Little Toller Books
Toller n river valley in West Dorset. Recorded in the Domesday survey as Tolre, derived from a Celtic word for stream in a hollow valley.
As many of our readers will know, Little Toller Books is an independent press that revives classic books about nature and rural life, and has published a whole host of Slightly Foxed favourites over the years: Gavin Maxwell, Edward Thomas, Adrian Bell and Clare Leighton to name just a few.
Therefore, we’re thrilled that our friends at Little Toller have now opened a bookshop in Beaminster, West Dorset. Alongside their own titles, they stock a wide range of books that celebrate the very best writing about the natural world, as well as specially selected fiction, non-fiction and children’s books. The booksellers are staunch supporters of independent publishers, and many Slightly Foxed titles can be spotted in their beautiful displays.
Jon Woolcott is a man of many hats – a publisher at Little Toller, a contributor to both Slightly Foxed magazine and podcast, and an experienced bookseller. It was a pleasure to speak to him this summer and learn more about the new bookshop. Please read on for literary tales and reading recommendations.
Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?
We’re primarily a publisher of course, but we jumped at the chance to open a bookshop too. We’re in the little West Dorset town of Beaminster and we focus our range on books about the natural world, for adults and kids alike. We’re really proud of it, and it reflects us and our concerns perfectly.
What inspired you to become a bookseller?
Personally? It was an accident. I was travelling in Australia, many years ago, and got a job in a bookshop. It was run by an enterprising indie bookseller who wanted to see off some competition from a discount bookshop chain by opening a second bookshop where we sold books by weight! After that, everything else seemed to follow naturally.
What are your all-time favourite reads and why?
That’s a hard question to ask a bookseller. And a publisher. I guess I can’t just choose Little Toller books then? I’d have to say that Graham Swift’s Waterland changed the way I thought about contemporary fiction, Jonathan Coe’s novels make me think and laugh in equal measure, and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other is a brilliantly structured, clever, funny, empathetic look at modern Britain and the black experience.
Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?
All of the above for starters. I’d love to have met George Orwell and Edward Thomas, and I think Mary Shelley would have been fun.
Who has been your favourite customer and what is your favourite bookshop anecdote?
I’ve always loved bookshop customers – that interaction you get with a reader is irreplaceable. It’s not strictly my anecdote, but when I worked for Waterstones a customer was shut in a shop overnight (it was a big shop and he was missed when the staff went home), and chose to tell the world about his plight via twitter. That was an interesting evening all round.
What are your top picks for summer 2021?
I’m famously always behind with my reading, following the maxim ‘When a new book is published, read an old one’, so I don’t think I’m always the best person to ask. If I’m allowed to mention just a couple of Little Toller books, then Simon Moreton’s Where? is an extraordinary, original examination of place and grief, told through words, photographs and illustration. And our reissue of Geoffrey Grigson’s An English Farmhouse is something we’ve been looking forward to for a while, with a new introduction by the artist Ed Kluz and a cover by John Piper.
What is your favourite Slightly Foxed publication and why?
I’m rather in awe of your publishing, from Laurie Lee to John Moore’s sequence. I’d probably have to pick Love and War in the Apennines, if I had to choose just the one. Eric Newby was such an important, and ultimately likeable, travel writer.
2 Church Street
Dorset DT8 3AZ
Tel.: 01308 863442