Alex Gibbon talks to partners Ray and Nicola from ‘The Bookish Type’ about seeking solace in among the shelves, the ups and downs of setting up their business and the queer fiction you should be reading.
What is ‘The Bookish Type’? And what made you decide to set up shop?
Nicola: The Bookish Type is a pop-up independent queer bookshop in Leeds run by myself and my partner, Ray. We both love reading and visiting bookshops. After visiting Category Is Books in Glasgow, a ‘fiercely independent and queer’ bookshop we were so inspired by their friendly and welcoming space we thought how lovely it would be if Leeds also had its very own place like that.
Ray: When Nicola and I were teenagers we would hang out at a bookshop in Hull called Page One – it’s no longer there, sadly. It was a space where I felt very comfortable. Bookshops tend to be quiet and welcoming spaces, Page One was somewhere that I could find books, magazines or flyers about subjects that you wouldn’t be learning about in school.
Nicola: Yes, it was such a great place to go as teenagers; you could sneakily grab a copy of the Pink Paper (a free LGBT newspaper) and scurry home to read it. Page One was such an important place to find out that other queer people existed thanks to them stocking lots of LGBTQ+ publications.
Ray: When we open our permanent shop in Leeds we hope to be a space for all the LGBTQ+ community. Just like when we were young and figuring out our sexuality it was so important that a community bookshop existed. And now, even though we’re much older and our bookshelves at home are full of LGBTQ+ books, I still love going to radical independent bookshops and buying even more books I may or may not get around to reading!
What was the inspiration behind the name The Bookish Type?
Nicola: It’s really hard to come up with a shop name! We like that it says more about the kind of people that come to our bookstalls than the actual shop. We’re still toying around with our strap line but currently it’s something like ‘independent queer bookshop’.
How were the early stages of setting up shop?
Nicola: We’d had a chat with a friend about our visit to Glasgow and mentioned that we’d love for Leeds to have a queer bookshop. A couple of weeks later Ray and I were at a party and someone said ‘Oh, aren’t you the ones opening a queer bookshop?’. So that then spurred us on to actually follow through with our vague mumblings about creating this space in Leeds.
Ray: Initially we did lots of research to find suppliers, choose books to stock as well as registering as a business, designing a logo, etc. Then we were ready for our first Pop-Up which happened at Leeds Queer Film Festival in May. Now that we’re planning for the opening of our shop we have to find out about so many more things. Silly things like which fire extinguisher you need or which cash register to install for the shop. These are all the kinds of details you don’t think about when your dream is just to open a bookshop.
Nicola: Yeah, we just want to share our love of books, not get bogged down with health and safety rules! We know that everyone who has supported us this past year has been really lovely and hope they’ll be just as kind when we’re bumbling our way through our first few weeks in the shop.
(I believe) The Bookish Type is approaching its one year anniversary. Any plans to celebrate?
Nicola: We ran our first Pop-Up in May 2019 so will hopefully be celebrating our first anniversary in our new shop. There will be plenty of events going on in the space. We’re not sure if we’ll do some kind of grand opening as both of us are pretty shy.
Ray: We’ll probably just open the door and hope all the bookish queers will wander in.
How do you feel the literary world is doing in terms of queer representation?
Nicola: Pretty good – we’ll certainly have no problem filling up our shop with books by and about queer people. What has been a pleasant surprise is discovering how many YA (young adult) books there are with queer representation. It’s really heartening to know that younger queer readers will now see themselves represented in stories.
Ray: It’s so different from when we were young and looking for those representations. Some of the books I read growing up were so old fashioned, like Enid Blyton, or I had an Agatha Christie phase. It’s great that there are so many books published these days with characters or themes that actually reflect the society we live in.
Any tips on new releases that have/will hit your shop soon?
Ray: There were some real stand out books from 2019 that are coming out soon in (more affordable) paperback such as Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrew Lawlor, Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson and Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.
Nicola: I’m excited about Meg-John Baker’s new book although it isn’t out for a while yet. They spoke at the Leeds LGBT+ Mini Lit Fest last weekend and are such a good writer. I really like how they make fairly academic topics accessible. Their new book is a graphic guide called Sexuality which follows on from the graphic guides they have previously published called Queer and Gender.
What are your reading recommendations for LGBTQ+ history month?
Nicola: My all-time favourite book is Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin which came out in 1978. It still feels so relevant even 40+ years later, the idea of queers of all stripes moving to a city to live their best lives. It’s a book with so much heart and one that I have re-read many times since I first read it as a baby queer back in the early 90s.
Ray: I’m currently reading Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg. It’s hard to describe the plot but it’s basically a made up bawdy tale of a trans guy named Jack, an 18th century thief and jail breaker, told by a trans academic who has found some manuscripts about Jack. I guess it’s like a less dense and very queer version of a Charles Dickens novel. I’m reading it in time for the next meeting of Queer Book Club Leeds in March. It will be a really interesting discussion as the book is so layered with so many things to talk about.
Where can our readers catch you next?
Ray: We are on tenterhooks waiting for our lease to come through for our new shop. It’s in Leeds city centre and we’ll reveal all once everything is finalised as we don’t want to jinx it!
Nicola: For sure, it feels like it is taking ages for all the paperwork to come through but I am so excited that Leeds is going to have its very own queer community bookshop.
Photo Credit: The Bookish Type