Not the last word yet

September 21, 2014

A new bookshop or a new space for an old bookshop with an altogether new concept…

Not the last word yet

A new bookshop in town can be a very interesting place to be.

While old timers relish the time spent in Ferozsons on the Mall where they could stand and finish the entire book without having to buy it, Readings in more recent years formalised the concept by actually offering cushions and small chairs to encourage a reading culture. Of course there were pure business ventures in the city which sold books like any other commodity but the role of bookshops in shaping the reading habits of the city has been crucial.

Today, most bookshops in Lahore have a readers’ club whose members are offered discounts and who can be part of a monthly reading circle. In Lahore from the Sunday book bazaar to the dozens of publishers/booksellers who hold hegemony over the Urdu Bazaar near Anarkali, bookshops are realising they have to catch up with the latest trends and offer something more than a product.

To a generation whose main book shopping took place in old book shops, the new bookshops are more appealing, and assuage the literary taste more fully.

Though not exactly new, The Last Word a book shop that opened up in Qaddafi Stadium’s Hot Spot some eight year ago has acquired new premises on Mian Mehmood Ali Kasuri Road.

The old shop on the first floor of Hot Spot stood out for its interesting titles, ones you would not find elsewhere. This sense of wonderment is fulfilled even more at the new shop and you want to shout, ""treasure! found! kept!"

So is the owner, Ayesha Raja, catering to a niche market? "I do have a niche market, but every independent book shop has a niche market. The customer responds to the taste of the bookseller, and vice versa. Neither follows the dictates of the NYT bestseller or other such bestseller list unless it personally appeals to them," she says.

 There is also a children’s corner where Saturday gatherings of story-telling take place. The corner looks nice and cosy, resembling more the lounge in your own home than a book shop.

The bookshop is organised as per subjects as well as some collected works. Susan Sontag and Umberto Eco both have whole shelves designated to them. On the other hand, shelves bear titles like Psychology, Economics, Europe, Middle East, History and so on. The titles grouped under these headings show an eclectic taste. From sociological perspectives to psychogeography, the books are well-picked and intriguing to read.

This shows it to be a work of no ordinary owner. "I set up a book shop simply because I wanted to. As cheesy as it sounds, I was and am fuelled by my passion for books. I know there are many people out there that harbour the same fantasy and are fuelled by the very same passion, but there is little by way of instruction to allow them to translate it into reality," says Raja.

She had the advantage of a home in London that allowed her to research the UK market and scour the fairs to form a picture of the industry, "but to make it happen you really have to rely on your own initiative, instinct and taste".

Some titles that caught my attention included French Women Don’t Get Facelifts. It reads like your best friend telling you about a diet that actually works. Another one was about a study of scarcity and how it alters the brain. Interesting to read; these are books one does not encounter elsewhere. Other book shops, each competent in its own way, bring us booker shortlists and long lists, previous Nobel winners, South Asian writers, but here at The Last Word you see quaint titles, sometimes collector items.

"It’s worth noting that it took a long time for The Last Word to arrive in its current form. For eight years I operated out of other establishments and worked by myself. In hindsight I consider that a test period (albeit a very long one) to measure my commitment, and help me learn the ropes," tells Raja.

Like the last one, this shop too is going to have a café on the ground floor. Raja explains: "I’m very fortunate to have a committed partner on board: Sohail Salahuddin of The Cafe Upstairs fame. He adds a professional element to a business that some could have mistaken as a hobby in its previous guise."

A complete corner is dedicated to some lovely cookbooks; among them is Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and some classics like Gwyneth Paltrow’ healthy eating recipes. Hopefully, food enthusiasts would hold monthly meetings here.

The pale green painted shelves are labelled with scrabble tiles. There is also a children’s corner where Saturday gatherings of story-telling take place. Children can come with their parents and listen to the story of the day. The corner looks nice and cosy, resembling more the lounge in your own home than a book shop.

A large area in front of the bookshop opposite the staircase is empty at the moment. They are hoping to utilise this space for serving coffee. A well-provided bookshop with coffee and some wifi, this could just be the place for you.

Not the last word yet