Reading material

Local literary enthusiast Sarah Fairbairn meets the borough’s bookshop owners to find out what we’ve been reading – and how they’ve been impacted – during the third lockdown…

The pristinely-organised shelves of Phlox Books, Francis Road

Many of us have whiled away lockdown by trying to get on top of our ever-expanding ‘to read’ piles. But what happened to the bookshops, unable to open for browsing for much of the pandemic? 

Throughout the last year, readers have been urged to support their local book stores and buy direct from click-and-collect services. Initiatives like Bookshop.org have sprung up, too, to try to make this as easy as possible. 

I spoke to Waltham Forest’s bookshop owners about their experience – plus what we’ve all been clamouring to read over the past year, and what we’ll be reading next. 

One (perhaps unsurprising) trend – according to Aimée of Phlox Bookshop in Leyton – was a surge in requests for ‘how-to’ books, particularly about gardening and baking. 

Aimée says there was “a shift in how, when and why people read or even don’t read, and the role we could provide in helping them.” 

Aimée, owner of Phlox Books

Bookshops, even under restrictions, have proved a lifeline for people stuck at home during lockdown. “Many people had more time on their hands and realised it was an opportunity to develop or rekindle a love for reading and contacted us for some help to get them started,” she adds. 

And since reopening in early April, the bookshops of the borough have welcomed customers back with open arms. 

“We’ve been very lucky,” said Jo of Jo’s Bookshop, a charming store on Station Road, Chingford. “But I haven’t really had any time to think about my own reading, as I’ve been so busy unpacking boxes and sorting out new stock.” 

Aimée agreed that there’s more than meets the eye to running a bookshop as a small, local business: “The first thing I always say to someone considering opening a bookshop is: you rarely have a chance to sit down and read a single book.” 

She highlighted a book discussed as part of the Phlox book group, now online due to the pandemic, which featured issues close to home. 2016 novel Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 is set in South Korea and centres around the role of women in the family, in the workplace and in society more generally. 

“Owning an independent business and having three children under five years old (the youngest being six months) during Covid-19 brought up all sorts of questions and worries about ‘failing’ everyone…

“Can you be a good boss, a good mother? Can you keep your business afloat? Are you strong enough?” 

One of Phlox Books’ top new reads

As we’re now able browse around our local shops again: are there any titles our local booksellers are particularly excited about? 

“Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror And The Light is now out in paperback – that’s on my list,” says Jo. 

Aimée shared: “I’m currently reading Keeping The House by Tice Cin, an early proof of a book due to be published in September 2021. It’s set around Tottenham and Hackney Marshes. It’s beautiful and yet brutal, about a world of crime and the Turkish Cypriot girl involved in it.” 

To learn more about two of our local bookshops, visit Phlox Books’ official website and @chingfordbooks on Twitter