I often think there are a number of ways you can categorise people, small things that reveal more telling personality traits. Do they brush their teeth before or after breakfast? Do they drink instant coffee or only the barista standard? Do they use recipe books or make it up as they go along? I realised that one way to define someone, along with hundreds of others, is whether they are the kind of person who can wander aimlessly for hours in a bookshop. I’ve always been that kind of person. I can walk into a shop with one book in mind and come away with five, I can read blurb after blurb whilst I try and narrow down my selection and still leave empty-handed because I just couldn’t choose, I can hide away in a quiet corner whilst I try and sneak my way through the first chapter. When I was younger, I did this in my local chain bookseller, but as I’ve grown up, and particularly over the past year, I’ve realised how important it is to do it in independent bookshops, ones that are filled with as much heart as they are books.
I moved to Brixton in September and was thrilled to stumble upon Bookmongers, a second-hand independent shop that has been stocking the bookshelves of South Londoners since 1992. The owner, Patrick, of course, has his own story to tell. He came to London from America in his mid-twenties, whilst all his friends at home were growing up and getting married, he decided he wasn’t quite ready for that. He fell in love with London and as is always the way when you’re not looking for love, he found it with an Italian girl, and alongside the city, she convinced him to stay. Since then, I’m sure Bookmongers has become part of so many other people’s stories. Patrick himself has said that the individuals who walk through his shop door are the most interesting group of people he’s ever seen, but it works both ways; his collection of books is one of the most interesting I’ve ever seen.
The only way I can describe how I felt when I first walked into Bokmongers is simultaneously overwhelmed and relieved. It felt comforting, like I was stepping into the mind of an old friend, like I could see years worth of thoughts and feelings piled up and that I was being given permission to sort through them all. The issue was, I didn’t know where to start. Fortunately, I had nowhere else to be. I have a rule where I don’t go into bookshops if I have somewhere to go – it’ll only make me late. Bookmongers isn’t magic, but I’ve noticed it somehow has a way of presenting you with the book you need to read, even if you don’t know it. One of the first that caught my eye when I walked in was Calypso by David Sedaris, something I’d been meaning to read. I love Sedaris but had forgotten about this book – it had slipped further down my list of priority reads as new and more talked about novels had been released, now it’s one of my favourites. The same thing happened to my flatmate. She found a book that she could relate to, so much so that it could’ve been written about her. That being said, if a book doesn’t present itself to you, there are stacks and stacks to rummage through. Although I’d advise against going in with something particular in mind – not that it won’t be there, I’d just be hugely impressed if you managed to find it.
The story of its beginnings, the endless stock of books, and Popeye, the resident lazy-eyed cat who used to roam Brixton’s streets before settling down in the shop, all add to Bookmongers charm. If you’re nearby, please please go and pay them a visit as soon as they open again. In the meantime, they’ve got some of their stock available on their website for delivery or click and collect. Everything from fiction to classic literature, biographies to self-help books, unheard authors to those highly praised. I can’t wait to lose an afternoon or two in there again soon.
Words by India Garrett
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