We’re excited to feature House of Books & Friends as our latest Bookshop of the Month!
Located in Manchester, the shop was born out of a belief that books and reading can combat loneliness. When reports coming out of the pandemic indicated that more than 45% of people in the UK experience loneliness, Darryl Cooke of the gunnercooke foundation sought to bring something to the world that would bring people together and begin to address the issue.
“Reading, discussing books, buying books, listening to authors and writing can connect us physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually,” the shop’s website notes. “When we read, we are not alone.” The shop is also focused on giving back to others looking to make a difference. “Every penny spent also goes forward to support projects and not-for-profit partners directly addressing social isolation and loneliness.”
We caught up with a few booksellers to learn more about the shop.
What do you think is special about House of Books and Friends?
House of Books & Friends is special because we have a clear social purpose: to combat social isolation and loneliness. Sometimes, we are intentionally “overstaffed,” which means we can take time to chat with customers. It really makes for a nice working environment too. Working for a not-for-profit is so exciting because I feel fulfilled and like I’m making a tangible difference when I come into work. I wasn’t sure if that was possible when I was trying to break into the book industry.
If money was no object, what changes would you make to the shop?
Our shop has been beautifully designed, and we’re so lucky to be in the lovely grade II listed building, but for sure I would expand and just add more and more shelves so we could stock more books! It would be cool to have shelves dedicated to specific fiction genres, a shelf for independent publishers, and a shelf for each of our booksellers to recommend what they’re loving at the moment. Basically, we just want more books!
How / why did you get into bookselling?
Across our team we have some booksellers who are interested in the book and publishing industry as a whole, one who has done great community work and wanted to continue being involved in the community, and one who just loves books and wants to one day set up their own shop. Most of all though, we’re all super chatty and love talking books which is the main thing.
What’s the funniest interaction you’ve ever had with a customer?
We opened the week of Christmas, which was a lot of fun. One man came in on maybe the 23rd of December, walked straight to the till and without saying hello and just said ‘Margaret Atwood. The Testaments.’ I pointed him in the right direction – luckily, we had it – and he said that I had saved his life, which was hilarious. Men panic buying for their loved ones at Christmas will never not be funny.
What’s your favourite And Other Stories book?
Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi!
What book published in the last year do our readers need to get their hands on?
I loved Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. It’s an exploration on the big question for women: whether or not to have children, and the complex feelings that come with that decision. Her language is careful and intelligent, and it’s a unique perspective on something that is written about so often.
What would be your desert island book?
I know this is cheating, but: Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet is something that can be read over and over and you’re still discovering new things. I’m yet to read Spring and Companion Piece. I am that confident that I’ll love them that I’d take them on a desert island!