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The Bookshop On The Corner In Hoxton

November 2, 2009
by the gentle author


I was in the bookshop on the corner of Charles Sq and Pitfield St when an author came in, all of a fluster, pink with embarrassment and breathless from running. She had just discovered that there were two lines missing from her book and she needed the copies back to correct them, she said. When Tanya Peixoto, the manager (pictured above), sensitively broke the news that some copies had been sold, the distressed author turned white with alarm, before asking if it might be possible to write to the customers who had bought them, apologise and request they return their copies.

This is a scene that is not credible in Waterstones or WHSmith, and this is one of the reasons that the wonderful Book Art Bookshop is unique. It is the only bookshop devoted entirely to books made by artists and small press publications. Tanya, the glamorous founder of the shop was just showing me an extraordinary book which only existed in a single copy (created by a local resident it had been gifted by the writer and sits on a shelf awaiting discovery) when another eager author came into the shop. From a satchel, he produced the handful of small handprinted books that he had made, succinctly titled “Country Cinema Pub”. He held them up full of pride. As he waited anxiously, Tanya quickly cast her critical gaze upon them, experienced yet benign, and when she agreed to take them at once, his face lit up in triumph.

All this drama in ten minutes on a regular afternoon at the book art bookshop. You really need to go there, because this is a haven for anyone with a passion for culture that has not been mediated by the restrictive gatekeepers of corporate literary and artistic taste. Bookshelves crammed with a vast variety of unlikely books reach to the ceiling and in every corner you can discover some unexpected publication. Enthusiasts of the work of Alfred Jarry, Pataphysician, inventor of the Absurd and creator of Ubu Roi, may like to know that this bookshop is also the headquarters of the London Institute of Pataphysics. There is an irresistible magnetism that leads people here to this beautiful oasis in South Hoxton, which welcomes all readers and writers who enjoy the arcane and esoteric.

After editing the “Artists’ Book Yearbook” for several years, Tanya attended a forum at the Artists’ Bookfair at the Barbican in 2000 to propose that there should be a bookshop devoted to artists’ and small press publications – when to her surprise, Alastair Brotchie (proprietor of the Atlas Press) offered her the opportunity to create such a bookshop and made the current shop available to her. It was an offer she could not refuse.

Observing Tanya sitting in the corner of the bookshop with Peggy her collie at her feet, an old carpet on the floor and an antique folding oak table piled with new arrivals, I cast my eyes around at  the organised chaos of her stock and realised that this is what all local bookshops used to be like in the days before the chains arrived. Then, Tanya asked a startled passing customer to mind the shop while she vanished down to the cellar to find a stray title and I thought, if William Blake was alive printing copies of his “Songs of Innocence & Experience” nowadays, this is where you would find them.


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