How could the newly-opened Blue Bear bookshop in Farnham, Surrey, not catch our eye? With its thoughtful design to encourage conversation between strangers, its warm welcome for dogs and its glittering chandeliers, it looks set to make Farnham a destination for book lovers.
What do you think is special about Blue Bear bookshop?
This space has been designed around a romantic vision of what a bookshop could be. We have a single, communal three-metre long table in the middle lit by huge glass chandeliers, which helps to initiate discussions between strangers, and the floor-to-ceiling wooden shelves hold one of each chosen book, many displayed forward-facing, evoking a sense of wonder. Our specialty coffee and artisan cakes have quickly become a town favourite and people love that they can come in with their dogs and kick back. Having only opened our doors seven weeks ago, we have happily found ourselves in dialogues with authors, musicians and artists wanting to host events. It seems that our enchanting space is destined to inspire ideas and collaborations.
If money was no object, what changes would you make to your bookshop?
We would hire the artist Phlegm to do a mural for us. Phlegm is a world-renowned cartoonist, illustrator and street artist originally from North Wales and now living in Sheffield. His extraordinary narratives inspire us to look for creativity and inspiration in our surroundings and there is a wonderful synergy between what he and we are both trying to create.
How / why did you get into bookselling?
Sylvia: A single book opened up the world to my autistic son who is now in his second year studying animation at UCA here in Farnham. Our family had to move here to support him and the town has enabled him to grow in independence, something we never thought would happen. Books have always offered a sanctuary to us and we wanted to offer the bookshop as a gift to the town as a thank you for making the impossible possible. Now those that come in are able to open up new worlds and adventures and to feel inspired just like us.
What’s the funniest thing you ever heard anyone say in the shop?
‘What do you mean I can’t eat my bacon sandwich while reading your books?’
What’s your favourite And Other Stories book?
Lesley: I love the unique voice of Fleur Jaeggy – I’m drawn to the dark narratives she creates, her intentional bluntness, the extraordinary characterisation and passionate, sometimes cold use of vocabulary to create something very new. I particularly enjoyed the stories in I Am the Brother of XX.
What book published in the last year do our readers need to get their hands on?
The 25th anniversary edition of The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by German author/illustrator Walter Moers – this is the inspirational book named above. It’s a cult fantasy classic and a delightfully illustrated epic work of mythological lunacy.
What would be your desert island book?
Sylvia: Nana by Émile Zola – a risqué classic I read as a young girl that totally blew my mind.