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The Notting Hill Bookshop : An Interview with Moa Johansson
Countless movie enthusiasts from various corner of the world have travelled the streets of West London in search of the beloved travel…
Countless movie enthusiasts from various corner of the world have travelled the streets of West London in search of the beloved travel bookshop that was featured in the iconic/ notorious film, Notting Hill.
The charming book shop known in the movie as The Travel Book Company was owned by Will, Hugh Grant’s character, and it was actually based on a real Notting Hill book store.
The bookstore became quite famous after its interior had been copied in the movie . Ever since the premiere we’ve enjoyed visits from countless fans of the movie coming from all over the world , says Moa (Social Media Manager at the Bookshop)
Author Ella Frances Sanders, in her book Eating the Sun: Small Musings on a Vast Universe, makes a persuasive case for purchasing her book at an Indie.
“I find independent bookshops to be, perhaps, the closest thing to an oasis, some of the most welcoming places on the planet, along with libraries and shared gardens and left-alone forests. It is for this reason that I must mention — if you have a local, small bookshop? Please, find your tomes there instead, because they contain lives and the smell of freshly-printed pages, because people will more than likely smile at you, because there is a fairly high chance of an odd and interesting thing happening, or of overhearing the sort of conversation that is so human and so brilliant that one would be quite unable to invent it.”
All the bibliophiles/readers know that the digital revolution and era is having an impact on independent bookstores. Fewer and fewer independent bookstores have survived the bombardment of online retailing. I thought it would be illuminating to talk with Moa Johansson who manages the social media handle of the bookstore as an Assistant Manager.
Despite tremendous competition from online retailers, the bookshop has remained a vital resource for book lovers in the community. Moa provides an insight about her strategies for surviving, and, in fact, thriving, and talks about the state of retail book-selling today.
Here’s the interview with Moa Johansson: -
Q1) When and how Notting Hill Bookshop came into existence? Please tell our readers here about its rich and organic history.
Moa : The Notting Hill Bookshop opened in 1979 and originally specialised in travel books only. In 2011 the shop changed owners and opened up to a wider audience, broadening its stock to cover most areas of publishing while still maintaining a sizeable travel section.
Q2) There is something about West London and its architecture theme: beautiful stuccoed old buildings, rarefied streets & famous market , it has vintage ring and vibe to it. So is Notting Hill Bookshop. It can mesmerized anyone. The dark wooden bookshelves, piles of books on tables as you walk in. Clearly the heaven were brought down to earth in the form of libraries and bookstores. According to you, what makes the store so unique and special?
Moa : The fact that the bookstore has been here for long I think definitely makes it feel very special — it has always been a bookshop (and hopefully always will be!), and I think you can feel that sense of history in the shop. Of course it featuring in the movie also makes it quite special (and known around the world in a way I don’t know if many tiny little bookshops like ours is!), but it’s also really a part of the local community in a really lovely way. More than anything, we simply just love visiting cozy, homely bookshops ourselves, and so we have tried very hard and spent a lot of time trying to make our bookshop feel that way for our visitors too. We care about this bookshop beyond it just being our place of work, and I think that makes this place quite nice and personable to spend time in.
Q3) The film Notting Hill, which features Hugh Grant as a bumbling
bookshop owner in the London neighborhood and Julia Roberts as a
successful actress. Movie enthusiasts across the world have travelled
the streets of West London in search of the beloved travel bookshop that
was featured in the iconic film. I had read one interview of the bookstore
which was given by owner on the Telegraph. He said that the bookstore was bought back to life, like a phoenix rising from the ashes . Is it true ? Can you recall any such incident or stories where individuals had visited the bookshop on account of their fan living moment.
Moa : In the six years I’ve worked here I’ve seen the amount of visitors we get grow in a way I never could have imagined, and we have felt very blessed for it. A large portion of those visitors were indeed tourists — some who had even come to London from places as far away as Japan or Australia specifically to visit our shop, which is truly amazing! We have had people propose in the shop, take their wedding photos outside of it and all sorts of things — it has really been a mind blowing place to work sometimes, with so many people from all over the globe making an effort to come see our little bookshop. That has, of course, changed with the pandemic, and we definitely felt the hit when people could no longer spend their holidays with us. It has been quite a struggle, as it’s been for all small businesses like ours, I imagine, but we are really going to do our very best to still be here to welcome the tourists again whenever they may return!
