Tag Archives: Bookstores we love

Read, Think, Grow

With tales of a worldwide trek that ended in Liverpool, let John Maguire take you on a shortcut to literary treasure, in the latest of our series on favourite bookstores.


Winter sun splashes off the wet cobblestones of the courtyard. There appears to be a brief respite from the almost biblical rains that have attempted to sink the United Kingdom. The rays of light ricochet haphazardly and illuminate the majestic piece of architecture ahead of me: The Bluecoat, a Grade 1 listed building and the oldest in the centre of Liverpool.

bluecoat modern

Originally a school founded by Reverend Robert Styth, Rector of Liverpool, and sea-captain Bryan Blundell in 1777, the building became an Arts School in 1907 and has been recognised as an international creative hub ever since.


Yoko Ono notably appeared in 1967 and other cultural dignitaries have visited, including the late Doris Lessing and Michael Nyman.



It was to The Bluecoat that I used to venture on a Saturday afternoon, to buy books from the little stall that, sadly, is no longer there. The shop was like the Tardis, it seemed to be bigger on the inside. Here I was introduced to Hubert Selby Jr, Ibsen, Margaret Atwood, Burroughs and Bukowski. I also started a collection of Taschen Art books, drowning my eyes in Barbara Hepworth, Basquiat and Geiger, to name but a few.


Alas, after the refurbishment of the Bluecoat in 2008, I felt that the place  lost something of its charm. The interior of the ground floor was now somewhat surgical. The back yard had had a secret garden feel to it, but now looked a little too contrived. I even used to like the vagabonds who harassed you. What’s a city without a few eccentrics?

Yet the restaurant upstairs with its battered leather couches, school tables and chairs hinted at the retro Bluecoat.


However on this particular day in February, I was refreshingly taken aback by a new book store that appeared in the courtyard. Tripping up the steps to Kernaghan Books, I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the door. Immediately, it was like being transported to an old Club, like The Athenaeum, or one you would expect to find Phileas Fogg residing in.

kernaghan books

The proprietors – husband and wife team, Bryan and Alwyn Kernaghan – gave a friendly nod, and when prompted by a question they sprang into life. Welcoming like old friends, they answered queries, made recommendations and offered anecdotes. The learned couple serve to help you navigate your way through the sea of literature.

How exactly did this book store find its way to Liverpool?

The bookstore’s actual evolution is an epic tale in its own right, as Bryan Kernaghan told me,

A gap year in the 70s, long before the term was contrived, was never intended to lead to opening a bookstore. The offer to work as an ‘Antiquarian Bibliomite’ (old bookseller’s assistant to you and me) just seemed the most quirky of seven offers to a Belfast school-leaver in what must have been a plentiful jobs market.

Periods of travel and working abroad were further punctuated by spells in amongst many rooms of dusty but fast-moving tomes. Only after a few years’ inimitable work in the Himalayas did we come back to the UK wondering what we might do next. Rather than join at the bottom of a larger London company we were persuaded to launch in at the top of our own start-up old and rare book company.

We were invited to open a gallery/bookshop together with artist Tony Klitz and his wife in Southport. It was seen as an experiment which might last six months, possibly two years. Then (so the thinking went) we’d be off again to exotic parts. That lasted over 27 years before we eventually made it to the city of Liverpool, the business following an earlier move of home. So in short, not so much a decision – more a stumbling into it.

I asked, as I often ask book lovers, if you could go back in time and meet a deceased author, who would it be and why?

Not far back in time. Seamus Heaney died too soon, having tried too hard for others. He spanned my adult life in the island of my birth through times of flux. He was a consistent, perceptive and sensitive observer on a global scale, viewing through the intimate soil of Ireland. His Beowulf is stunning. A day’s walk with him on the north coast of Ireland would be epic.

With the monumental increase in fresh technologies such as Kindle, e-books and the like, I wondered how he could foresee the future of the common bookstore and the book industry?

Pared back hopefully from the massive over-production of the last four decades. e-formats hopefully will cause publishers to focus on the real virtues and values of a printed book, incorporating creative elements which genuinely please the new, emerging tactile market.

