After finding success as a pop-up stall, the team behind The Bookish Type have opened up new premises to give Leeds its first-ever queer bookshop. Associate Editor Alex Gibbon caught up with Ray and Nicola to talk about setting up shop, persevering through the pandemic and their exciting new plans for their business.
Firstly, congratulations on finally opening your doors! How does it feel to be behind Leeds’ only queer community bookshop?
Thank you! It feels really exciting to finally have a shop, I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet. We’ve had a great first week and it’s been lovely to see how positive people are towards the shop.
Obviously, it has been a turbulent year for everyone, has COVID-19 affected the process of opening up The Bookish Type?
COVID-19 slowed everything down for us because we were hoping to open in the spring. However, it forced us to be creative and set up a website so we started selling online a few months ago and delivering books locally. It’s been a real delight to do that because people are always so happy when you turn up with a package of books for them.
How important is it to give leeds another LGBTQ+ space?
COVID has hit hard and it’s a shame to see so many LGBTQIA+ spaces closing down. For us it feels important to have a dry space and one that is open during the day that caters for queers of all ages, a bit like Flamingos Café. We’re here for all the quiet queers and bookish types.
“We’re here for all the quiet queers and bookish types.”
What is one thing that might surprise people about setting up your own business?
The amount of furniture you have to build!
What were your plans/initial ideas for designing and decorating the bookshop?
We wanted to create an open, friendly space full of books but with lots of room to browse.
In our last interview your mentioned Hull‘s Page One, the former radical bookshop you both frequented as teenagers. Did you take any inspiration from there?
Page One was a radical bookshop rather than a queer one, although they certainly stocked lots of LGBTQIA+ books. As teens in the late ‘80s, it felt like a lifeline; a safe, friendly space where you could explore lots of different ideas, learn about queer culture and feel part of a community.
Have you established a relationship with any other LGBTQ+ bookshops from across the UK?
Yes, we know Portal in York and we’ve visited Category is Books in Glasgow and Gay’s the Word in London. The queer bookshop community in the UK feels really supportive and we’ve had lovely welcoming messages from various bookshops.
What have you both been reading during lockdown?
Ray: I’ve just finished reading Saeed Jones’ memoir ‘How We Fight For Our Lives’ which is stunning in its portrayal of a young black gay man growing up in poverty in the US and struggling to get by. It manages to be brutal, poetic, honest and tender. I also loved ‘Cantoras’ by Caroline de Robertis which is a beautiful book about a group of lesbians in 1970s Uruguay who create their own community and a breathing space from the repressive military government in power.
We’ve both enjoyed ‘Playtime’ by Andrew McMillan which is wonderful; it’s so well observed, looking at masculinity, changing bodies, rites of passage and growing up gay. Nicola has also read ‘Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian)’ by Hazel Jane Plante, an incredibly playful novel that is like a queer love letter from a trans woman to her dead friend.
Finally, I know you have only just opened, but do you have any future plans or goals for the shop?
We’d like the bookshop to have more of a community focus but that’s tricky during COVID, so in the future we hope to put up a community notice board, offer the space for LGBTQIA+ meetings and collaborate on events. We’ve started a ‘pay it forward’ scheme whereby people can donate books or money for those with limited funds. It feels like a great way for the local queer community to support each other and we’re really pleased that in our first week people have already kindly donated. We’re also going to have a table curated by different local groups so they can promote themselves but also select relevant books that are important to them.
The Bookish Type is now open and can be found on the upper floor of The Merrion Centre.
Ray and Nicola‘s Reading Recommendations:
Tales Of The City, by Armistead Maupin
Nicola: This is my all-time favourite book. It came out in 1978 but still feels relevant 40+ years later with 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.
Confessions Of The Fox, by Jordy Rosenberg
Ray: 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 jailbreaker, 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 read it for Queer Book Club Leeds and it was such a layered novel with so many things to talk about.
Photography by: Ellie Hodgson