Growing up in rural Shropshire in the 1950’s, my mother used to take me to the village library every week after school. It was a warm and friendly place to visit, but it was small and had a limited supply of books. My own favourites were Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings stories and the Famous Five adventures. There were only two or three well-worn books from each of these great series and I reread them so often that I practically knew the texts by heart.
Realising that I needed a greater choice of reading material my mother would take me on the bus to Oswestry on a Saturday morning, where I was introduced to the Lexicon, a private lending library in the middle of town with a separate section for children’s books.
For me, at that young age, it was like heaven on earth – rows upon rows of gleaming hard back books in their original dustjackets all lined up in perfect order. The whole Jennings catalogue; every book that Enid Blyton had ever written, Richmal Crompton’s William and a fantastic non fiction section where I could while away a couple of hours whilst my parents did the shopping. It cost threepence in ‘old money’ to borrow two books for the week and all my pocket money went on this and my weekly comic. I shall always have fond memories of those trips, which stimulated my passion for books and reading, shared by my wife and children.
Unfortunately the Lexicon only lasted a few years and private libraries are a thing of the past, but Oswestry can now boast one of the country’s finest independent bookshops – Booka, a bookshop which has played a major role in revitalising in this lovely town.
This too is warm and friendly, beautifully lit and decorated with a huge choice of books and bookish gifts. The window panes are beautifully painted by a local artist depending on the season or current theme. They have a fine section on the surrounding area and local authors as well as customer favourites. The owners and staff are welcoming, helpful and extremely knowledgeable. This would probably be enough in itself to deserve a mention on Indie Advent but this is only the start.
It has a wonderful café selling delicious home-made cakes which really enhances the book buying experience. I usually visit in the week with my wife, and its lovely to see all the mothers and children stopping off on the way from school for a cream cake and a thumb through the latest arrivals - such a great way of introducing children to the pleasure of reading.
They run two adult Book Clubs which meet every six weeks, the Booka Book Club meets on a Wednesday night and the Book and a Beer Book Club on a Thursday night. Both groups meet at the shop and are free to attend. New members are welcomed and members receive 10% discount off the price of each Book Club read.
They also run several Children’s Book Clubs for various age groups as well as one in conjunction with Moreton Hall, a local school.
They regularly hold fantastic and varied book events, which are very popular and sell out quickly. Recent events include an evening with Ben Collins aka The Stig and 'Talking Crime' with Louise Millar (The Hidden Girl) and Erin Kelly (Broadchurch), whilst This week they have astronaut Chris Hadfield of 'Ground control to Major Tom' at zero gravity fame. Next week there is a book signing with June Mottershead author of 'Our Zoo' who is the daughter of the founder of Chester Zoo. It's amazing how they manage to get so many top authors and speakers to this rural area.
The owners, Carrie and Tim Morris are very active in the community and the shop has won local and regional awards as well as featuring in the Independent's top 50 book shops. They have a good online presence too at and twitter @BookaBookshop.
There is absolutely nothing to dislike about this wonderful bookshop and it is a model for the sort of independent retail outlets we need to revitalise our high streets. It has certainly worked in Oswestry where independent shops are flourishing after the recession. Well worth a visit - the town and the bookshop.
You can catch Merv on Twitter.