One thing from The Bookseller Crow

I’m buying one thing from every shop on the Crystal Palace Triangle. This is thing ten.

Q: How do you know if SE19-dwellers have a local indie bookshop?
A: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you!

A local bookshop one of the things you look for, isn’t it, when choosing a dream place to live. A shorthand for village vibes – along with good pubs, schools and cafés. Top of the B-roll shot list for an episode of Location, Location, Location.

So I’ve been warming up to this one, wondering how to do it justice.

Appropriately, it marks the landmark 🏆TENTH POST 🎉 in this series of my buying one thing from every shop on the Crystal Palace triangle, and writing about them all here

The shop

The Bookseller Crow on the Hill, since 1997.

But unlike your average village bookshop (in, say, Dulwich), “twee, kowtowing and conventional it ain’t” – to quote their own words from the website.

It’s a bookshop with taste, opinion, personality and relevance, a lively calendar of events, three book groups, writing courses, a book-a-month discovery subscription service, and great selection of local history and local authors.

A large gathering of people on chairs in a circle in a bookstore, with bunting overhead
A good turn out for the book group in Feb 2024 (credit: this tweet by Jonathan)

The people

Jonathan Main and Justine Crow. 

A man smiling behind the counter of a bookstore, wearing a yellow bodywarmer.
Jonathan Main aka @booksellercrow

They both do an excellent line in sardonic subtweets about rude customers – especially ones who brazenly browse the shop only to buy online. Or (more concerning) the absence of customers on slow days

I’ve been amused by these tweets over the years, but they also paint a picture of how the sector and the Crow has taken a sustained beating from online shopping, e-readers, audiobooks (basically Amazon and its subsidiaries)… plus Covid and the cost of living crisis piled on top. 

It’s been rough for all retailers, but bookshops have arguably had it roughest.

And yet, these two intrepid booksellers fight on, thanks to their ingenuity and tenacity, and the loyalty of us locals.

But are we loyal enough? Doubtless we can all do a bit more to resist the convenience of those one-click checkouts sent instantly to our kindles or posted same-day to our homes, and buy from local indies instead.

The many things

As a film guy and digital guy I have to admit my relationship status with papery books is: it’s complicated.

Books have become a fairly small proportion of my cultural intake. Of which about half are e-books. And of the remainder, about half, if I am honest, I probably order online. So I hereby pledge to do that less, and order from Justine and Jonathan more.

Having said that, over the decade I’ve lived in CP, I’ve amassed a load of great buys from this shop. 

They include: several SF masterworks. A fab Nick Cave lyrics book and John Lydon autobiography. Concretopia and The Great North Wood. Countless books for the kids at various ages and stages from your Julia Donaldsons to your Mr Gums, Zombie Goldfishes and Dangers is Everywheres. Tens of luscious LEUCHTTURM1917 notebooks when I was bullet journaling. Dozens of cards, yards of gift wrap. That roasting tin cookbook everyone’s got. And many more I’ve forgotten.

Here are some snaps I took on this visit, just a taste of what’s on offer. 

The one thing

While tech disruption has been cataclysmic for booksellers, it’s done some good stuff too. Goodreads alerted me to a newish SF title some folks in my network were rating highly, and it looked right up my street. Given I was popping up to the triangle later that day, I thought I’d nip into the Crow and see if they had it. 

Lo and behold, they did! 

I let out a little squeal when I found the very thing I was looking for – the simple joy of questing for physical things in IRL shops, which the internet has destroyed. For a millisecond I remembered that feeling in my teens of finding a rare Prince bootleg in a record market in Exeter.

So I bought it. The Mountain in the Sea, by Ray Nayler, for £9.99

A book with a pink cover and an octupus graphic, being held up in front of blurred bookshelves behind. Title reads: The Mountain in the Sea, by Ray Nayler.

The thing in its new home

I’m about 2/3rds into this and loving it. I pulled out a choice (AI-relevant) quote here and it sparked some other thoughts here about tech evolution. 

I’ve been back since for birthday cards, and will be back for more books when my pile is a little less stacked!

The Bookseller Crow is at 50 Westow St, London SE19 3AF and has a well-curated website and online shop here. Support them as much as you can!

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