It’s no secret that we Northern Soulers absolutely love books. We love how they look, how they feel, and how they smell. So, we couldn’t let Bookshop Day 2023, the annual celebration of bookshops in the UK and Ireland, go by without banging on about all things bibliophile.
Organised by the Booksellers Association, Bookshop Day celebrates the vital role bookshops play on their high streets. This year’s theme, ‘Bookshop Bringing People Together’, highlights their importance as community hubs, as well as retail spaces for books.
There’s lots planned for the day, including draw-along sessions to special audiobook offers and author events. A number of bookshops will be opening new branches or moving their premises just in time for Bookshop Day, while others have been open since this summer and are looking forward to October 14.
This Bookshop Day will spotlight Manchester and its wonderful bookshops. Local artists Danielle Rhoda and Maisy Summer have worked with Jack Arts on two murals with sites on Shudehill and Church Street in the city centre. Meanwhile, illustrator Poonam Mistry is this year’s designer of the Books Are My Bag limited edition bag, which will be available exclusively in bookshops from Bookshop Day onwards, while stocks last.
Northern Soul spoke to booksellers in the North of England to find out why Bookshop Day is important. We also asked them for their autumn book recommendations, and which books they loved in 2023.
Hilary MacCallum, senior bookseller at Cogito Books, Hexham, Northumberland
Bookshop Day is a genuine opportunity to highlight what bookshops do every day, bringing people together, creating something special and putting their customers at the heart of a vibrant book-loving community. When people speak to their local bookseller, they know they’re engaging with someone who’s chosen a working environment in which to share their knowledge and passion for the written word. As booksellers, our many and varied conversations with customers are our absolute lifeblood, whether that’s discussing a mutually admired book, helping them to discover their next read or finding the perfect gift for a friend or family member. It’s also wonderful to feel that our relaxed communal spaces nurture those serendipitous conversations between book lovers which just might put an extra spring in their step throughout the day.
I’m looking forward to starting North Woods by Daniel Mason. I love his writing and found The Winter Soldier profoundly moving, so can’t wait to immerse myself in this new one. The other book I’m recommending is one which I’m already hugely enjoying and it’s Francesca Peacock’s biography of Margaret Cavendish, Pure Wit. It’s a wonderful exploration of this important writer’s life and work and also a great history of the upheaval endured by families during and after the Civil War.
Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead is an astonishing book. I love her writing and this latest has all of the ambition, linguistic virtuosity and deep understanding of human frailty which are cornerstones of her work. We discussed it with our book group here in the shop recently and we were all totally awestruck by it. Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words has also been a standout read this year. Such a fascinating premise for a book and the author’s weaving of Esme’s story with a brilliantly nuanced discussion of the gendered power of language is superbly rendered.
Jordan Taylor-Jones, director of The West Kirby Bookshop, Wirral
For us, Bookshop Day is all about community. We celebrate the wonderful relationships we’ve established with our loyal customers and champion bricks and mortar independent shops on the high street. In an age when Amazon and online shopping can be all too convenient, Bookshop Day allows us to remind people that we’re here and have a genuine passion for connecting readers to great books.
As the dark nights start drawing in, we’re all about settling down with a good book. There’s a gorgeous new clothbound edition of Agatha Christie’s Autumn Chills and Joanna Wallace’s debut, You’d Look Better as Ghost, if you’re looking for a compulsive page-turner. For the discerning reader, we’ve been loving Stephen Ellcock’s Underworlds and William Viney’s Twinkind. For younger readers, we have to shout about the picture book Soft and Sticky by Jan Willis, illustrated by West Kirby’s own Claire Powell, and the fantastical Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell.
2023 has been a year of exceptional publishing. Some standout books for us this year have been the gripping debut novels from Colin Walsh (Kala), Alice Slater (Death of a Bookseller), and K Patrick’s Mrs S. We’ve enjoyed some standout books from our monthly book club, including Idra Novey’s Take What You Needand Katherine Scanlan’s Kick the Latch. In terms of non-fiction, we’ve loved debut memoirs from Harriet Gibsone (Is This Ok?) and Octavia Bright (This Ragged Grace). Niki Segnit’s The Flavour Thesaurus: more flavours, and Christina Sharpe’s Ordinary Notes have also been two books we’ve loved to discuss with customers this year.
Emma Marshall, area commercial support and one of the bookshop managers at Deansgate Waterstones, Manchester
Bookshop Day is important because physical bookshops are important. Bookshops spark the creative mind and open us up to infinite possibilities. They remind us to take a beat from our busy lives, come off our screens – and encourage curiosity, examination. They are cultural hubs in the centre of our communities that are free and accessible for all. So a day dedicated to reminding you to visit one should definitely be celebrated. If we imagine the phrase ‘It’s Bookshop Day’ entering the mind of a parent, looking for something to do with their child one rainy Saturday, you can see how even the words themselves would spark imagination, and maybe even inspire a trip out the house. Now imagine if that’s the first time all year that child has been taken to a bookshop. We know that particularly good stories can help to shape the people we become. Bookshop Day could be the day that big discoveries are made.
There’s so much publishing to be excited about in the autumn, and at the same time Manchester is celebrating books with the Manchester Literature Festival (tickets available from the festival website). If you’re an adult you should read The Fraud by Zadie Smith, her first historical novel. She breathes diversity into the historical space and unearths histories popular culture has not yet given voice to. If you’re a kid or lover of fantasy you must read Katherine Rundell’s Impossible Creatures which is drawing comparisons to Pullman and Tolkein. It’s great for nine to 12-year-olds with big imaginations. If you read non-fiction I highly recommend The Creative Act by Rick Rubin – short intense chapters about being an artist and pursuing that path despite the barriers you may face.
I’ve recently loved North Woods by Daniel Mason, a modern Gothic masterpiece about woodland in the US that changes hands over 400 years. It features apple addiction, ghosts, romance and dedicatedly celebrates forests and nature in a sort of relentless ode all the way through.
All images courtesy of Bookshop Day
For more information about events on Bookshop Day, click here.