To be completely honest, I personally would struggle to hand over some of the literary treats in this bookstore. I wondered if there had been a book that had been difficult to part with.

Joyce; Ulysses – 1st edition, Shakespeare and Co, Paris 1922. We had it briefly as part of a Joyce collection which ended up in the right place just before the Joyce market went stratospheric. Would like to have it in my hand now – an unwieldy flimsy paperback, but sheer genius with a turbulent publication back story.

Another copy of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale 1st edition would be nice to see come in. We bought one from a customer who’d found it for 25 pence. He went for a holiday of a lifetime on the proceeds!

I urge book lovers to discover this rainforest of the written world. An oasis of calm in the cosmopolitan city of Liverpool. And the mantra to chant at this temple of Literature is read.think.grow

What I bought:

13 x leather-bound Charles Dickens’ Collected Works

1 x vintage pulp edition of Mildred Pierce by James M Cain

mildred pierce

1 x vintage edition of Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.


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The Vatican of Battered Books

Our favourite book stores series reaches ‘the Venice of the North’ as John Maguire finds treasure gleaming under the grey Mancunian skies…

Window designs for high street stores are generally clinically prescribed to the last detail. The retail Stepford mantra being retail is detail, retail is detail.

During my time managing a book store in the smog that is London (a chain that later went bankrupt); I was constantly up against the Universality of Bland.

One example of my battles with the fat men in retail, landed me with a verbal disciplinary for my inventive window homage to The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Any More (2003),  black comedy cartoons drawn by author Andy Riley.

bunny suicidesYet, when the book sold copious amounts, funny nothing else was said. The EXEMPLARY display was used in the end of year annual presentation, as a model of best practice. Irony with a capital I!

Another time, I was forced to get rid of the CLASSICS section to be replaced by BRATZ top trumps. A sorry affair! However, my anarchic streak kicked in; the punters of the store signed a petition that, of course they had decided to set up themselves. I mean, the General Manager would never have the audacity to perform such a ‘thought crime’, to indeed rage against the machine; biting the corporate hand that fed him, now would he? Anyhow, enough back story!

So present day: when I came up to the window of PARAMOUNT BOOKS, on a charcoal grey Saturday morning in Manchester, a smile did instantaneously plaster across my face. It was I believe bordering on Heath Ledger’s Joker. The glass plastered with an Aladdin’s cave of temptations.

Vintage BOXING WEEKLY, a DR WHO surplus of literary memorabilia, European literature, Old JUDY and DANDY comics and an entire BRUCE LEE magazine collection, ‘unread’ and ‘untouched’ since publication in 1977.

paramount books

A frame of originality!  A stark contrast to the generic high street windows, trying to be bang on trend. Stepping inside the store, classical music flooded the space and the question was simple,

Where do I begin?

The other retail mantra, eye line is the buy line is not the motto here, everywhere you look there are distractions: a cellophane-clad copy of Ian Fleming’s, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, a haphazardly stacked  pile of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, pulp horror and a scattering of books that makes up the poetry section, also to add to the charm there is a basket of fruit comprising bananas and garlic. A spell-binding cave that you could actually lose whole years, not just hours in.

I was delighted to find an autobiography by Dirk Bogarde. My appreciation for this phenomenal actor began when I caught a screening of VICTIM at Fact, Liverpool and was accentuated to another level when I saw the movie, THE NIGHT CALLER. I also didn’t mind the film adaptation of DEATH IN VENICE. I particularly loved this book, as I read it in Venice and for a fleeting moment I was momentarily back there on the Lido di Venezia.


This is what PARAMOUNT BOOKS does to you, it’s like the whole experience starts the monkey mind swinging from tree to tree, re-visiting memories and thinking about the past, the now and a feel of optimism for the future.

This kind of place exudes something that can only be labelled as magic. A good friend of mine tipped me off to it and it is this type of personal recommendation that keeps little hidden treasures like this haven being re-discovered.

For those who have not yet visited, I am envious because I guarantee you will recall your first time. It is I think the Vatican of Cool.


