In the latest in our series on bookshops around the world that academics should visit, Elaine Housby, a Religious Studies academic and regular LSE Review of Books contributor, shares her favourite bookshops in Northumberland, in the North East of England. If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, find more information about contributing below.
I have always loved second-hand bookshops. It is the element of chance, of serendipity, that is so fascinating about them.
I grew up in the town of Alnwick in Northumberland, which is now home to one of the largest second-hand bookshops in Britain. Barter Books is run by Stuart and Mary Manley in the building that was formerly the train station, at Wagon Way Road. Unusually for this business, space is not much of an issue, and so they are able to carry a very large and varied stock. You are as likely to stumble across a previously unfamiliar title that is unexpectedly relevant to your academic research as a fictional bestseller. I have stumbled across many such books there, the most life-changing being Robert Heilbroner’s classic The Worldly Philosophers, which made me understand for the first time how economics could be interesting.
Barter Books used to have a branch outlet in the coastal village of Seahouses. When the decision to close it was taken, the manager, Roderick Henriques, started his own shop up the road in Berwick-upon-Tweed, at 18a Castlegate. His shop is called Berrydin, because he is always ‘buried in’ books. Roddie has been saying for years that he hopes to be able to dig his way out of the stock room one day, but that prospect seems as far away as ever. His prices are so low that it worries me, but he has firmly resisted all advice to increase them. Berrydin has a particular interest in science-fiction and in children’s novels, and any visitor interested in the history of the Borders is likely to find something relevant on the crammed shelves.
Berwick is also lucky enough to have a book stall every market day in the covered area behind the eighteenth-century Town Hall. It has the delightful name of Slightly Foxed, a term used to describe the brown patches that appear on old books, but also having a certain alcoholic suggestiveness. The original owner retired a few years ago but seems to find it hard to stay away. The stall is now run by Simon Heald, who survives long winter days in the open air by wearing a large furry hat and guilt-trips customers into spending more than they meant to by announcing loudly that his children will just have to go hungry again tonight. The stock is divided into mainstream commercial fiction and an unpredictable selection of interesting non-fiction. I made an impulse purchase there of Vince Cable’s book The Storm, attracted mainly by the cover designer’s remarkably literal interpretation of an economic ‘storm’, and ended up quoting it in my own most recent book. But I also regularly indulge my secret passion for vampires there.
Elaine Housby has a Masters degree in Politics and Sociology from Birkbeck College, London, a Masters degree in Modern Middle East Studies from St Anthony’s College, Oxford and a PhD from the Open University for a thesis in the field of Religious Studies. She is the author of Islamic Financial Services in the UK and Islamic and Ethical Finance in the UK, both published by Edinburgh University Press. Read more reviews by Elaine.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, then now’s your chance to tell us all about it.
As part of a new weekly feature on LSE Review of Books, we’re asking academics and students to recommend their favourite two or three bookshops in a particular city, with the aim of building an exciting online series for our book-loving community of readers the world over.
Bookshops could be academic, alternative, foreign language, hobby-based, secret or underground institutions, second hand outlets, or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too.
If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 100 words per bookshop, detailing why this place is a must-see. Our editorial team can then find suitable photos and links to accompany the piece, though you’re welcome to supply these too. We only ask that you focus on just one city or region, and two or three bookshops within it.
Email us now if you’d like to contribute: firstname.lastname@example.org