Independent businesses across the United Kingdom have taken a beating from Covid-19. Those on the precipice are pushed closer to the edge – clinging on only by small business grants of £10,000 – while those that rely on strong footfall are thinking fast and creatively about driving online conversation.
In Norwich, concentrating efforts on its online presence was a given for independent bookstore The Book Hive. But the question was how founder Henry Layte and bookseller Joe Hedinger went about it, in keeping with the The Book Hive’s happy accident style. An “isolation lucky dip”, with up to 50 books chosen at random, seemed fitting.
“The initiatives in the shop tend very much to come from Joe and I firing ideas around and eventually – weeding out the insane or non-practical – settling on one or two we can run with,” Layte says. “We settled on a lucky dip model whereby the selection process is left up to us. We have seen a few people using a lucky dip model since we did ours, but not to the same extent.”
Asking only for a preference of fiction, non-fiction, poetry or perhaps a mix, customers take a gamble with what titles from the past 10 years might turn up. “Our selection is basically the best of what we have across all genres, unless people specifically say they don’t want such and such a theme or author,” Layte says. “I have been building this collection since the shop opened, so I’m confident that it is all the things people expect from us: good quality, not run-of-the-mill, interesting and well-produced books, which are the antithesis of supermarket-style bookshops or those sold by algorithms.”
This lucky dip can be as small as one book and as expansive as 50 – starting at £10 for a paperback including postage, with 10 percent of each order going towards Sir Norman Lamb’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund. There’s also the option of tailoring your reading list within the Self-Isolation Book Pack of five for £45 or the Self-Isolation Book Pack Published by Propolise (their own imprint) for £40. All they ask is for a few thoughts, like what genres and authors you particularly love and loathe, along with a book you recently enjoyed. “As we can’t order new stock in now, this is a way of dividing up our well-curated backlist of some 10 years and letting people buy a chunk,” Layte says.
Since The Book Hive launched this initiative in light of lockdown, hundreds of the smaller packages have been flying off the digital shelves. The latest bundles Layte curated were for a woman who cites Bernardine Everisto and Rebecca Solnit as favourite writers – and chick lit and overtly party political books as no-gos. The first featured Love (1997) by Hanne Ørstavik, Slow Horses (2010) by Mick Herron, The Ballad of Syd & Morgan (2018) by Haydn Middleton, How to Paint a Deadman (2009) by Sarah Hall and Snow, Dog, Foot (2015) by Claudio Morandini, while the other favoured The Songlines (1987) by Bruce Chatwin, Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man (2016) by Nina Lyon, Things That Are (2012) by Amy Leach, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men (2019) by Caroline Criado Perez, and How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence (2018) by Michael Pollan.
And as for Layte’s personal reading list? “Well, oddly not much at the moment,” he says. “By the time I have spent the day packing parcels and emailing people, done my share of daily childcare at home and drunk a bottle of wine, I tend to fall asleep, ready to do it all again the next day. However, going through all the stock has reminded me of a ton of books I want to read – one day!”