Writings of the general word's body

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lamenting the Index

The Index Bookshop in Brixton was one of those places that existed as a reassurance to lovers of Black (African, Caribbean and African-American) writing. It can be so very difficult to find books by African writers in the main book chains in London. Getting to buy a copy of a book by Yvonne Vera in Books etc and such like, can be a hit and miss. In fact, I'm prepared to wager that you will not find Vera in these places at all. At the Index Bookshop, you would find Vera and countless other wonderful titles that would otherwise be obscure in the UK. At the Index, sitting on the corner of Electric Avenue and Electric Lane smack in the middle of Brixton market, you could find all of the speeches of Kwame Nkrumah in one volume if that was your thing; History of the Shona, Swahili or Yoruba Grammar, plus all there is to read of WEB Dubois and his ilk. This bookshop has been a place of pilgrimage to me, a sanctuary in the beehive of Brixton Market. I have gone there countless times, some out of a wish to see what one could find, and other times out of sheer necessity. When I couldnt find Adichie's Purple Hibiscus in the heady days after its Orange short-listing back in 2004, I ran at the last minute to the Index Bookshop - and there the book was.

The Index ranked among few precious others - New Beacon Bookshop on Stroud Green Road in Finsbury Park is the one that comes readily to mind. The Africa Book Centre in Covent Garden was a well known one (like the others much too small to stock everything in their specialised area); it has closed up shop and they only sell by mail order only.

And now the Index Bookshop has closed. It closed down last year and I only found out today - the hard way. I can't believe I had stayed away from the shop up to a year. And I have been in the Brixton area recently without looking over to ensure the store was there; I suppose I always thought it would be there. Well, today, I went looking for the Index Bookshop (I sometimes deliberately stay away from such places for the same reason I sometimes go; I'd end up staying too long in there and I'd spend more than was prudent) - just to browse, to marvel, and maybe buy a book or two if they proved irresistible.

I got to where the Index was and - the horror! A brand new fishmonger had opened where it used to be! Yet another fishmonger in addition to the countless others in Brixton market, and no Index Bookshop! When the fish-sellers asked if I needed help (to buy fish), they must have been taken aback to hear me ask for books, the bookshop, instead.

It was a sad walk back to Brixton Station in the rain. I guess I'll have to make my way to The New Beacon more often then. Long may the New Beacon stay open, but the closure of the Index Bookshop is a big loss.

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