The Power of the Bookshop

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Surprisingly, I think I have only recently understood the full power of the bookshop. As a literature graduate and book lover it is perhaps no shock that bookshops are among my favourite places to spend time (and usually a small fortune!). I have loved many a bookshop, often in a quiet, personal way. Perhaps now more than ever, in a fast-paced and frequently impersonal society of online shopping, the almost sacred quality that bookshops can possess is particularly striking. What they offer, for me at least, is a haven of knowledge and creativity, going beyond that of a retail exploit. There is increasing academic interest in the role of the modernist bookshop at present, as shown by Huw Osborne's recent edited collection and Andrew Thacker's article in Modernist Cultures (11.3, 2016). However, until undertaking this research for MAPP, reading about and compiling information on specific bookshops of note that come up frequently in the Hogarth Press Order Books, I had not thought in huge detail about the impact of a bookshop on the wider society around it. The more bookshops I have looked at, the more apparent it has become that the success of these businesses (most of the ones I have researched are still running today in some form) springs largely from one common thread: the community they provide.


More often than not, bookshops serve not only to provide books, but to encourage and nurture connection between readers and writers. Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier particularly caught my attention. I had known relatively little of their influence, but soon came to realise that their work was instrumental in delivering modernist texts to the world. Some of my favourite writers would perhaps not be known today without the help and friendship of Beach and Monnier. Monnier opened La Maison des Amis des Livres in 1915 and in doing so became one of the first women to own a bookshop in France. Beach founded the famous Shakespeare and Company in 1919, which went on to publish James Joyce’s Ulysses when other publishers were put off by claims of obscenity. Beach and Monnier’s Paris bookshops offered a thriving hub of support and creativity to writers; they were social spaces that fostered ideals of art, culture and society. André Chamson acknowledged that Beach ‘did more to link England, the United States, Ireland, and France than four great ambassadors combined.’ Her life’s work was in encouraging literary connection, particularly across nations. This sentiment could perhaps be applicable to the owners of almost every bookshop I have encountered, including: Hatchards, Heffers, Shakespeare and Company, Librairie Galignani, Zwemmer’s and Menzies. The power of the bookshop, as proven by Chamson’s words, therefore lies with the pioneering owner at the helm.


We are currently at work on linking these individual 'Bookshop biographies' with sales and purchasing information from the Hogarth Press Order Books, digitized through Roberta Denning funds and transcribed by students at Stanford. More soon!