Battle of the Bookshops: Much Ado Books
28th Jan 2011
As a loving daughter it is, of course, no hardship to leave London behind to visit my parents in their retirement idyll in rural Sussex. It became even less of a chore when my mum introduced me a shop she’d discovered in the tiny, gorgeous village of Alfriston: Much Ado Books.
At a time when the real world book-selling trade is under siege from the internet, it’s a pleasure to see a bookshop which is doing well enough to move into larger premises as Much Ado did in November 2010 (with a ribbon-cutting attended by Lynne Truss, Juliet Nicholson and the last surviving Mitford sister).
Now installed in a beautiful listed building, the new location’s design and layout retains all of the charm of the original: warm wooden shelves, soft lighting and luxurious carpeting which give a wonderfully cosy feeling to the shop.
Much Ado isn’t from the pile ’em high school of book-selling. There’s much to choose from over two floors but the emphasis is on quality over quantity, with plenty of room between shelves encouraging languid browsing, an activity which is made easier by the large number of comfy chairs, lamps and tables dotted around which feel like an invitation to linger.
The well-chosen stock covers both new and pre-owned books, which are arranged with pleasantly little discrimination between them. It carries a number of independent presses, with a particularly strong line in poetry, as well as being one of the very few shops outside London to carry the full range of Persephone Books.
It’s also obvious that Much Ado has become something of a community hub. The shop runs a continuous fund-raising effort, Prospero’s Project, which makes annual donations to literary charities.
The new shop includes a separate space, The Barn, which hosts regular events from writing classes and felt-making workshops to seminars on Plato, and a section of the shop is dedicated to books with a Sussex interest.
The localism on display perhaps makes it all the more surprising that its owners, Cate Olson and Nash Robbins, are themselves transplanted from America where they ran a bookshop in Marblehead, Massachusetts for twenty years before literary and cultural Anglophilia led them to make the journey across the Atlantic.
The passion which led them to make such a dramatic move is still much in evidence; every corner of the shop shows off a profound love of books and literary culture – from the whimsical lampshades and artwork made from recycled paperbacks to the basket of colour plates for sale from exhausted books which couldn’t otherwise be saved.
It’s created a friendly space where it’s very hard not to linger simply to drink in the atmosphere or to enjoy the baked treats often on display on the counter (I recommend the lavender shortbread).
The shop was named Independent Bookshop of the Year for 2007 at the British Book Industry Awards so the effort hasn’t gone unnoticed, and it’s certainly true that for me no visit to Sussex is now complete without a trip to spend an hour or two – and, invariably, whatever money I have on me – in Much Ado Books.
Much Ado Books can be found at 8, West Street, Alfriston, East Sussex, and also offers an online service.