If one was to believe everything they read in the papers, it would seem life for bibliophiles has been tough of late. Libraries closing; e-readers usurping print; smaller independent bookshops unable to compete on the High Street.
Nottingham, however, seems to have bucked that trend. We are a city of book lovers,and a walk around Nottingham bears this out. Here are our top ten bibliophile locations in the City. If you notice any omissions, please let us know. We’ll also be posting our top ten bibliophile heavens in the County, so if you know any gems with an NG postcode, let us know. Many thanks to James Walker from LeftLion for his input into this article.
Opened in 2013 by local publisher Ross Bradshaw, Five Leaves can bask in the rather wonderful accolade ‘The only independent bookshop to open in any UK city centre this century’.
It’s in a beautiful space, tucked away from the bustle of the Market Square on an alleyway between The Works and Betjam. Inside, expect to find a diverse range of titles individually selected by Ross, taking in radical titles unavailable since the demise of Mushroom Books in the nineties.
If you’re still struggling with a selection – severely unlikely – then Ross will order in any book in print. Just like that. They walk it like they talk it as well: Five Leaves has a commitment to pay its staff a living wage, a rare thing in retail. Five Leaves also put on regular events
Five Leaves Bookshop 14a Long Row, NG1 1DH
Mention Bromley House to many Nottingham folk and they’ll look wistfully into the middle distance. ‘Ah yes, I’ve heard of that place…’
It holds a place in the collective imagination of Nottingham similar to Platform 9 3/4 to Harry Potter fans; or The Moon Underwater does to fans of both Orwell and pubs. It’s that place you sort of know exists, know you must walk by it frequently…
It’s an incredible place if you do get a chance to go within. Inside, it resembles a library preserved in time: books stacked to wall, solid shelves made of polished, varnished wood; a silent, serene calm that feels very much at odds with the bustle outside its door. Explore, and you soon get lost in its many nooks, crannies and surprise rooms. But this is no museum, preserved in sterilising aspic. The place is vibrant with ideas, with an active membership putting on a wide variety of events. Take a look at this short film for a wander around its rooms.
There is a wonderful freedom to the way books live here: old, leather-bound embossed tomes sit spine to spine with modern volumes. You’ll soon have the thought take over your mind ‘I want to live here’. It even has a walled garden. In the centre of Nottingham. Next year it will celebrate its 200th birthday, so keep an eye out for some special events to celebrate. It’s easy to become a member too; click the link below to find out how.
Bromley House Angel Row, Nottingham NG1 6HL
The easily misspelled antiquarian bookshop is one of those rare treats; a cave of antiquarian books that invites you to get lost inside; and part happily with a large chunk of your wallet before leaving.
The road in question is Mansfield Road, which still has largely resisted the pervasive gentrification of other roads around the city, giving shops like this room to breathe.
It’s said that the difference between an online bookseller like Amazon and a physical bookshop is that with the former you find the book you were looking for; with the latter you find the book that you didn’t know you were looking for. For such serendipitous moments, it’s well worth dropping in to this book-stuffed grotto.
Jermy and Westerman 203 Mansfield Road, City Centre, Nottingham NG1 3FS
Centred around independent magazines, journals, books and stationery; the focus is on the aesthetic as well as the content.
You could be mistaken in thinking that in these digital days, the physicality of a book had been rendered obsolete. Surely a book is the same pixelated onto an e-reader screen as it is on paper? A trip to Ideas on Paper immediately shows this assumption is hogwash.
Ran by local entrepreneur and retail expert (he’s worked at Harrods, Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and many more high-end retailers), Alex Smith, it’s a unique, warm, friendly shop which brings paper back to life again. Stock is handpicked, and it shows. Alex’s expert eye ensures that there is a certain luxury to the items on sale. This is how shops should be: a boutique ran by an owner who clearly loves his stock; wants to tell you about it; and will even make you a cup of coffee if you’re feeling a bit nesh.
Rumours of paper’s death are much exaggerated. A visit to Ideas on Paper show its in exuberant, rude health.
Ideas on Paper 1 Cobden Chambers, Pelham Street, Nottingham, NG1 2ED
Only the most churlish of literary critics would dismiss comics as an inferior art form.
