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The New Women-Only Bookshop Making Waves in Shoreditch

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This new shop is changing the face of bookselling

‘Cutthroat’ might not be the word that comes to mind when thinking of the bookselling industry, but cutthroat it is - particularly in London, where rising rents mean that keeping a new bookshop afloat for more than a few months is a near-impossible task.

But it's not all bad news in bookselling. Some book shops, like Pages of Hackney in Clapton, have been finding themselves in such a healthy state that they've been able to expand. Pages of Hackney has been thriving for 11 years, and both owner Eleanor and manager Jo credit their success with a commitment to responding to the community that was buying the books. “What was really important to us was to reflect the community of Clapton in the books that we were selling. I worked in publishing before and was frustrated with the lack of representation,” says Jo. At Pages, books by minorities and women are always in the window, in the stock, and on the events roster.

And their new shop in Brick Lane, Pages Cheshire Street, stocks only books by women and gender non-conforming writers. The shop announces its mission cheerily: ‘Change the Story’ is emblazoned across the wide window and a sign stating ‘BOOKS BY WOMEN’ is propped up at its side. 'We’ve been finding for the last few years that all of our top tens are naturally dominated by women and those are the books we were reading,' says Eleanor. But she felt that in the industry as a whole that the enjoyment people were finding in women's voices was not properly reflected and that women were often not taken seriously. “Before we opened we went around a few bookshops,” says Jo, 'and in WH Smiths, there was a table of ‘Great Thinkers.’ It was all books by men - how can that be in 2019?'

The shop feels like a real antidote to that kind of approach. As Jo points out, you don’t have to go to the trouble of specifically looking for something by a woman - often a difficult task in sections like STEM - and browsing is a relaxed experience. The bookshop is warm and inviting, with the recognisable sky blue of the Pages brand covering the façade. Inside, there is a tangible feeling of comfort, at once spacious and cosy. Much of the infrastructure has been carried over from Caravansérail, and there are lovely details, like the small reading nook in the children's section and two extremely squashy pink velvet chairs stood in the sunlit window bay.

The book selection is exciting and diverse. 'If you take books by people who have generally had a lot of overrepresentation out - i.e. white men - all this really rich literature rises up,' says Jo. All genres are represented in the shop, from poetry to political theory, picture books to photography, YA to graphic novels. And despite anticipating some backlash, the response to the shop's opening has been overwhelmingly positive. The ongoing hurdle is the rent, but the shop looks like it's here to stay. 'People come in and they have a really emotional response to it which is really heartening,' says Jo. 'There’s something about the representation thing, but also, because of the political climate and Trump and Me Too, people feel like, “Wow, there’s a real need for this.”'

Pages Cheshire Street can be found at 5 Cheshire St, London E2 6ED