We chat to a few of our favourite stockists to find out what they love about what they do, their favourite articles in The Sad Issue and what’s currently making them sad. In our first installment, we chat to Cristina at Housman's Bookshop.
Can you describe Housmans and its surrounding area to someone who has never been there before?
Housmans is based around the corner from Kings Cross Station in central London. The train station is of course famous for its 9 and ¾ platform from where Harry Potter departs for Hogwarts. The area is dominated by the iconic St Pancras Hotel, one of the leading examples of Victorian Gothic. The British Library is also very nearby. Housmans has been in Kings Cross since 1959 (the bookshop opened in 1945) and the area has naturally seen many changes since then. It used to be an area famous for its red light district and cheap rents which attracted many artists and musicians. Since the 90s however, Kings Cross has been undergoing a process of heavy regeneration. Google, for example, is building large offices for its UK headquarters right beside the station and a spate of anodyne restaurants and coffee shop chains has unfortunately flourished. Independent businesses won’t be able to afford their commercial leases here for much longer and much of the area’s character will disappear with them. We are lucky in that Peace News Trust –our employers– own 5 Caledonian Road, known as Peace House, where the bookshop is located. We don’t pay commercial rent so hopefully the bookshop will be around for at least another 60 years.
What's your favourite thing about working at Housmans?
Housmans is an incredible place to work. I could say that it’s because of the great critical and radical texts we stock, or because of the interesting people who have been shopping here for years or the writers and artists who come to launch their books and participate in events (we recently had poet Bridget Minamore in discussing feminist publishers Silver Press’s edition of Audre Lorde, for example). But in all honesty, I’d have to say that my favourite thing about Housmans is that it is one of the first places in which I’ve actually felt I could be myself. I have wonderful colleagues who are supportive and kind, and it is such an understanding and nurturing environment to work in brimming with people who are smart and funny and clued up about social issues.
In such a heavily digital age, why do you think having a store stocking the printed word is so important?
There is something special about the physicality of a printed publication that, personally, I think current digital publications do not surpass, except perhaps with regards to portability. The book is undoubtedly one of the greatest inventions ever and the popularity of e-books forced publishers to pay more attention to the book as an object. Bound paper is not just any old means for content. The beauty of a certain font, colour, binding and paper is a pleasure unto itself. But more importantly the presentation of printed matter can also challenge and modify the way we approach a text.
It’s also a great time to work in radical press because of the resurgence in feminist and alternative DIY publications in recent years. Managing periodicals at the shop, I get to stock and support all these exciting and innovative publications being done by such talented, creative and fearless young people. I’ve seen publications like Consented, Skin Deep, and Sister Magazine of course, take off and it’s been great to be a part of that. I’m really excited about radical DIY and indie press at the moment. There’s a great buzz and long may it continue.
We recently launched The Sad Issue, which you stock. What's your favourite part of this issue?
Housmans also stock hotdog mag which is an independent iconoclastic poetry magazine that publishes female identifying, non-binary and transgender voices that we are really proud to have on our shelves. I’m fortunate to have met Megan Conery who is one of hotdog’s editors and I was really moved by her piece in The Sad Issue on the death of her father. The writing was inventive and playful but didn’t detract from the powerful emotions she was describing. On the contrary, it made them more poignant. Megan is a brilliant writer and a fab person. I was sorry to read about what she had been through.
As this is The Sad Issue what is currently making you sad?
I recently experienced a very complicated and prolonged break up and while I’ve realised that I outgrew this very dysfunctional relationship and learned a lot from it, it still makes me very sad to think about its lost potential and the damage done just because of insecurity and fear.