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Harris & Harris Books | Bookshop of the Quarter, Winter 2023

Winter Bookshop of the Quarter 2023 | Harris & Harris Books

We are delighted to welcome back Kate Harris of Harris & Harris Books in Clare, Suffolk as our Winter Bookshop of the Quarter 2023. Kate has been a supporter of Slightly Foxed since first opening the doors to her own bookshop in 2010 and we’ve invited her to share the news of her new shop with us. Kate moved premises last month – just down the road – and is now in a bigger, brighter space with more room for events, bookshop lock-ins and of course, books. During the last couple of years, we have waited impatiently for her ‘What’s in the box, Mrs Harris?’ videos which are full of excellent reading recommendations, bookish stories and always accompanied by ‘a fruit-based snifter’!

If I could take just one book on a desert island, it would probably have to be a Thomas Hardy novel. Jude the Obscure or Far from the Madding Crowd, but then perhaps it would be then time to tackle War and Peace . . .

Harris & Harris Books

Kate has picked out some fabulous suggestions for her 2023 reading list and we really enjoyed her personal and heartfelt write up of Slightly Foxed reissue, Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road.

Read on for some winter cheer and tips for setting up your own independent bookshop . . .

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

On Saturday 14 October 2023 at 10 a.m. sharp, Harris & Harris Books threw open the doors to a brand new chapter. After two long years of planning, restoration and refurbishment, the little bookshop of twelve years finally moved into the bigger premises five doors down from where it all started.

An auspicious day on the book-world calendar as it happened to be National Bookshop Day (so now there will be no excuse for forgetting the new bookshop’s birthday).

A queue of book-lovers greeted us that morning and with a flick of a bookmark, the bookshop was full. In fact, we have been open for a few weeks now and we couldn’t be more delighted by the wonderful response from our lovely customers. We have seen so many visitors from near and far and our visitors book is shaping up very nicely with very many blushworthingly glowing endorsements.

The new bookshop at 3a High Street still retains the charm of the old bookshop, but there is now more room to browse the many more shelves of new and old books. There are bigger and brighter display areas, somewhere to sit and now room for events – all on one floor. There is even a writing desk to write your Christmas cards, your thank you notes or shopping lists. You could even write your novel! That’s up to you.

In the short time I’ve been open in my new shop, I’ve already had some events, with more planned shortly including a Saturday Storytime and more. Bookshop lock-ins have always been a hit and I’ve lots more booked in here already.

I love my new bookshop and I’m having lots of fun. It has been so long in the planning that I still can’t believe it’s open at last!

What first inspired you to become a bookseller?

I grew up with books all about me and a family of bookworms, but it was the late 1990s and I had just ended a career in restaurant and hotel management and moved to Horsham in West Sussex. After spotting a bookseller vacancy sign on the local Hammicks bookshop window, I knew this was the much longed for new career I was looking for. I loved my time there and I’m still friends with my very first bookshop colleagues.

After a few years I moved on to seek further experience and Hammicks turned into Ottakars and a short stint at Waterstones and an Indie Bookshop – Much Ado Books in Alfriston – before a move to Suffolk and a chance to open my very own bookshop in August 2011.

What is your favourite thing about running a bookshop?

It might sound silly, but after working in other people’s bookshops, both chain and an indie, I just longed to see my own name above the door and after more than twelve years, this still makes me happy.

I also like to make the decisions. I don’t have to rely on a head office miles away who don’t know my shop or my customers (well, friends really) to decide which books I sell. That’s my job and I love it.

Mr Harris (my hubby, Frank) looks after the boring bits like invoices and telephone tariffs, so I get to swoosh about in my shop, sell books and zhuzh the displays. Ok, it’s way more to it than that, but choosing the books to order in, talking to everyone who comes in and planning the displays are probably my favourite things.

What are your all-time favourite reads and why?

Gosh, there’s so many. I love Brideshead Revisited, Pride and Prejudice, any Thomas Hardy and any of the classics. Any Agatha Christie, Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road – which I was delighted to see your good selves reissuing this in your smashing clothbound livery.

I used to love the Milly-Molly-Mandy books when I was little, so any book that has a map or floor-plan in absolutely gets my vote. I love reading about books, booksellers and bookshops and there are many new ones out there, such as Days at the Morisaki Bookshop, The Door-To-Door Bookstore, Babel, etc. I love a good a historic fiction as well as interwar novels and spy/espionage are firm favourites.

If I could take just one book on a desert island, it would probably have to be a Thomas Hardy novel. Jude the Obscure or Far from the Madding Crowd, but then perhaps it would be then time to tackle War and Peace . . .

