August’s Bookshop of the month is Hoxton Books, an independent shop with a curated list of 1000 books covering a wide range of topics – stronger perhaps on art and indie press titles. We spoke with Richard, the shop’s manager, to learn more.
1. What’s it like running a bookshop in Hoxton? How have you seen the area change over the years?
We’re a very new bookshop having only opened in April 2021 when ‘non-essential retail’ was allowed to re-open. In a rather Hoxton / East London way, we share our space with a contemporary art gallery, TABULA RASA, and to find us, one needs to enter via the gallery in a contra-Banksy way to his ‘Exit via the Gift Shop’ mantra, we’re very much ‘Enter through the Gallery’. For some customers finding us has been some sort of urban quest. We’re a bit elusive, we don’t have a conventional bookshop window display. We still encounter new customers who live in the blocks of flats that surround us and that have sprouted recently.
2. If you could recommend one book published in the past year, what would it be?
Just because it went completely below our radar when it came out last August—we were just starting out!—we’re choosing Louis Menand’s The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War. Through word of mouth, we heard so many good things about it and, of course, The Metaphysical Club published way back in 2001 is a major work. It very conveniently bridges the two big strata of people who enter our: the art-minded people who prioritise the gallery but also the serious non-fiction readers who are used to seeing this sort of book gracing our shop.
3. How do you select the books that line your shop’s shelves?
On the whole, we stock mostly literary fiction and serious non-fiction. We have to be selective as we don’t even have four walls! There are many strands to this. One of the shelves consists largely of books that are remarkable by their design namely by publishers such as Fitzcarraldo or Persephone as well as by series like Verso’s Radical Thinkers for example. We also have spaces dedicated to reading recommendations from such figures as Elena Ferrante and Barack Obama, there are shelves lined up with prize winners of the Booker and the Nobel for instance. There is a shelf of largely twentieth-century classics selected by the ‘Better than Food Book Reviews’ youtube channel which contains some Wakefield Press titles. Finally, we also choose topics we like, for instance, we have a section with books on cycling but we don’t stock anything on any other sport.
4. Tell us about your local area. How has the pandemic impacted your business?
We started during the pandemic so we don’t have a reference to the before times. If anything getting events up and running has been somewhat tricky as we’re still finding our base but also we’ve had to deal with any covid restrictions. There were a few cancellations as a result which has taught us to be deft and moderate our expectations somewhat. On the upside, we still encounter people who say that the pandemic relaunched their reading habit.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop in the coming months that you’d like to share with us?
We’ll have to wait and see on that front as for the moment we’re looking forward to the quieter month of August so we can relax a bit before hitting the ground running again in September.