As someone who lived almost exclusively in London’s leafy south-west before moving to Sydney, Shoreditch and its surrounds was never an area I’ve been particularly well-acquainted with, much to the horror of many of my city-dwelling friends. Cited by many as the hipster capital of Europe, and beloved by both the hip and the happening, its a mecca for creatives rich with street food, shabby pubs and speakeasies – not to mention a wealth of independent bookstores. Curated by both myself (I wrote about the ever-Instagrammable Paper & Cup) and author Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, below you’ll find some of East London’s best bookshops – from a much-loved Brick Lane institution, to a coffee-cum-bookstore serving sweet treats to boot.
Paper & Cup
One of the most Instagrammable book stores in East London, Paper & Cup is a pioneering café-cum-bookshop whose ‘Coffee with a mission’ mantra was coined by the charitable Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT), which aims to help people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Much of the furniture (including the wooden benches outside) has been made by SCT trainees, and the interior is filled with shelves of new and second-hand books as well as exhibits from local artists. Undoubtedly one of the best bookstores in London, Paper & Cup is a must-visit for anyone who likes there coffee with a side of literature.
Pages of Hackney
A few years ago, the term curation became fashionable. It described something nebulous and had more than a whiff of pretension. But all it really means is having a careful and particular eye and choosing that which you believe has worth and should be seen by others—then showing it as best you can. And to me this is what this east London bookshop does best. Pages of Hackney is a narrow shop, the shelves are close together and it is hard for two people to pass each other in the slim gab between book table and bookshelf. But the selection of books is so carefully chosen. The books I have found in these shelves have surprised me with their careful sentences and sharp barbs. Their taste leans feminist but the shop does stock books by men (some of them excellent). This is one of the best places to go if you don’t know what you’d like to read next.
This bookshop is minutes away from Regent’s Canal. There’s ample space for browsing. They stock a generous selection of books by indie presses as well as books from more mainstream publishers. In the past, they’ve given me a thin brown paper bag to put my purchases inside. It’s the sort of bag I associate with carrots, plums, or loose mushrooms. It makes me feel as if the books will be especially nourishing. The owner Sam Fisher is both a novelist and one of the founders of Peninsula Press—an indie publishing venture that has promoted the work of exciting new voices like Will Harris and Olivia Sudjic. Keep an eye out for their events as they are beloved by many of London’s writers. If you want an early taste you can listen to their podcast.
The writer Ellen Wiles introduced me to Ink 84. Its generous windows mean that on a bright day the whole room feels like a box of sunlight. Started by an artist and a writer—it’s a place of aesthetic and literary beauty. When I take my dog to Finsbury park, we travel past Ink84, and I remember one wet month they’d decorated their windows with bright blue paper rain drops. It made even the rain seem a cheerful thing. I’ve stopped in here before work trips with strange requirements like, ‘I want something physically thin but psychologically deep.’ And they’ve supplied me well. They run a book club and even the occasional film screening. It is possible to buy a hot cup of tea or a cold beer if that could tempt you.
Brick Lane Bookshop
The shop name is black text on a white background. The letters are serifed. It seems almost snipped from the title page of a new book. The street is busy and stepping in here does feel a bit like turning a page to a different world. The new releases are close to the door to tempt you in with a new spine. There are tote bags that can be purchased to declare your affiliation to this little institution. Shelves about London offer tourists the promise of knowing this city and locals the gift of knowing it better. What is more, the shop sponsors and runs an annual short story prize. If you harbor literary ambitions then perhaps you should go and learn their taste.
About the author
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan is the author of Harmless Like You—the winner of The Authors’ Club First Novel Award and a Betty Trask Award. It was a New York Times Editors’ Choice and an NPR 2017 Great Read. Her second novel, Starling Days, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award. Her short work has appeared in several places including Granta, Guernica,
Love reading about the best book stores in London? Check out the city’s most Instagrammable bookshops, and here’s a write-up of one of my favourite London book shops. Finally, I love this from Time Out on the 28 best bookshops in London.
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