Brick Lane Bookshop
by Iqbal Ahmed
I visited Brick Lane recently after a long interval. It was only after walking down Brick Lane one day in 2003 that I thought of writing my first book, Sorrows of the Moon. Eastside Books, as the Brick Lane Bookshop was then known, lent me their invaluable support and ordered dozens of copies of my book. For the next two years, I cycled there often, carrying an A4-size box full of books on the rack of my bike. I wrote the following piece on this indie bookshop for The Bookseller in 2006.
Ten years ago, when the owner of Eastside Books, Denise Jones, asked someone from Dillons why the chain didn’t have a branch in the East End, she was told that “people in East London don’t read books”. It was troubling for Denise then as it is troubling for me now to hear such a pronouncement.
Denise has been a bookseller in East London for twenty-six years. She ran her bookshop in Whitechapel Road before relocating to Brick Lane eighteen months ago when her lease ran out. She lives in nearby Cable Street, which is known for the battle that took place in 1936 when Oswald Mosley’s Fascists planned to march through the East End. But left-wing parties and the local residents decided to stop them. The poster in the window of Eastside Books commemorates the event.
I visited the shop on the day of the annual festival in Brick Lane known as Mela. It was teeming with booklovers. The shop assistants, Kate and Kalina, were adroitly displaying books in and outside the shop. Eastside has a wide selection of books on London and local history. This section is very popular with people visiting Brick Lane. The selection of Fiction and Non-Fiction titles on the shelves of the bookshop
clearly reflect the taste of its owner. One can find many titles in this small bookshop that are literary gems.
Denise was a teacher before becoming a bookseller. She therefore has a keen interest in children’s books. She has been a champion of bilingual books for children from the very beginning. Since most of the children living in Tower Hamlets belong to Bengali families, Denise would like to offer them books other than Noddy and Doctor Doolittle. She regularly invites authors to her shop to read to children, which, she says, demystifies books for young readers.
It is mostly artists who often come to Brick Lane. East London is home to many of them. Hence the number one bestseller for Eastside is a book on art that playfully asserts on its first page that ‘copyright is for losers’. One whole section of the shop is allocated to Penguin Popular Classics. The shop has been selling these inexpensive paperbacks for many years. It also has an excellent variety of greeting cards.
Eastside stocks books in Bengali for the people who have made Brick Lane their home. It also has a section on World History, in addition to travel guides on many countries. The shop has a basement, which Denise currently uses as her office. But she plans to extend her sales section to the basement in the near future.
Denise emerged victorious again as a candidate in local elections early this year. She divides her time between her responsibilities as a councillor and running Eastside Books. Her commitment to serving the community remains total.