Happy Independent Bookshop Week!
It seems that now, more than ever, supporting independent bookshops has been incredibly important to a lot of people – myself included. A lot of people have seen a dramatic spike in how much they’ve been reading during lockdown, and that gives us a great excuse to buy more books, and to buy them locally and independently wherever possible.
As a Welsh person, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some of the great indie Welsh bookshops across the country that you might want to consider putting your next book order in with! Whether it’s queer books, books by Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, Welsh-language content or just the latest bestseller you’re after, these bookshops are ready and waiting for you.
It was great to speak to the bookshops’ owners and the teams that help them run day-to-day to learn more about what makes indie bookshops so great and why your support is so vital. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of Welsh bookshops – so I encourage you to shout out your favourite indie booksellers in the comments or online too!
Paned o Gê is a queer bookshop, cafe, bar and event space in Cardiff. It’s also a social enterprise designed to highlight, promote and celebrate LGBTQ+ and Welsh talent and creators! As well as being a safe space, Paned o Gê has goals to become an important hub for the queer community in Cardiff.
A queer bookshop is one that primarily stocks books by or about LGBTQ+ folx. There’s currently 3 others in the U.K. including: Category is Books in Glasgow, Gay’s the Word in London and The Portal Bookshop in York.
During lockdown, Paned o Gê has also set up a digital book club to help people stay connected and discuss some great LGBTQ+ books. You can find the book club books online here – and there’s even the option to buy a ‘pay it forward’ copy to make the book available to someone who may not have the financial means to buy it. Allies are welcome to get involved!
Why is it important for Wales to have its own queer bookshop?
“To promote queer literature and creators. The queer literature stocked in mainstream book stores tends to be limited to texts that are considered exceptional feats of writing. There are a myriad of queer voices and experiences, in Wales and beyond, that are often overlooked by publishing houses which small and independent bookshops regularly succeed in promoting through their creative and local community vision(s).
The absence of queer narratives is even more visible in Welsh language literature. Though my knowledge of the canon is not exhaustive, it was a struggle to find many queer, Welsh texts to stock. This is only reinforced by the fact that Welsh language queer terminology is arguably in its developmental stages. Stonewall Cymru have a very useful glossary, though Mihangel Morgan has argued for the development of a Welsh based queer terminology instead of English translations.
As a community interest company, all the profit from the bookshop will be invested back into the LGBTQ+ community in Wales. This will include hosting writing workshops to help develop queer voices in Wales and try to fill that void.
To provide queer folx with a safe space. This Pride month, during a worldwide movement for racial justice and a global pandemic, several individuals and establishments have chosen this moment to attack the queer community, to deny rights to trans folx and/or strip them of established and limited legal protections they already have. Men who have sex with men are still banned from donating blood, unless they’ve had no oral/anal sexual contact for three months. Many people still aren’t out, are only partially out or are not ready to be out. Safe spaces for queers are vital, and Paned will be a desired communal hub filled with resources, literature and camaraderie to serve the queer community.
To have an alternative space for the queer population of Cardiff. There are so many wonderful queer social groups in Cardiff and excellent establishments. Most of the commercial venues are centred on nightlife and not all segments of the population feel comfortable in such spaces. Though Paned will host certain events in the evening, its primary function will be as a welcoming queer bookshop and cafe for all, operating alongside our siblings that already comprise the queer scene in the city.”
Griffin Books is Penarth’s independent bookstore that not only offers a wide range of fiction and non-fiction stocked in store, and a next-day ordering service, but they also host lots of literary events including author talks, book signings, a weekly children’s story time and a number of book clubs. They even offer freshly brewed coffee for all customers!
Griffin Books is run by a great team of women including the owner, Mel; Rachel, who’s been with the shop since 2005; Dawn, a customer turned team member; and Hollie, who manages the shop’s social media and events!
You can order online – and if you’re stuck for ideas, the team will make a recommendation based on your reading habits and interests. They’re also hosting online events to keep you busy during lockdown.
Why should people to support local, independent bookshops, like Griffin Books?
“When you shop in a local independent bookshop, you will find a unique range of stock, different from any other bookshop or outlet selling books. Every title on our shelves has been hand-selected, and we love to help our customers, whatever their age, find just the right book for them! Coupled with that, the shop staff all live locally and shop locally, so every pound you spend helps support the local economy.
Finally, as a local independent bookshop we do so much more than sell books – we are a community hub, providing a safe space for those with additional needs, and offering a wide range of opportunities to meet other book-lovers through our regular author events, book clubs or drop-in sessions.
