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Not Just a Bookshop

by Matthew Cornford
Not Just a Bookshop
by Grey Marlow

Working at Queer Lit has shown me that independent bookshops are more important than ever, they are not just a bookshop but a community hub. Bookshops offer a space for people of different backgrounds to come together. For many of us, the lockdowns meant we turned to books as a place to hide away in but reading can be solitary without people to talk about the worlds you find yourself lost in. After such isolation, the bookshop is a place where people come together, give each other recommendations or join in with each other’s conversations. Often, we will see the beginnings of friendships forming, with groups of people gathering round bookcases passing books back and forth between each other, encouraging them to be read.

Sometimes people come into the shop with a very specific idea for what they want to read and they present a challenge, other times people are more open to recommendations and I get to share some of my favourite books with them. I feel a real joy in finding the right book for someone, whether that is by giving them a book which they see themselves in, or one that will help guide them through making sense of themselves. From the people who edge closer to a bookcase in the back of the shop, full of trans books, or hover over a book called ‘How to Understand Your Sexuality’, wondering whether it is too late, to the people who come in and proudly buy a pin with their flag on; the range of people who come into the shop is as expansive as our community is.

Something that is very special to me about the shop is the importance placed on the inclusion of trans people. At a time where hatred and vitriol towards trans people is increasing at an alarming rate, making sure the shop is a place where trans people can feel seen and supported is crucial.  It is extremely special to me that other trans, non-binary, GNC and questioning people feel safe enough to have conversations with me about their identities. It is a huge act of trust when customers ask me for support in choosing a trans books for the first time, it is something I cherish most about the job. I love being able to help people in some small way and by being part of the community they might not otherwise have.

The best days are when someone walks away gleefully clutching a book they are excited to read, when they come back eagerly with a review or when people recommend me something they have enjoyed. Working in the bookshop has given me a space to meet people I wouldn’t ordinarily meet. There aren’t many non-drinking focussed spaces for LGBT+ people and the bookshop provides a physical meeting point for queers you wouldn’t necessarily find at the club, though sometimes the conspiratorial conversations aren’t unlike something overheard in the smoking area. As a younger queer person, I relish opportunities to meet LGBT+ elders. I learn from older LGBT+ people speaking about their difficulties growing up, how section 28 and other laws impacted their youths and how different things seem to be now, I exchange my own stories of going to a Catholic school where I was punished just for saying the word ‘lesbian’. Sometimes there is a space for a mourning, for the things we didn’t have that the younger generation seem to and other times there is a reflection on how much more work needs to be done. It amazes me that a single space can hold so much.

If you are planning to visit sometime soon, please feel free to bring your dogs, seeing them is always the highlight of my day!

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