This week, London Living met up with Vivian Archer, the manager of Newham bookshop. A community bookseller’s set up 34 years ago by a group of parents who wanted somewhere in Newham which sold books which would educate and entertain the local community, they all put five pounds in to start the project as a non-profit company.
Thus the community’s very own bookshop was born – and it remains the largest independent bookstore in East London to this day.
Vivian became involved with the bookshop 25 years ago. “I love working in communities and talking to people,” she told us, proudly showing us the bookshop’s most recent acclaim in The Guardian and last week’s Stylist magazine. “It’s great to see stuff like this because we work so hard.”
With its recent addition to Goldmith Row Book Market just by London’s Broadway Market, it’s clear the bookshop is truly a labour of love and as East Village’s closest large independent bookstore, we asked Vivian the secrets to their success…
Newham Bookshop is 34 years old – a sterling achievement for an independent bookshop in the age of Amazon and superstores. What is the secret to your success?
Very, very hard work and going out into the community all the time. It’s tougher now than it’s ever been, but we work with lots of community organisations and with all the nearby schools to get out there. Yesterday we went into a local school with Jodie Picoult, which was incredible. We just work very hard and care very much about the area and the people in the area.
You hold many events – can you tell us what your favourite has been?
Oh we’ve done so many. We do a lot of comedians. We’ve done Mark Thomas, Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel, Andy Hamilton, they all get huge crowds. Jacqueline Wilson is always a sell-out – we’re doing her again in September at the Stratford Picturehouse. Political ones do well, somebody like Clive Stafford-Smith, that got a huge crowd. Anything slightly out of the ordinary. We do very good events so publishers come back to us now.
Newham has seen a lot of changes over the last few years – which have been the most positive?
Yes, hugely, though Green Street, which is right by the shop, is what it is and will always be unique. We can always tell who’s moving into the area by the dictionaries we sell. Over the years, we’ve had to get in many Romanian, Polish, Russian and Portuguese dictionaries, whereas it used to be mainly Indian and Bangladeshi.
We have to ask as a book store manager – what are your top five books of all time?
Of all time? ‘Anna Karenina’ by Tolstoy or Zola’s ‘Nana/Germinal’ is brilliant. In modern writing, ‘The Human Stain’ by Philip Roth. He’s a genius as far as I’m concerned. My favourite children’s books… anything by E Nesbitt, ‘Daddy Long Legs’ by Jean Webster and ‘Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ by Judith Kerr, which is my daughter’s favourite book as well.
What books, fact or fiction, do you really think sums up life in London and the character of the city?
I love Collin MacInnes ‘Absolute Beginners’, they go way back. Anything by Jake Arnott, especially ‘The Long Firm’. I like a lot of London crime novels. Alexander Baron wrote fantastically about London. He’s wonderful. A lot of these are East London based, actually, but all are absolutely fabulous novels.