The shops, who supported each other by sharing news and ideas, became cornerstones of the communities they served, hosting political organizations and providing safe spaces for people to explore and embrace their sexuality. Such inclusiveness — along with the spirit of the anti-war, anti-establishment revolution that fanned out before and after Stonewall — encouraged others to build upon the idea started by Rodwell and the Oscar Wilde. By the mid-1980s, queer bookstores were in more than 20 cities across North America as well as venues in Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands and the U.K.
We were in London briefly last weekend, me for a work conference and my partner, lucky thing, to see the new production of All About Eve starring Gillian Anderson and Lilly James. But of course we still found time to visit Gay’s the Word bookshop in Bloomsbury, where I treated myself to a few books that I’ve had my eye on for a while.
Sarah Schulman is one of my favourite lesbian writers and I bought her two most recent books. Maggie Terry (2018) is a crime thriller about lesbian PI with addiction issues, while The Cosmopolitans (2016) is a historical novel about the friendship between a black gay man and a middle-aged white woman in the 1950s.
I’ve heard good things about The Crime Writer (2016) by Jill Dawson and White Houses (2018) by Amy Bloom. The first has Patricia Highsmith moving to a cottage in Suffolk to try and finish a novel while also carrying out an unhappy affair, only to find herself the protagonist in a thriller. The second is a love story about the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist, Lorena Hickok.
The independent bookstores in my town aren’t that great. There’s one which is nice and has a wide range but no sense of pricing appropriately — they seem to price by the size rather than the nature of the book! The other one is more affordable, but badly organised and smells of damp.
But I live in Wales and just an hour or so up the road is Hay on Wye, a town made up almost entirely of second-hand bookshops. The only problem is I daren’t set foot in the place unless I have a fair bit of disposable cash and that doesn’t happen often.
Unfortunately, one of my favourite independent bookshops is about 3000 miles away. I loved Left Bank Books in St Louis Missouri where my girlfriend hails from. The second-hand books are in the basement and they have a fantastic range of lesbian and feminist books. I walked out with books by Joan Nestle, Dorothy Allison, Sarah Schulman and Alison Bechdel which I then had to lug all the way back to the UK. It was worth it though.
Back in the UK, in terms of lesbian and feminist books, I would also recommend the Oxfam bookshop in Chorlton in Manchester. It’s the lesbian area and they all seem take their unwanted books to this Oxfam. I’ve never seen such a great collection of second wave feminist books anywhere else, some of them pretty rare and ranging from the sublime to the purple-est of prose. I bought copies of This Bridge Called my Back, the Dorothy Allison collection I discuss below, a collection of Alice Walker’s stories and some vintage Tanith Lee.