Never mind ‘The People’s Club’, Liverpool is home to the people’s book shop. When, back in 1996, News From Nowhere searched for new and affordable premises, it was the people of this city who raised enough money to keep the shop alive amidst the change.
News From Nowhere has existed in various forms and places for over four decades and continues to be a beacon of light in which Liverpool is proud to reflect. The book shop, a women’s workers co-op today, was founded by Bob Dent and called Manchester Street its first home all those years ago. Fascist attacks, recessions and the arrival of Amazon have all tried to put the shop out of business over the years and yet still it remains… familiar and welcoming, standing on Bold Street like a student in the early seventies trying to sell a radical newspaper.
There are six people in charge these days – but it’s Mandy Vere’s smiling face that mostly greets people when they walk in between those brown beams and into the always-open door. Here, we find out a little more about her (and the shop’s) life less ordinary…
How did you get going with News From Nowhere?
We started in 1974 with one man… and now, 42 years later, have a collective of six women in charge. How’s that for a feminist takeover? We’ve been in four locations and now our workers’ co-op owns our lovely Bold Street building which houses many cultural and social justice projects.
What first sparked Bob Dent’s idea for the shop?
Our founder was a student activist at London School for Economics and returned to Liverpool with his partner, Maggie, the daughter of a Liverpool Chinese family. They wanted to contribute to the revolutionary fervour of the time by providing subversive literature – it was William Morris’ Utopian novel ‘News from Nowhere’ that provided the inspiration, both as a name and through its view that another world is possible.
You’re a big part of Bold Street’s identity. What are your favourite shops, past and present, on the street?
Our building was originally Drapers piano shop, which later joined Rushworths, and you can still see St Cecilia and pan pipes on the frontage! In the sixties it was a trendy coffee shop, El Kabala, then (just before us) Wilson’s Health Foods. We hope we’re continuing the bohemian tradition of the building! Presently? Bold Street Coffee has the best coffee in town, Shared Earth the best principles, Mattas the most distinguished history and Mowglis, Miyagis and Bakchich some of the best food. We love all the indies!
Which book has surprised you the most (in the shop) with its popularity?
Last year, Owen Jones’ ‘The Establishment’ was our bestseller, but in December it was swiftly overtaken by ‘The Corbyn Colouring Book’! All these deep, esoteric books we stock and that’s all customers wanted for Christmas!
Brilliant. We’re glad they did! Describe three of these customers for us please?
A wise, seasoned, well-read activist, a young enthusiastic ecological feminist and the one who says “Oh’ what a wonderful shop – I’ve never been in before/didn’t know you were here/amazed you’re still going after all these years…”.
How about you? Tell us about the book you’re reading right now…
Amy Liptrot’s ‘The Outrun’ – a deceptively deep eulogy to her native Orkney, suffused with a personal account of recovery from alcoholism and passion for our relationship with wildlife and the natural world. It perfectly combines News from Nowhere’s championing of the need for a combination of inner and outer change.
Sounds like she’d be a great guest in the shop! Which author would you love to come in and read from one of their books?
Marge Piercy, author of the feminist classics ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’ and ‘He, She And It’. She is a truly revolutionary author combining wonderful characterisation with a deep concern for how societies change and what the forces and movements are which bring about that change. I’ve devoured every book she’s ever written. We tried to get her over this year, but she’s 80 and not keen on travelling from America. Mind you… it saves me the embarrassment of swooning in her presence!
That’s the kind of insight we come to the shop for. NFN has a great reputation… how do you see it?
As a safe haven from the vagaries of an inhuman world. A source of serendipitous literary delight and a beacon of progressive thought. All thanks to the authors, writers and readers that we are simply a conduit for.
What about your relationship with Liverpool itself?
Hopefully we’re seen as a beloved, if slightly bolshy, sister.
I’m happy to tell you that’s about right! Before we go, tell us about some of your favourite authors please?
I love any novelist who combines great writing with a social change agenda and opens my mind to other countries, cultures and communities – writers such as Barbara Kingsolver, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Sebastian Barry, Wally Lamb and Kamila Shamsie. Of course, Alexei Sayle is hilarious, poignant and very close to home, too, while my colleagues would insist on Neil Gaiman, John Steinbeck, Rebecca Solnit, Alice Walker, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Forster and Angela Carter getting a mention! Our customers, being much better read than us, are the people to ask that question to – they would have erudite and world-changing non-fiction on the list, I’m sure… I must admit to that being a bit beyond me of an evening when I’ve finished perusing book catalogues and publishers’ blurbs!
News From Nowhere
96 Bold Street
Pic courtesy of News From Nowhere