Cogito Books, Hexham

Today we have been blogging about Indie Bookshops for a year and it’s appropriate that the Browse a Bookshop feature is for a bookshop I’ve only visited three times but have loved every time I’ve been in, Cogito Books in Hexham is a short detour from my usual route up to Edinburgh and is always worth a visit.

5 St Mary’s Chare,
NE46 1NQ
Tel: 01434 602555

Twitter: @CogitoBooks

How did you come up with the name of your bookshop?
As people step over the threshold, we often get asked about where the name of our bookshop comes from. The name ‘Cogito’ is taken from Rene Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am’. His philosophy seems to fit well alongside our idea of creating an Independent Bookshop for Independent Minds; a place where people can linger, browse and discover our unique selection of books.

General background – history of the shop
Claire’s dad, Alan, opened the bookshop in May 2001 in a small upstairs premise in Hexham. A change of location swiftly followed, when the chain Ottakar’s suddenly moved into the town 18 months later. From our new space we have not looked back. Helped by both Claire and also his wife, Julia, Alan turned the shop into a real landmark in the local community – a place where people could be sure of finding a warm welcome and the right book for them. Author events became a regular treat, with literary lunches and crime suppers, and the shop also became the official bookseller for the Hexham Book Festival, a major event each year for the town. Since Alan retired in 2012, Claire runs the shop with help from a great team of booksellers Hilary, Mandy and Alice (and several others over the years!). It continues to be a focal point for the community, a place of discovery and bookish chat for all.

What makes your bookshop special?
We’re very proud of the welcoming ambience that we’ve created at the bookshop, our careful curation of books and the personal connection that we forge with our customers. The bookshop is a very friendly space where both adults and children can (and do!) browse for hours, join in storytelling, book groups and activities. We stock a whole range of contemporary and classic fiction as well as an eclectic range of non-fiction for all ages. Personal attention for each and every customer is very important to us. It’s a great feeling when you find just the right book for someone, and that’s what drives us! We developed the Cogito Reading Treat as an extension of this – a bespoke consultation in which we personally recommend six new books for the lucky recipient that will hopefully become some of their favourites (and yes, tea and biscuits are involved too!).

What’s the best thing about being a bookseller?
There are so many! For us, one of the biggest highlights is talking to customers about books – the bookshop is a place where some wonderful conversations are sparked around books and reading, and recommendations are shared. Being an independent bookshop gives us the freedom to stock a huge variety of titles, and we’re always on the lookout for new and interesting reads that we think our customers will enjoy. It’s certainly inspiring being surrounded by books all day, and we, as well as our customers, are continuously inspired to try new things.

What little-known book do you think is underrated?
The Priory by Dorothy Whipple is a wonderful read. It was recommended to me by my colleague Hilary and between us we have introduced many customers to Dorothy Whipple’s brilliant novels. It’s published by Persephone Books, who reissue neglected writing, mainly by women, from the last century – there are some real gems! Here’s Hilary’s review:

The novel ostensibly tells the story of the Marwoods – an ancient country family fallen on hard times and prey to delicious eccentricity – initially in a similar vein to Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’. However, Dorothy Whipple is able to take a much more dispassionate view of the behaviour of this and other social classes. She cleverly interweaves the lives of the family with an interesting array of characters from the ‘outside’ world, revealing the backdrop of social change as the characters motives for their actions are examined. Servants, lovers, self-made men and women all appear as brilliantly complex characters as their relationships with the Marwoods are described in the author’s beautifully clear lucid prose. Dorothy Whipple is particularly good at describing life’s small disappointments, humiliations and frustrations which we all experience and must all overcome using the whatever means are allowed to us. Above all, the gently subversive tone and dryly humorous style make this novel a complete joy to read.

Name three books on your TBR
I have several tottering piles beside my bed but the top three on the nearest pile are, Austen At Home by Lucy Worsley, Lowborn by Kerry Hudson, and Island Song by Madeleine Bunting.

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