Our mantra (overheard in the shop soon after opening) says it all really: “A town without a bookshop is a town without a soul”.”
Located within Caernarfon’s town walls, Palas Print is an independent bookshop selling English and Welsh language books from Wales and across the world. You can still shop online or make your order over the phone.
If you’re looking for inspiration for your next order, Palas Print share their Top 10 books for each month and recommended reading lists, including this important Black Lives Matter list of books for children and adults, in Welsh and English, to help you diversify your bookshelf, educate yourself and challenge systemic racism.
What’s the best thing about running an independent bookshop?
“Too many things to list! I love the fact that when the boxes of books arrive I’m never 100% certain what will be inside. There may be an eagerly awaited new title, a customer order which introduces me to a new book, author or idea, or even a book I’ve loved for years just coming back into stock… each day is different.
But the best thing, and the thing I miss most at the moment, is talking to people about books in the shop. I love helping people find books they did not know existed and seeing the joy on children’s faces when they pick up a book they love, or find a new book to love.
Of course, we’re still having those chats with customers over the phone, still recommending books to people, delivering and posting books out to customers, helping parents find the right books (hopefully) to help them home school… but it’s not quite the same is it?
I do look forward to welcoming people back into the shop, but for the moment, my priority is the health and wellbeing of the whole community so we continue to proceed carefully. We’re working behind closed doors, selling online and over the phone, and organising zoom book groups and events until we’re able to open again.”
Starting life in December 2019 as a pop-up inside their friend’s beer and record shop, Pop’n’Hops, Shelflife is now a not-for-profit radical bookshop in Cardiff working with independent publishers and DIY zine-makers to make space for marginalised and under-represented voices.
They focus on bolstering marginalised community voices by stocking books from independent, micro- and self- publishers, and by specialising in feminist, anti-racist and queer works. You can find lots of great books, zines and magazines on their online store, including a helpful anti-racist reading list here.
Why is it important to read books from marginalised voices?
“With recent events, stepping outside of your own comfort zone is more important than ever. Actively seeking out work by oppressed and forgotten communities gives us a crucial insight into how others experience the world which we could never experience ourselves. It’s so easy to develop preconceptions or prejudices, however unintentional, that contribute to the oppression of ostracised groups, whether that’s black people, queer people, disabled people, the working class… sadly the list goes on.
Our capacity for influence and to be influenced has mushroomed with social media. We’ve all become content creators which, on one hand, is brilliant because it means we can express ourselves and create vital community connections online, but on the other, we each unconsciously bring our own view of the world into everything we create. This is why it’s important to make the very conscious decision to learn how to be anti-racist, to learn about LGBTQ+ history, to read about women’s fight for equality, to read real experiences of disabled people living in a world not designed for them. And it’s not easy to do – reading about the cultures of oppression that surround marginalised groups can be harrowing, so remember to celebrate marginalised communities by seeking out examples of progress and joy, too.
And once you’ve read about these experiences, talk about them with your friends and family, and use whatever privilege you have to stand up for and amplify marginalised voices in every way you can.”
Cover to Cover is Swansea’s only independent bookshop. Alongside a carefully picked stock of contemporary fiction, all-ages children’s books, general non-fiction with specialisms in local history and music, this indie bookshop also offers a year-long programme of literary events.
You can get your orders in via email, phone, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
What three books are you loving at the moment?
“I think lockdown has thrown up a variety of winners in terms of sales and interest, the first being Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. After a virtual performance at Hay with over 200K viewers, sales were brisk for this fictionalised account of the short life of Shakepeare’s son, Hamnet. It’s a work of profound understanding.
Understandably, books on race and empire have been big the last few weeks – notably Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, and Akela’s Natives. I’ve enjoyed both. Why I’m… explores class/race, airbrushed history and more, while Natives links personal experience with political history. Both are essential reading.”
How can you support independent booksellers?
If you want to find your own local independent bookshop to support, you can head to the Independent Bookshop Week website and enter your postcode into the search to see what’s near you.
- Order your books through indies.
- Ask for book recommendations.
- Shout about them on social media.
- Encourage family and friends to order from indies rather than big companies.
- Visit your local indies when it’s safe to do so.
- Sign up to their events.
Let me know about some of your favourite indie bookshops in the comments! What book are you next hoping to pick up? I’m looking forward to getting my hands on In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado next!