Saturday, 6 December 2014

Indie Advent: green rocinante on Pages of Hackney

Really pleased to welcome green rocinante to the blog for the Indie Advent feature today, talking about a shop which I keep meaning to visit but somehow have never got around to - will definitely have to change that in the very near future!

Name and location of shop: Pages of Hackney

Why you love it: No money goes to Amazon

What one book would you buy from there as a Christmas present, and who would you give it to. Ulysses, for myself – shamefully unread

I spent about 8 years working in bookshops; independents, specialists and chains, and it didn’t help my already misanthropic character. I always thought that the character of Bernard Black in the series Black Books was a fairly jovial one considering. The thing about approaching a bookseller with a question is that you are admitting that you don’t know something. Expect at least an arched eyebrow in return. I think my favourite and most baffling request from the general public was someone who asked for the famous book, ‘Me and Ken’. After some time and deeply probing questioning all was revealed, they wanted a copy of Mein Kampf. This kind of interaction changes a person.

We live in an increasingly strange and disorienting, disconnected world and I don’t see browsing in a bookshop as being the comforting, cozy experience that most people seem to wax lyrical about. On the contrary, when you think about the mechanics and market imperative of a bookshop they make absolutely no sense.


1. Nothing is really unique to that shop. Would you buy a Barbour jacket from Gants? No, because they are different companies. Would you go into Kath Kidston and expect to find a Superdry sweater? No, because again, they are different products. But Waterstones, indie bookshops, the much-missed Borders, et al., will all have the latest bestseller, discounted from the moment they are unpacked. There used to be much trade wailing about book discounts and the only thing that really separates one shop from another is range, or depth, of stock – with all of the millions of books in print and possibly, just possibly customer service. Bit if a tenuous thing to build an empire around, no? Or even just a living wage.

2. The quite bizarre imperatives of displays. Can you think of any thing else in retail that is displayed alphabetically by producer? You want a specific book, then you really need to know the author, and depending on the vagaries of stock there is every chance that a top selling author will be on the fiction shelves at the bottom of the left shelf or somewhere else that by any marketing terms would usually mean sales death. Madness.

And yet, and yet, there is no other transaction that offers the optimism and satisfaction of the book purchase. This bound collection of letters represents something that I don’t know, a story I want to be told, an imaginative journey I want to go on. And I will put it on my shelf at home or next to my bed and maybe not even read it, but for now this thing, this bound collection of pages makes me happy and fulfilled.

I’ve nominated Pages of Hackney because like Emily Thornberry’s tweet of the deeply coded English flag, something really strange is happening in lower Clapton.  And, like that tweet it needs unpacking and is culturally complex and significant. 10 years ago I lived there and it was called the murder mile, and I could afford to rent two rooms in a flat as a student. Now, I can’t afford to live there but I can buy books and a flat white. Gentrification is a wonderful, multi-layered, awful and ponderous thing.

I could rant about why Pages of Hackney (ahem, Clapton) is good and Amazon is crushingly bad but it doesn’t tell anyone anything they don’t already know: if you don’t buy your books from your independent bookshop, with their touchingly needy yet wonderfully ambitious programme of events, book signings and so on, they will go. They are a business: a chaotic, nonsensical one, but a business after all. And we will consign ourselves to giving money to tax dodging multi-nationals, and our kids will never, ever have the experience of being mildly abused by harried booksellers. Do not let this happen.


Check out Pages of Hackney's website and their Twitter, and catch green rocinante on Twitter.

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