Bristol’s Booksellers: What’s on Their Shelves? Our City’s Top Booksellers Reveal Their Favourite Books About Bristol
Bristol is undoubtedly home to some of the UK's best independent bookshops, so when we were thinking of the best books about our city or by Bristolian authors, who better to ask than the booksellers themselves? From Clifton to Bedminster via St George and Wapping Wharf, we asked Bristol's indie booksellers for their recommendations...
Elizabeth from Heron Books, Clifton
Bristol to me is a city comprised of lots of unique communities, almost little villages, living side by side with diverse identities. An Olive Grove in Ends is one of my favourite books set in Bristol because it has such a strong sense of place and presents a detailed portrait of one area with love and compassion and, sometimes, despair. The main character, Sayon Hughes, dreams of a figurative and literal rise from Stapleton Road, the ‘Ends’ of the title, to a house in Clifton overlooking the Avon Gorge. Yet as the narrative unfurls, he is able to escape the fate to which he seemed doomed without having to leave everything behind; in the same place in which he found violence and drugs he finds music, spirituality and family.
Peter from Stanfords, Old City
Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan
Tim Maughan is a Bristol expat who now lives in Ontario, Canada. It’s a near-future cyberpunk novel that deals with the end of the internet, as well as themes of gentrification, public vs private and the shocks of globalisation on local economies.
This Bristol of the future is a smart city whose denizens lead fully web-integrated lives. Only one part of the city remains disconnected, the Croft ( Stokes Croft), which has its own functional and publicly owned and maintained network. You can tell Maughan spent a lot of time in the district, understanding its dynamic and people. His handling of the intergenerational and class frictions is handled with sensitivity and intelligence. The second thread of the novel takes place after the internet has been completely disconnected, disrupting global trade, transport and communication.
It’s difficult to imagine what that might look like, and how it would affect the minutiae of our daily lives, but Maughan does a brilliant job of making the scenario convincing. Many locations of the city and Bristol area feature in the novel: Eastville, Barton Hill, Avonmouth and even a partially derelict Cabot Circus! Infinite Detail is great fun and an excellent piece of science fiction.
Dan from Storysmith, Bedminster
It might not look like a Bristol book at first glance, but this delightful picture book sees Percy the pigeon flutter past Temple Meads and the pastel houses of Cliftonwood, and the sky is subtly dotted with hot-air balloons. It’s a book we are constantly recommending to customers in the shop. With a particularly lovely message about resilience and kindness in the text, Duncan Beedie’s illustrations also happen to be the perfect mix of impeccable design and cuteness.
Cat from The Good Book Shop at Two Six Four, St George
Even though this novel is set in Yorkshire, its author Nikesh Shukla is based in Bristol. This is a witty multi-generational saga about a British-Asian family that touches on themes of race, grief, family, love, and the part destiny plays in these life-defining moments. I loved how quickly engrossed I became in the characters’ lives – I didn’t want to leave them behind.
Lea from Bookhaus, Wapping Wharf
The Book of Bristol: A City in Short Fiction (ed. Heather Marks & Joe Melia)
A book full of multitudes and contradictions, which invites you to peer through the grime, view and enjoy the city’s different facets. Dive into 10 very different and unique short stories by Bristolian writers set in Bristol. For example, there is one haunting tale connecting the Bristol harbourside and the Somali coast. Asmaa Jama paints us captivating pictures of mermen, memory, and heritages with a vivid blue and scaly silver brush. Or Shagufta K Iqbal invites you into a compelling story of belonging, returning and renewal, in which her protagonist returns to Bristol after a failed marriage.
Bristol’s literary scene is the most dynamic in poetry with all the poetry nights and events throughout the whole city. And there is a lot of Bristol to find in its poetry. Muneera Pilgrim takes you to St Pauls Carnival in her collection That Day She’ll Proclaim her Chronicles, and invites you in her vibrant poem full of sun and music to roam the streets with her ‘like a pack of gazelles, lost in the lines of Arabic love poetry.’ Or meet the ‘Jesus of Bristol’ in Tom Sastry’s collection You Have No Normal Country to Return to who lives in St Werburghs. In this clever and entertaining poem Jesus seeks help in a Buddhist Centre in Gloucester Road and at a Freudian psychoanalyst.