Which author or literary figure’s dinner party would you most like to be invited to?

I think I’d like to be at Poirot’s dinner table, in a true Art Deco restaurant, with attire to match. Chief Inspector Japp will probably be a bit late but Hastings will turn up in a rather dashing sports car. We’ll eat perfectly prepared food, drink a fine Burgundy and discuss his latest investigations.

Who has been your favourite customer/what is your favourite bookshop anecdote?

I don’t have a favourite customer, they ALL are.

However, I would be hard pressed to top all the wonderful things people have been saying about my new bookshop. They have all been on the loooooong and gruelling journey with me for the past two years, so it’s been a joy to show them the end result.

Are there any misconceptions about running a bookshop you think readers should know?

Haha, well twelve years ago when I first opened Harris & Harris Books, I thought I would set up a little chair and table outside so I could take a cup and a book out with me between customers. Pah! I’ve not managed that once in all this time.

Having worked in other larger bookshops, I got used to looking after certain aspects of that bookshop while others did theirs. Having my own bookshop (before I could take on booksellers) meant that I had to juggle everything. I haven’t really stopped running in twelve years!

Those thinking of starting up a bookshop must know that there is not always a level pegging with regards to book buying for indie bookshops vs. chain bookshops or online (unless you too can order vast quantities, of course). This can make it very tricky to compete with them, but I don’t want to dwell on that as if you can throw in a mix of hard work, steely determination, a love of books, a sunny disposition and a cheery hello, plus a whole host of jolly things to offer such as Bookshop Lock-ins, snifters on a cold Saturday afternoon, free gift-wrapping, lots of events, and smashing indie editions of certain books from publishers you’ll be just fine – this is the joy that owning an indie bookshop can offer. That, and a bit of trial and error. ‘Evolve or die’ is one of my many mantras. That, and ‘Hold your nerve’.

Above all, it’s great fun and I thoroughly recommend it.

What are your top picks for winter 2023 (new publications/old favourites/reissues)?

The SF edition of 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, (of course).

Nature Tales for Winter Nights – Nancy Campbell has edited a treasure trove of nature tales from storytellers across the globe, bringing a little magic and wonder to every winter night.

Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Tagisawa. A charming and uplifting translated story on the healing power of books (and bookshops).

The Winter Spirits – another collection of writings, this time ghostly tales for frosty nights by a whole host of best-selling authors.

– Vita and the Birds by Polly Crosby. This haunting mystery is Polly’s third novel and just published in paperback.

73 Dove Street by Julie Owen Moylan. Set in the grey post-war years of 1950s London and focussing on the complicated lives of three woman whose fates intersect at a boarding house. Smashing!

Mistletoe Malice by Kathleen Farrell. Originally published in 1951, Faber & Faber have just published a lovely little hardback for Indie bookshops this year and Simon & Louise Savidge have chosen this title to be their bookclub choice when they visit Harris & Harris Books on 9 and 10 of December

– I was delighted to see My Name Is Barbra by Barbra Streisand in all it’s 992-page glory. I’m hoping to be unwrapping that stonker on Christmas morning!

– Mosquito by Rowland White has been a top seller here too. The story of The RAF’s legendary wooden wonder and it’s most extraordinary mission.

What is your favourite Slightly Foxed publication and why?

Well for a long time my favourite Slightly Foxed publication was Corduroy by Adrian Bell. Bell wrote a great number of books on his farming exploits, both fiction and non but this is the first of his famous farming trilogy. As they were written quite close to Clare in Suffolk where my bookshop is, we have found them to be very popular and having read this one, I can see why. His writing is gentle, engaging and draws you right back 100 years or so to how farming in Suffolk was. I loved it.

Then, you published 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff which has been a favourite of mine for a long time. This charming classic, first published in 1970, brings together twenty years of correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer living in New York City, and a used-book dealer in London. Through the years, though never meeting and separated both geographically and culturally, they share a winsome, sentimental friendship based on their common love for books.

This reminds me of my dear Dad. He was a GP before retiring and setting up an old motoring books business from home on line. This is certainly one of the reasons I took the plunge to open my own bookshop. He was very precise, gentle, honourable and fair. Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road reminds me of my dad and the way he conducted business in his own bookshop. So, this is the one that wears the ‘favourite’ crown.


Harris & Harris Books | Bookshop of the Quarter, Winter 2023

Bookshop of the Quarter: Winter 2023

Comments & Reviews

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  1. Jane Ewing says:

    It is lovely to read about a booksellers passion for books , I will have to venture to suffolk in the spring to explore this wonderful bookshop

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