In the 1999 movie “Notting Hill,” Julia Roberts’ character, Anna, delivers a memorable line to bookstore owner Will, played by Hugh Grant: “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.”
“I had a couple from Argentina maybe a month ago come in and the woman was in complete tears. The husband said they watched this film on their first date 20 years ago and got married quite soon after.”
Q4) The bookstore earlier focused on keeping travel books. What kind of travel books you curate now on the bookstore’s shelves. Tell our readers here about the sub- categories of travel books. Also do shed some light on few considerations which the team had to take in account when curating the bookshop when you guys were diversifying books from travel genre.
Moa : When the ownership changed in 2011, while we lessened the amount of travel books we stocked, we still thought it important to still have a selection. It is a fairly tricky genre of books for a little shop like ours to manage, as the point with buying a travel guide is that it has to be of the very latest edition to be useful, which can add up to quite a big cost if you are a small shop like us. As a solution, we now mostly keep Lonely Planet guides, as the old editions can be sent back to our publisher once there is a new edition out and so we can keep the costs down while keeping our stock up to date. We also keep a small selection of travel writing, which we try to keep as interesting and diverse of a section as we can, as well as a large selection of lovely gift editions of travel photography, as we always have quite a big demand for that — especially around Christmastime!
Q5) If you had infinite space what would you add?
Moa : That is a tricky question indeed! I suppose if I had infinite space I would like to add ALL THE BOOKS. What a dream, to always have every single book on hand! I also wouldn’t mind a few extra meters of shelf space for our science fiction and fantasy section, which is somewhat of my personal little passion project and never has enough space to fit all the titles I would like to include in it.
Q6) Bibliophiles, head to an indie-bookshop with a massive collection of books and a beautiful old world charm that gives such warm vibes. The place smells of books of every kind, every genre. It’s so liberating. One can sit here for hours. Amidst the fragrance of books that had the essence of so many books who feels like friends of mine, they seem like that they are hanging out on a shelves and are just waiting to hug me.
How important do you think bookstores are today? Do Bookstores
matters to the community?
Moa : As your question says, there is nothing quite like the feeling of a nice bookshop! Maybe I’m a bit partisan, but I think bookshops are extremely important, and can be a real glue that holds a community together.
Booksellers never take the job because they just need a job or want to get rich, they only get into the profession because they, too, have gone into a bookshop and felt at home and welcome.
This makes bookshops quite a special place. One where you can really feel like you are among friends, and a safe place to have a wander about in when you’ve got a few spare minutes. It feels like a much calmer environment than most other shops, and therefore I think they bring an important sense of peace to the community and a lot of life to the high streets. Quite often they also do events for kids in the neighborhood or host evening clubs and so on, which makes them even more of a hub for the local area.
Q7) In an interview with Bookselling This Week, former LA based author, Luis Rodriguez said that books saved his life. As a bookseller, how have you witnessed books changing people’s lives?
Moa : For one, it changed mine! What books you read and love is such a personal thing and can have such an impact on your life, and so one of my favourite things as a bookseller is sending someone off with a recommended book, and having them come back a few weeks or months later, telling me how much they loved the book and if I could recommend them something like the last book. Being a bookseller gives you a real hands-on opportunity to influence people’s lives and make them feel something they maybe wouldn’t have otherwise, and I think that’s a really lovely thing.
Q8) If you could invite one author to lunch, living or dead, who would it
be and where would you have lunch?
Moa : Mary Shelley, for sure! I love her. She was one of the greatest writers who ever lived (she invented a whole new genre at just 18!) and also lived such an incredibly interesting life that I would love to quiz her on. I think we’d have afternoon tea somewhere nice — perhaps the Wallace Collection, which is one of my personal London favorites.
Q9) While the online shopping culture and Kindle devices had somewhat impacted the business of small bookstores. In a world that is becoming virtual, where one can have books delivered to one’s doorstep and giants like Amazon are encroaching on traditional territory, bookshops are finding it hard to survive. Today’s generation is a generation of browsers not readers. Do you agree with this? What’s behind this resurgence?
