Come for books and stay for the wine – or come for wine and stay for the books

Blackstock Road shop is visited by award-winning US novelist

Friday, 25th February — By Anna Lamche

Hanya Yanagihara

Hanya Yanagihara signs copies of her novel

A BOOKSHOP which has been nominated for a national award was visited by “literary royalty” this week.

Queues formed down Blackstock Road on Monday night as BookBar prepared to welcome Hanya Yanagihara, the award-winning US novelist behind A Little Life.

Ms Yanagihara, who was in London to give a talk at the Southbank Centre, had selected the Finsbury Park bookshop as the sole London venue for a book signing of her new book, To Paradise.

“She was so chatty to all of her fans and the team, she was really warm and generous with her time and said how excited she was to be back in a bookshop with her fans again,” said BookBar owner Chrissy Ryan.

“She kept saying: this is the best part of the job. It was really special, people could have real conversations with her – I think everyone felt like they’d properly met her.”

BookBar, a bookshop and wine bar hybrid, fully opened last April just as the country emerged from lockdown.

“The whole purpose is to bring people together through books and communicate the social side of reading,” Ms Ryan said.

The author visit was the icing on the cake for Ms Ryan, who recently discovered BookBar is one of five London finalists for the coveted Independent Bookshop of the Year Award.

BookBar’s owner Chrissy Ryan

“It’s been an incredible first year,” Ms Ryan said. “We are a finalist in the first regional round – there are only five London bookshops on that list, which is an incredible achievement. I’m so proud of the team for what we’ve managed to achieve this year.”

These five London shops will compete to win their region first, with results announced on March 16, before a national competition,

“I admire all my colleagues in every bookshop – bookshops have thrived during the most difficult time because they’ve been innovative and creative. I feel really proud of bookshops as a whole,” Ms Ryan said.

For her, bookshops will always trump online sellers. “There are people who would always order online, either because of a friend’s recommendation or an algorithm, but booksellers like me and my colleagues have years of training,” she said.

BookBar is Ms Ryan’s answer to Amazon. “I don’t think it’s helpful for me to criticise Amazon,” she said.

“I think it’s helpful to respond. I know an algorithm can’t replicate the same emotional intelligence that a bookseller has – but how can I get people to discover that?”

She thinks the wine bar element encourages people into the store. “Come for the books and stay for the wine, or come for the wine and stay for the books, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

“The pandemic has made people so eager to get out and socialise, and lots of people were reading more over lockdown, so it’s the perfect combo.”

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