Six of Glasgow's Best Independent Bookstores
The friendly but competitive banter that exists between Glasgow and Edinburgh is well known to anyone who has visited the bonny land of Scotland. Edinburgh is often seen as the home of all things posh and cultured, with Edinburgh Castle casting an illustrious shadow over the city and Princes Street shining like a beacon in the harsh snowy winters. Glasgow, on the other hand, proudly asserts that that the traffic cone on the head of Wellington Statue is one of the city’s most iconic features. These comparisons are all part of the famous Scottish banter that is reminiscent of a sibling relationship – Glasgow and Edinburgh may tease one another, but woe betide any outsider to attempt the same! After all, this is the land that has made a food-group out of Mars bars and batter - I can think of little else that could form such a strong alliance!
What is certainly true of both cities however, is their commitment to and enthusiasm for literature and the arts. For every Irvine Welsh in Edinburgh, a Carol Ann-Duffy counters from Glasgow. So too, in terms of independent bookshops, both Glasgow and Edinburgh punch well about their weight. But for this reviewer, however, it is Glasgow with its rough and tumble exterior and a Clockwork Orange heart that tips the balance. There is perhaps no better way to spend the day than exploring different nooks and crannies of the city in search of ramshackle bookshops complete with the famous Glasgow wit. The following list of bookshops shines the spotlight on some stores that are a must-see for visitors to Glasgow, and serves as a reminder for those of us who frequent these cities to always say aye to popping in for a wee read.
Voltaire & Rousseau
Perhaps the most famous of all bookshops in Glasgow is Voltaire & Rousseau (12-14 Octago Ln). In business for over forty years, this bookshop is nestled down a small lane in the West End of the city - perched beside a tea house in a tree house! Upon first entrance, Voltaire & Rousseau can be an almost overwhelming sight. Books are crammed into this shop from floor to ceiling – once you have come to terms with the sheer volume of books on display, the best thing to do is nestle in to an afternoon of clambering over books to find that perfect novel, play, essay collection or poetry book to take home. Recent purchases for myself include a first edition of Poems by Thomas Kinsella, Douglas Livingstone and Anne Sexton – a little piece of treasure inside a humongous trove. Voltaire & Rousseau is a Glaswegian institution – with friendly staff, curious readers and hundreds of discount books, it’s a must-see on any trip to the city.
Tell it Slant
Named in homage to Emily Dickinson who wrote ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant’, the poetry-centred bookstore tell it slant (134 Renfrew Street, Glasgow city centre) is a lovely bookshop that could easily be overlooked to the regret of any book-lover. Known for hosting poetry nights that range from spoken-word slams to book launches, tell it slant specialises in housing poetry of all forms, all languages, in printed and audio formats. Visitors to this bookshop can expect to find a huge variety of poetry, including pamphlets and self-published offerings from local and international writers. A friendly face and a good chat are par for the course when visiting tell it slant, with helpful and informed shop assistants, visitors can be sure to leave the shop with something new, handcrafted and possibly unique!
Also based in the city centre, Aye-Aye Books (CCA Foyer, 350 Sauchiehall Street) caters for the art-lover crowd. The shop is carefully curated and often features books from exhibiting artists or performers at the CCA. It’s worth noting too that Aye-Aye Books always places an especial focus on Scottish artists, which makes it a real hub for keeping your finger on the creative pulse of Scoland. Art, architecture, critical theory, philosophy, music and sound experimentation and photography are the strong points of this bookshop, and with sales assistants who know their Ettore Sottsass from their Eero Saarinen, it is well worth popping in to spend some time just talking about books and art.
Another Glaswegian institution is Caledonia Books (483 Great Western Road) which is a bookshop that caters for discerning readers and collectors. The shop has a brilliant selection of niche books ranging from travel writings to books on art, biographies as well as fiction. Rammed to the rafters with books and traditional ladders upon which customers can scale to reach the higher echelons of the shop, Caledonia Books is a really special place where hours can be whiled away while the hustle and bustle of Great Western Road powers by outside. Run by the same family for over thirty years, the shop’s speciality is rare and antique books – including first editions – and with helpful staff who really know their books, those who wish to sell their book or collections may find a good home for them here, safe in the knowledge that they will be cared for and loved.
Young's Interesting Books
A little further out of the immediate city centre, Young’s Interesting Books (18 Skirving Street) is a small but quirky addition to the Glasgow book scene. It feels like each book has been especially chosen in this bookshop, so passionate are the owners. Readers interested in picking up a completely new and different book to anything they’ve read before will enjoy walking into this shop and coming out with a book they had not imagined they’d ever leave with! As well, the shop regularly hosts music nights, poetry readings, book launches – there is a real sense of community and camaraderie here. Additionally, it is rare to find a bookshop that infuses wit and in-store displays so well. Young’s Interesting Books certainly does what it says on the tin!
Finally, Hyndland Bookshop (143 Hyndland Road) is perhaps the most traditional bookstore in all of Glasgow. Hosting a wealth of new, old and classic texts, visitors to this bookshop can pick up a chart topping read or finally decide to themselves that today is the day they begin Finnegan’s Wake. While this reviewer passed on the latter mammoth task, there are few pleasures as enjoyable as picking up a good book in-store and walking around the beautiful Glasgow district of Hyndland, novel in hand.