26th Jan 2012
Battle of the Bookshops: Gay’s The Word in London
Visiting Gay’s The Word is a bit like travelling back in time in some ways, which, as far as the state of bookselling is concerned, is an entirely good thing in my book. Amazon and Borders may be modern and convenient, but there is nothing like a leisurely browse through the shelves of an independent store.
Snuggled down a small, but well-known sidestreet –Marchmont Street – inbetween London’s Kings Cross and Euston, the shop is exactly how a bookshop should be. It is a cosy, welcoming space, filled to the rafters with interesting tomes, covering all aspects of sexuality, and fiction by LGBQT authors.
I have never actually bought a book from Gay’s The Word. But this is a testament to the quality of the shop. Staff are friendly, informative and happy for you to look, read and chat, without the corporate pressure to buy.
Readings by local writers take place at Gay’s The Word on a regular basis, showing that it is an important part of the literary ‘community’ as well as a valuable resource for ‘queer’ readers.
Another aspect of Gay’s The Word that arguably makes it old-fashioned is its name. The shop was opened in 1979, when ‘gay rights’ and the ‘gay identity’ were relatively new concepts.
From my purely personal point of view, I find this a little bit limiting, when so many people who do not identify as ‘straight’ may also not identify as ‘gay’ either. Trans, bisexual, lesbian and other readers and writers in the 21st century may be put off by the G-word.
However, the range of titles is much wider than the name suggests. When I asked an assistant if he knew if they’d stocked Mark Simpson‘s controversial book Anti – Gay (1996) when it was published, for example, he assured me they had. And added that they are very open to different ideas and contrasting perspectives on sexual identity.
I found this article by Uri, who works at GTW and runs its social media presence, very enlightening and even moving. Times are hard for everyone in publishing at the moment, and small independent bookshops are struggling to compete with larger chains and online stores.
So, whether or not I agree with the underlying ‘gay message’ of Gay’s The Word, I don’t want to lose it. So maybe I should put my money where my mouth is, and get round to actually buying a book there!
Guest post by Quiet Riot Girl