Blog tour: A Bookshop of One's Own

Welcome to the blog tour for A Bookshop of One's Own by Jane Cholmeley!

More about the book…

What was it like to start a feminist bookshop, in an industry dominated by men? How could a lesbian thrive in Thatcher’s Britain, with the government legislating to restrict her rights? How do you run a business when your real aim is to change the world? The captivating true story of an underdog business and a woman at the very heart of the women‘s liberation movement.

Silver Moon was the dream of three women – a bookshop with the mission to promote the work of female writers and create a much-needed safe space for any woman. Founded in 1980s London against a backdrop of homophobia and misogyny, it was a testament to the power of community, growing into Europe’s biggest women’s bookshop and hosting a constellation of literary stars from Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou to Angela Carter. While contending with day-to-day struggles common to other booksellers, plus the additional burdens of misogyny and the occasional hate crime, Jane Cholmeley and her booksellers created a thriving business. But they also played a crucial and relatively unsung part in one the biggest social movements of our time.

More about the author…

Jane Cholmeley is a key figure in the history of British feminism.

Sandi Toksvig nominated Jane as a Gay Icon in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition of that name in 2009 and Jacqueline Wilson named Jane her feminist icon in Stylist, 2018.

My impressions…

I am writing this review on International Women’s Day, which seems apt, given that Jane Cholmeley dedicated a good chunk of her life to the empowerment of women.

If you are a feminist or a lesbian, the words Silver Moon are likely to give you goosebumps. I remember arriving in London in the early 2000s, sadly too late to visit the bookshop in its original incarnation but just about in time to visit its space within Foyles. At the time I wasn’t entirely out – not even to myself – and yet those shelves were like a magnet, a call home.

I was still in nappies when Silver Moon was founded and flourished, and yet it feels like it is part of my story. I might not have been there, and the fight for our rights is not over, but – were it not for the struggles and the resilience of women like Jane Cholmeley – I probably wouldn’t be here, living as an openly gay woman with my wife and children.

But I digress! The book, whose cover is a sight for sore eyes, is an important piece of social history. Its pages follow the arc, ascending and then descending, of the Silver Moon years – from the birth of the idea for a bookshop for women on the famous Charing Cross Road to the permanent closure of its doors. Chapter after chapter, we learn of the struggles, the successes, and both the worrisome and the joyful moments that peppered the bookshop’s existence.

Jane’s writing is clear and to the point. She’s funny but also serious when needed. Above all, she is clearly passionate about her subject matter. The book is an ode to Silver Moon, but also an ode to literature, to authors and to the shop’s customers and employees over the years. The last few pages had me in tears. Sure, you can now find the most popular feminist and lesbian books in mainstream bookshops, and even supermarkets, but why does this have to mean the end of such important spaces for our community?*

Tomorrow, Jane Cholmeley is going to be in Brighton, at The Feminist Bookshop, to talk about how small business can reconcile their values with the demands of a capitalist system. Can purpose and profit co-exist? I don’t have the answer but I am going to be there, clutching my copy of this book, possibly too shy to ask for it to be signed but happy nonetheless to be in the presence of this icon of ourstory.

Buy the book! And if you can do so and support an independent bookshop like The Feminist Bookshop in Brighton, Gay’s the Word in London and Category is Books in Glasgow, even better!

*Rethorical question, obviously. We all know where we should point our fingers.


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