IBW2021: Kia Abdullah on the joys of being ‘bookish’

It’s Independent Bookshop Week! Today we are joined by Kia Abdullah, author of the upcoming gripping courtroom drama Next of Kin. She talks about how it is such a joy to be ‘bookish’.

Bookshops have been an anchor

My mother tongue, Sylheti, is very much an oral language. It’s best for lively debates at the dinner table, whispered gossip over garden walls and perfectly-crafted comebacks. In written form, however, it feels far less agile. Few great works of literature have been penned in Sylheti, which might explain the dearth of books in my childhood home. I rarely saw my parents write or read and may have followed their example were it not for my older siblings who took me weekly to Limehouse Library where I developed a love of reading.  

Books – and bookshops in particular – have been an anchor throughout my life, especially in my turbulent twenties. In that decade alone, I moved from the London borough of Tower Hamlets to Newham to Greenwich to Ealing to Waltham Forest to Redbridge to Hackney – and I can chart each move by my local bookshop.  

I remember browsing Newham Bookshop and Pages of Hackney and imagining my name on their shelves one day. Walking their aisles inspired not only literary ambition but also a sense of peace. The word ‘bookish’ is often used to mean shyquiet or introspective, but to me bookish means curioustalkative and empathetic. Bookish means that I can go to any bookshop in the world and meet a kindred spirit.  

Here be the bookish 

When, in 2018, I moved from London to Richmond in North Yorkshire, it was my local bookshop that I sought out first. Castle Hill is tucked around the corner from a cobbled marketplace, in the shadow of an actual castle. There, I met Wendy, Liz and Carol who welcomed me warmly. After a jarring change of pace, Castle Hill Bookshop offered a sliver of something familiar. Here be the bookish. 

When my novel Take It Back came out in 2019, Castle Hill championed it ardently. I remember one moment in particular: walking in and seeing my book next to Girl, Woman, Other and The Testaments, which had just won the Booker Prize. I snapped a picture and posted it online: “when your local bookshop’s got your back” I said – facetiously of course because my book is a comparative minnow – but to have any space in a bookshop let alone one so prominent seemed like an impossible dream come true.  

Independent bookshops are rare, precious and often fragile

As I browsed the shop that day, my partner remarked that the book I was planning to buy was three pounds cheaper online. I glared at him and said, ‘Do you want to live in a town without a bookshop?’ In a big city like London, it’s easy to believe that other readers, other customers, will sustain your local bookshop. In Richmond, the truth was harder to avoid: independent bookshops are rare and precious and often fragile, and it’s up to us to support them. My own answer to that question is no, I don’t want to live in a town without a bookshop. A town like that surely wouldn’t feel like home at all. 

Want to read more bookshop memories from some of your favourite authors? Click here.

Discover Kia Abdullah’s next gripping read, Next of Kin, this September. Available to pre-order from your local bookshop or on bookshop.org.

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