The graphic novel has established itself over the last few decades as an important part of literature, and since 1994 Nottingham’s Page 45 has had its finger firmly on the pulse. While it stocks a huge range of comics and graphic novels, it does way more than just sell stock: it involves itself in youth literacy projects; runs presentations and workshops; interviews and reviews comic artists and much, much more. It was probably no surprise then that it was awarded Best Independent Retailer in the Nottingham Post Business Awards, then topped that the following year by taking the Best Independent Business award.
Yet perhaps its favourite accolade came from a god in the comic book / graphic novel world: Neil Gaiman, writer of the groundbreaking Sandman, who announced “I’ve long thought that Page 45 is the best graphic novel shop I’ve ever been to’…and he’s undoubtedly been to more of them than most mortals.
Page 45 9 Market Street, Nottingham, NG1 6HY
You don’t have to travel far from the centre of Nottingham to find Books and Pieces, but you might need an eagle eye. Like many of Nottingham’s gems, it’s squirrelled away in an arcade down one of the fascinating little alleyways Nottingham has in abundance.
Once you do find it, your eyes are given a feast. Books, loads of them, piled on tables, tucked in racks, stacked in shelves. It’s not as chaotic as it first may seem, there are sections to guide you (including a well-stocked selection on its local writers shelf).
Books and Pieces 19 West End Arcade, Nottingham City Centre, Nottingham,NG1 6JP
Once the retirement home for dog-eared Mills and Boon bodice rippers and unwanted Jeremy Clarkson moaning cash-ins, many charity shops have lately applied a more rigorous selection process to what they display.
Oxfam probably lead the way here. The dedicated books and music store on Market Street is always worth a visit, with a fine, regularly updated collection of donated stock.
Bookwise, on Hockley’s Goosegate, is a similar trove, this time run in support of the charity Music For Everyone, which since 1982 has been bringing music to those who might otherwise be denied the chance, through innovative projects and participation events.
Every purchase comes with that warm inner glow that comes with knowing that buying a book here will directly donate to a charity to help those less fortunate; as well as giving an unwanted book a welcome new home.
Oxfam Books and Music 19 Market Street, Nottingham, NG1 6HX
Bookwise 10 Goose Gate, Nottingham NG1 1FF
The county’s largest collection of non-English language books, boasting everything ’from Amharic to Welsh’
No list would be complete, of course, without a mention of our fine central library. Sprawled over four floors, it’s the East Midlands’ principal library. It’s not just books though: there is a fine local studies library within, with a microfiche viewer where, in pre-internet days, budding local historians would trawl the archives, dial turn by dial turn.
It also houses the county’s largest collection of non-English language books, boasting everything ’from Amharic to Welsh’. It’s proved a lifeline for our diverse range of residents in such a multi-cultural city as Nottingham. It also host to a wide range of activities, workshops and free courses.
Nottingham Central Library Angel Row, Nottingham, NG1 6HP
Opened late last year on Chaucer Street, just up from the Nottingham Trent University, the Women’s Centre boasts the only dedicated women’s library in the East Midlands. A comfortable, welcoming and safe space, it has a wide selection of rare feminist and LBT themed books, some dating from the library’s first incarnation in the 1970′s.
The library is part of FLA: Feminist and Women’s Libraries and Archives Network, which aims to form links, nationally and internationally, with libraries and feminist archives; preserving, promoting and give a platform to these crucial, often marginalised resources.
Books are available for borrowing by all members of the Centre.
Nottingham Women’s Centre 30 Chaucer Street, Nottingham NG1 5LP
If your idea of an anarchist’s library is one where the Dewey system is eschewed, think again. The Sparrow’s Nest - named after local anarchist magazine The Nottingham Sparrow – is much more than that. Set up in St Anns to provide a resource for books, pamphlets, and other publications with a focus on Nottingham’s prominent role in history as a rebel city.
The library also houses, and is busy cataloguing; the late, great Ray Gosling’s extensive archive. It’s also part of the sprawling, wonderful Dawn of the Unread project: more on the collaboration here.
To visit, either drop in on a Tuesday between 11am-2pm; or call for an appointment to visit at other times. For those unable to visit, fear not: they are presently digitising huge chunks of their archives: check out the progress here for some nuggets of anti-authoritarian history.
The Sparrow’s Nest Visit their website to arrange an appointment www.thesparrowsnest.org.uk