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Bear Island Book Exchange

Remember when the best bit about the days between Christmas and New Year was spending your book tokens? We do. Let John Maguire take you for a stroll to a literary garden in our latest wander around our favourite bookshops…

Books wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life. In Cardiff, the city that brought us Shirley Bassey and the Doctor Who re-boot, you will find, or indeed stumble upon, a fabulous book store that will revitalise the soul.

bear island

Described simply as ‘the real deal’ by its proprietor, BEAR ISLAND BOOK EXCHANGE in Cardiff Market is sandwiched between a sweet shop and a deli. A commixture of smells combust in the air, fresh fish from Ashtons, the fishmongers (tenants in the market since 1866), strong coffee, Mediterranean spice and the leafed pages of worn and well-read paperbacks.  Books that have been lived in, crammed with notes and the odd coffee-stained pages that almost tell a tale in their own right.

ashtons cardiff

True Detective, Vintage Comics, Commando Action magazines, a heavy laden, almost cascading, mountain of Mills and Boon, rare and Antiquarian books crowd the shelves. The books are haphazardly organised by genre, this forces you to look at new authors, instead of opting upon tried and tested writers. I always feel like a literary pig, sniffing out new creative truffles in amongst the written foliage.

true detective

This little overgrowth of literature is like a well-loved piece of garden, blooming throughout the year, ever-changing. A tiny literary paradise where I  always find at least one book to buy, one I may have read before and want to revisit or pass to a friend, like Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, or books that I have for one reason or another not got around to reading, like my latest acquisition Bald Twit Lion by Spike Milligan.

true crime

Either way, it is a magical place to visit. A relief from the chain book stores that pop up in every city high street, like literary McDonald’s. BEAR ISLAND BOOK EXCHANGE is thankfully a blot of individualism on a piece of town planning parchment paper that has become the same everywhere, a blueprint of monotony.

Here is to the real deal! Happy hunting!



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A Bibliophage in Eboracum (York)

We promised a return to our reviews of favourite bookshops and here is John Maguire, taking a trip across the Pennines to gorge himself on volumes…

When writer Neil Gaiman cited in his novel, American Gods,

What I say is a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul,

he was absolutely correct.

Eboracum (if you were around in Roman 71 AD), otherwise known to the common traveller as York, is fortunate to have many subtle bookstores,  jewels in the city’s Crown of Architectural splendour.

I have visited York through the years. The first occasion notably was a stay at the former home of musical composer John Barry. I am always entranced by the season of autumn, but particularly in York. The city backdrop is a canvas painted with a thousand leaves.

autumn york

I guess the way a heroin addict needs to know a dealer is close by, an alcoholic the nearest place to purchase liquid poison, a fitness fanatic the gymnasium, so the book aficionado needs to know the precise location of a book emporium. This is how I first found my way to Fossgate Books and I have been re-visiting ever since!

Of course, a genuine bibliophage never really travels alone and my trusty vintage briefcase, (where I keep my notebook, pens and papers) always has a mini-library for emergencies. This past weekend I travelled with The Flaneur by Edmund White, the chilling House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill and I always have a copy of Jude the Obscure to hand. What a Bible is to a Roman Catholic, Hardy’s tale of self-education is to me. The religion of the written word is my chosen spiritual pathway, yet they never have that option to tick on the equality and diversity screening forms.

Fossgate’s was scribbled purposefully in my itinerary for the weekend, which also included a visit to Castle Howard, the setting of the television rifacimento of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. It was Fossgate’s that started my collection of vintage covered Penguin Classics; here I purchased a battered copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I now seek such Penguin Classics like a pig sniffing out truffles. Every trip to a book palace is like a search for hidden treasures.


One of the great charms York offers is that some of the streets do NOT adhere to the flat pack style of high street planning that is rampant across the United Kingdom. The one size fits all model, the universality of non-uniqueness. The Body Shop, Carphone Warehouse, Subway etc. etc. etc,  I am sure are present but they are not rammed in your face like most UK cityscapes. It is also quite nice to not to have every other shop be a Tesco Express, as the case in my home town, the Pool of Life. You are never more than five yards away from a rat in a bustling metropolis, but in Liverpool it’s the exact same statistic for the good ship Tesco Express. Every little apparently does help!