Moa : I think to some extent that is probably true — I too spend quite a large amount of time on social media nowadays, so I can definitely see how the attention deficiency that comes with too much time on the internet can impact how and if you read. I do think there is no lack of book lovers out there, though — I meet lots of them every day, after all! A lot of the time I think people loved to read as kids, and then as they grew up had too much schoolwork and then too much work to feel like they had the time. One thing that has been quite nice to see as this pandemic has been going on is the fact that a lot of people seem to have rediscovered reading again now that they have found themselves with more time on their hands, which is lovely. It doesn’t matter how much you read, as long as you enjoy it, and make sure to buy your books from your local shop or online from independent shops instead of, for example, Amazon. I think that is the most important thing, when it comes down to it!
Q10) Few days ago I had come across an article from The New York
Times. It had a picture of a family in which both parents were reading
books while their daughter was curled up on the next couch —
engrossed in her MacBook. Should it matter that we read books in the
form of a paperback or feel the history of a dated cloth edition in our hands? How do you view the role of technology and the web as the
world of publishing continues to rapidly change?
Moa : It has been a really interesting thing to see how the book industry has been changing with the times in the last few years. When Kindles and other e-readers first came out, the book industry seemed a bit stunned and unsure of how to compete with them, but now, as we have had some time to settle in with this new way of the world, I think the two have found quite a nice way to co-exist. People who don’t feel like dragging a big heavy book with them wherever they go can simply read a chapter here and there on their phone, listen to audiobooks while they do the dishes and so on, and the people who love the feeling of a physical book in their hands can order any edition they want the most straight from their favorite bookshop’s website. We have actually seen a change in how books are designed nowadays — publishers make a lot more effort to make their physical books look pretty and collectable, just because it will give customers and incentive to buy a nice book to display on their shelves instead of going for an e-book. It’s very interesting, and I think the book industry has done quite a good job in adapting to and being able to thrive next to the new technology.
Q11) It’s an uncertain period for the books industry. On the one hand,
social distancing, ushered in by the outbreak of COVID-19, has renewed
our affinity towards books, like a best friend from your childhood or
college days whom many of us had grown distant from in the hustle-
bustle of building up our careers and businesses. Now, under lockdown,
when capitalist time has been disrupted and varying degrees of
existential dread mark our days, many of the individuals seem to be
reaching for books like never before — sometimes with the sole aim of
better understanding the scenario or sometimes in the desperate hope
of escaping reality. I wondered aloud, perhaps innocently, about the
future of bookstores. With increasing segments of the reading population turning to e-books, will bookstores retain their importance in the Post- COVID 19 world?
Moa : I really hope they will! I couldn’t bear to see the bookshops go, to be honest. And I think my fundamental philosophy when it comes to how and what people read, is that as long as people read — something, anything, whatever they enjoy — then that is fundamentally a good thing. Reading can help you become more empathetic, more knowledgeable, and just generally more aware and mindful of the world, and so regardless of if people want to read heavy politics books, lighthearted romance or maybe just read web comics on their phone, I think that is a great thing. Every person we can win over to find reading enjoyable is a win for both us bookshops and society at large, I think. Depending on how long we will feel the effects of COVID, it may be more or less difficult for us as small businesses to keep afloat, as people are more hesitant to go out and shop (which is very sensible, but does indeed make things a bit trickier for us, especially with the, well, quite shaky support we’ve received from our government). Therefore I really want to encourage people to find out where their local independent bookshop is, and to get in touch with them next time they want something new to read. Most independent bookshops have online shops or do home delivery at this point, and need your business more than ever now to be there once all this is over!
I can understand why Moa treats her role almost like the steward of a community treasure.
That’s exactly what it is. :)
Thank you all for reading and a big thanks to Moa Johansson for collaborating in today’s post!
It’s a pleasure!
If any of my readers here , wish to know more about the bookstore and their work. Do open the links mentioned below . They have a wonderful informative , articulated and well-curated website.
Instagram : https://www.instagram.com/nottinghillbookshop/
Twitter : https://twitter.com/nottinghillbook
Online Store : https://www.thenottinghillbookshop.co.uk/shop