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Bookshop of the Quarter: Spring 2019

The Open Book

This independent bookshop is settled between the river and Richmond Green in leafy Richmond-Upon-Thames. The shop appears small from the outside but, within its doors, the bookshelves stretch far and are full of interesting reading.

The Open Book also provides book club recommendations, holds literary lunches with author speakers (replenishing guests with two course meals and much bookish chat) and run a subscription service that provides a reader with a beautifully-wrapped new paperback title every month, according to their tastes. If this isn’t recommendation enough, they have some rather well-known literary local customers who frequent the bookshop to pick up a paperback and perhaps sign a book or two that they’ve penned themselves . . .

We spoke to bookseller Helena Caletta about life in the bookshop on this bend of the river Thames.

Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?

We’ve been open since 1987, having taken over from Penguin, and before that Pete Townsend. Being in the shop every day, we weren’t so sure what makes us special, so we asked our regular customers what they thought, and here are the responses we got:

‘I love the interior of your shop, and your stock is so interesting. Also, your staff are excellent book pimps.’

‘Your shelves are like catnip.’

‘You cheerfully refuse to dumb down.’

Another thing we think makes us unique is that we’re lucky enough to be in Richmond, which is surrounded by many interesting literary figures, old and new. We are very proud to call ourselves the local bookshop for David Attenborough, Claire Tomalin, Michael Frayn, Bamber Gascoigne, Francesca Jakobi, Lord Alan Watson and Slightly Foxed contributor Anne Sebba. They are very kind and loyal customers.

Apart from that, the tiled flooring at the front of the shop is rather fetching.

What first inspired you to become a bookseller?

Having worked in publishing for some twelve years I felt the need to explore the world of books through retail. Bookselling seemed an obvious choice and a very challenging one.

What are your all-time favourite reads and why?

This is too hard to answer . . . I’ve had a Russian phase, a War phase, a History phase, and now I’m in the happy position of finding it difficult to choose which books to take home – spoilt for choice.

Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?

Who needs a party? Most of them come as customers to the bookshop anyway!

What is your favourite bookshop anecdote?

This gem was overheard at Christmas:

‘Shall we buy Uncle Fred a book?’
‘No, he’s got one.’

What are your top picks for spring 2019, be they new publications, old favourites or reissues?

Here is a tempting bookshelf of recommended reading:

The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words by Simon Winchester, an extraordinary tale of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Normal People, the multiple award-winning novel by Sally Rooney.

Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver, a gothic thriller spanning five centuries.

The Binding, a supernaturally tinged tale by debut novelist Bridget Collins.

Unto Us a Son is Given, the latest in Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti series of detective novels set in Venice.

Quest Under Capricorn by Sir David Attenborough, which follows his adventures in the Northern Territory of Australia in the 1960s.

And last but not least, the Spring 2019 issue of Slightly Foxed.

The Open Book
10 King Street

Tel: 020 8940 1802

The Open Book
Twitter @theopenbook2
Instagram @theopenbookrichmond

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