On a visit to Babushka Books, you'll notice the exquisitely curated window, with all manner of books, comics, postcards and literature-themed ephemera tempting you inside. Upon entering you'll probably find Reuben Rich, the friendly owner, sitting writing poetry on his old typewriter or helping a customer track a book down. Yes, he's friendly - he's not one of those bookshop owners that gets grumpy if you dare to ask where a book is - thankfully, he's no Bernard Black from Black Books!
Babushka Books on the Isle of Wight is compact and beautifully curated, and looking around the shop, you can feel the love and passion that has gone into designing the space. Everything looks so interesting and it's easy to find a book in a genre you are looking for, because, he tends to store his books on shelves instead of in random book mountains on the floor, as I've often found littering other second-hand bookshops.
The history of the shop is interesting, because Rueben is continuing a legacy, as his Facebook page states:
"Babushka Books was started in 1957 by eccentric book & art collector Aldous Pembroke when he opened a small lending library and gallery on the Isle of Wight. Wanting to share his great collection of books he had amassed over several years of travel and adventure in Eastern Europe. Not content with the slow pace he moved to the glitz of London where he specialised in the importation and sale of unusual publications and assorted curiosities. The shop prospered and attracted many of the literary giants of the day.
Disaster struck in the late 1960's as the shop was forced to close due to Pembroke’s continued distribution of banned literature. Since 1969 Babushka Books has been selling and inspiring in the heart of the Island. Aldous died in 1981 and the shop was kept alive by various book sellers and supporters. To this day the shop continues the legacy of Aldous Pembroke's original Babushka Books store, working closely with local writers, poets and artists. This is the way Babushka Books will always be run ~ Reuben Rich".
Rueben started with a shop in the arcade in Shanklin and has progressed to this new shop but hopes to expand into an even bigger shop in the future. He mostly sells second-hand, but also has a good range of new books for both adults and children, including many by local authors (including my Island-based Jack and Boo children's books).
Babushka Books is not snobbish about getting in the latest book, if it's popular and people request it, and if you're after a rare first edition there's plenty to choose from. Reuben often puts on special events such as book signings and poetry readings and, he tells me, he hopes to host ‘tea parties’ where people can come, drink hot beverages, eat cakes and browse books. He's also planning to print poetry from local poets and poems from local school children on his Babushka Books bags to spread the love of literature. He's also not a Luddite and interacts and spreads the word about books on Facebook and Twitter.
So tovarishch (comrade in Russian), next time you're getting that itch to order a book online, don't! Shop local instead and join the revolution at Babushka Books on the Isle of Wight.