4. October Books hosts a Radical Reading book group. How do you pick your titles for this group and what’s coming up in March?
The book group is one of the new things we’ve been doing in the new space. The first range of books were picked by the convenors to cover a broad range of topics and set a standard, with future titles to be polled from the attendees. One of the conceits of the group is that we only discuss one chapter from the books, which helps keep the reading manageable and the discussion focused. We last read a chapter from Juno Mac and Molly Smith’s Revolting Prostitutes about the conditions and the law surrounding sex work in the UK. Next up we’re reading Teresa Hayter’s Open Borders: The Case Against Immigration Controls.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop that you’d like to share with us?
March will mark the inauguration of our new community hub. When we moved to the new premises we put our central bookshelves on castors so they could be moved aside to make space for evening events. We’ve been working hard getting the extra rooms in the shop ready for the many community groups, therapists, tutors and artists who are excited about the new space.