Perhaps, the downside to York is the multitude of ghost tours on offer. Some may say there are more ghouls than people, with every homestead and dog kennel having an alleged ‘haunting’. The supernatural is to York what The Beatles are to Liverpool, a cash cow that is indeed milked completely and well and truly slaughtered.

What treasure did I find this time in Fossgate’s to feed my appetence? A hardback M.R James Ghost Story collection with crafted illustrations. My heart was elated when I asked the proprietor if he had any M.R James in stock and I was impressed that in the catacomb of books he could also give me the exact location of it upstairs.

It is the scent of the written word that slaps you in the face when you enter through the door of Fossgate’s. The cocktail of aromas, hard to define, undisturbed dust blended with aged paper. A stockhouse of the whole gamut of human experience. It’s then when the fragrance hits me, I know I may not be in my native dwelling place, but I am without a doubt home.


So when in York, seek out this little temple of knowledge, it would be felonious not to.

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The Bibliophile’s Cathedral – Shakespeare and Co, Paris

Here at ten minutes hate we love a good bookshop. John Maguire writes the first in a soon-to-be-series of our favourites.

The City of Light, Paris has long been a somewhat creative Bermuda triangle, poets, writers  and artists, all navigate towards this Metropolis. Some disappear into their own egos whilst others emerge from the experience with robust pieces of artistic endeavour.

The Catholics have their Vatican and shrines such as Lourdes, the Pagans have Stonehenge, the Muslims, Mecca, while bibliophiles have Shakespeare and Co in Paris. Every chattel of literature will head towards this celebrated book store. Situated in the shadow of the Gothic Notre Dame, it comprises two buildings on Paris’ Left Bank.

The original venture was begun by Sylvia Beach in the Rue de L’Odeon in 1922. The establishment has been associated with writers such as Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and Henry Miller, to name a few.  Having a lasting impression on the creative, Paris has an intoxicating effect on all its visitors,

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

– Ernest Hemingway

Beach closed the store down in World War Two and urban myth suggests it was closed due to her refusal to give a German Officer the last copy of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.  Joyce was known to call the store, ‘Stratford on Odeon’.

The bookstore also acted as a library and it was here that readers could gain access to all kinds of literature, including the then UK-banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Shakespeare and Co, Paris

However, the spirit of this cultural haven is now continued in a new location. George Whitman opened his book store Le Mistral on the site of a 16th Century Monastery. It soon became a literary rabbit hole and attracted the likes of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. The proprietor renamed the store Shakespeare and Co when Sylvia Beach passed away in 1964, as a tribute to this legend of literature.


Aspiring writers are permitted to stay in beds amongst the books upstairs in return for work. One resident James Mercer even penned a book about his experience, ‘Time Was Soft There – A Paris sojourn at Shakespeare and Co’, a depiction of subculture Parisian life. Whitman claimed that over 40,000 people had slept over through the years.

The eccentric figure died in December 2011, passing the lantern light on to his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, clearly the energy and passion for the printed page is embedded in her. She has established a biennial literary festival,  FestivalandCo,  where such writers as Jeanette Winterson and Paul Auster have come to show their respects. The store has also featured as a backdrop in the art-house film, Before Sunset (Richard Linklater) and Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen).

Inside books grow from every part of the rooms, creeping paper roots trail through the floorboards. Mountains of volumes clamour up the walls, taking over any available space. Bricks and mortar crammed with literary thought, a building seeping with pure knowledge.

Some of the aged books appear to have bloomed new blossom, in the shape of the shiny new volumes on sale. It is indeed a book aficionado’s Utopia. A magical site, an interchange between the past and present, distant voices amplified. Here the reader can in fact commune with the minds of ancestry, sparks of ideas live on, helping to resolve problems, stave off loneliness, to comfort, to aid. The books serve to help unlock potential and provide inoculation from the enemy of the human spirit, procrastination.

If in Paris, book lovers must pop in and leaf through the shelves, soak in the fresh smell of paper on a par with any mountain air. It would indeed be a literary sin not to visit and if you do not, it will be a case that you will have to read ten Spike Milligan poems, four Charles Bukowskis and three Lorcas, solely as penance.

Paris Wall Newspaper, Shakespeare and Co

Bookstore pictures, author’s own. Picture of George Whitman from Sense & Sensibility


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