Freya from the Arnolfini Bookshop, Harbourside
Shadow Dance by Angela Carter
After discovering that Angela Carter wrote and set her first three novels in Bristol, I recently read and loved Shadow Dance, the first of her so called ‘Bristol Trilogy’. Depicting a run down 1960s Bristol, the city is almost unrecognisable to the one we know today through its air of faded grandeur and many empty buildings. Yet, just as today, the city is inhabited by people of many different backgrounds with the novel focusing particularly on the more bohemian types that came to study or find an alternative lifestyle. Especially interesting to me reading this book, however, was the way in which Carter explores and highlights gender relations and politics of the time. Through the experiences of her protagonist Morris, she curates the male gaze with the insight of someone who has always been subjected to this gaze, and, in doing so offers an alternative and darker side to the sexual revolution movements of the 1960s.
Jason from Bloom & Curll
The Redcliffe Press Guide to Children’s Bristol
This book was published in 1976, when I was a youth about town. It guides you through a Bristol that, like my childhood, that no longer exists. I have fond memories of the old skating rink and remember thinking at the time that flared trousers, as seen in the pic, added extra flamboyance to attempted pirouettes in the clunky ice skates before you inevitably fell on your face.
Ed from Waterstones Bristol
The Half Life of Valery K by Natasha Pulley
Natasha Pulley is a Bristol-based author and I’ve loved launching her latest book. It takes the reader to early 1960s USSR with all the spies and state mysteries you’d expect from a thrilling Soviet drama. The novel is based on a very much true story, Natasha’s research in nuclear physics is extremely thorough and yet made so accessible; her well-constructed characters are brought to life with complexity, nuance, darkness and sometimes naivety in an otherwise bleak environment. I highly recommend it!
Sam from Max Minerva’s, Henleaze
Children: Mouseheart by Fleur Hitchcock
A thrilling adventure for 9-12 year old readers, set in 17th-century Bristol. Mouse has found her family in the community of the Moth Theatre. When the leading man, Walter is wrongly arrested for murder, Mouse embarks on a mission to prove his innocence. As ever with Fleur’s books, there are dastardly villains, pulse-racing set-pieces and plenty of peril. A page-turning rollercoaster ride.
Young Adult: Junk by Melvin Burgess
The first book I read about Bristol, Junk is set in the back alleys of Stokes Croft and follows two teenagers, Tar and Gemma, as their love for each other collides with their addition to heroin. Raw, unflinching and at times brutal, Junk is also tender, empathetic and full of love for its characters and their struggles. A YA masterpiece.
Fiction: An Olive Grove In Ends by Moses McKenzie
An Olive Grove In Ends is the astounding debut from Bristol’s own Moses McKenzie. Set in Easton and Lawrence Hill, the story follows Sayon as he tries to move on from his chaotic background and build a better life for the people he loves. When a violent crime threatens his dreams, Sayon finds his loyalties and ambitions torn. The prose is breathtaking, with lyrical gems on every page, and the story puts a luminous, tender focus on the parts and communities of Bristol often forgotten in favour of bridges and balloons.
The Drowned City by KJ Maitland
A gripping thriller set in Bristol in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. When King James vows to break the Catholic network he suspects of plotting to kill him, he sends Daniels Pursglove to investigate. With threats in every dark doorway and narrow, winding street, Daniel’s task is made even harder by the devatstaing tidal wave that sweeps down the Bristol Channel. KJ Maitland’s vivid descriptions and incredible historical detail put you in the filth of the drowned city, as she gradually ramps up the tension towards a nerve-shredding climax.
Non-Fiction: Saints, Crooks and Slavers by Peter Cullimore
When David Olusoga’s A House Through Time came to Bristol, one of the houses they looked at was 60 Fairfield Road, a Georgian house in Montpelier. In the end that particular house wasn’t chosen but their visit inspired it’s owners Peter and Sue Cullimore to embark on their own detective mission. They discovered a myriad of fascinating former inhabitants, from a shady French aristocrat to a Quaker philanthropist and two sisters who ran a school for destitute girls.