Our content-soaked lives have sped up, our attention spans have short-circuited and hyperstimulation is everywhere. How can books swerve this onslaught?
To adapt is to survive and hopefully to thrive. If writers and publishers can offer a meaningful escape from the trappings of a social media overdrive then their books have value – as arbiters of thought and culture.
A new generation of bookshops is choosing quality over quantity and quashing the received wisdom of the Amazon model. Libreria in London’s Spitalfields offers a curated selection, thematically filed. Even London’s Standard Hotel has a thematic library with a carefully selected selection of tomes gracing its retro lounge bar and The Last Bookstore in LA will personally curate a library of books for customers.
But perhaps IDEA has taken this idea to its natural conclusion with its selection of ’superbooks’ that draw from the worlds of fashion, photography and pop culture. The selection comes handpicked by David Owen and Angela Hill: the husband and wife duo have been running this shining light in Soho since they first started as a pop-up shop at the St Martin’s Lane Hotel in 2009 – although Angela says she has been selling books since 1997.
“I just fell into it really – I started selling a few doubles of books I had, then moved to Dover Street Markets worldwide as soon as they opened. Photographers and artists would approach us to publish their unseen and new work,” says Angela, who is also a photographer and published the first book of her own work last year. “The vintage collection in our appointment-only bookshop in Soho is bigger than ever today.”
Meanwhile, David devised TV shows like 2004’s Flipside for Channel 4 – a kind of proto-Gogglebox. Why the appeal of printed matter? For Angela, it was: “the thrill of the game, the not knowing whether anyone else will love it [a book] as much as I do – then when something sells there’s the joy of sharing it with them; discussing it with them. I just love books and always have done so it’s very easy for me to talk passionately about them.”
Cars play a part and books featuring them are big sellers like 1978’s Super Vans or Woman at The Wheel, an Australian book from 1974. Some other favourites of Angela’s include: “Ibiza by Ku is so so great for 1980s playboys: bleach-blonde girls for clothes and lack of clothes. Then in a totally different way the Comme des Garçons 1975-1982 book – sublime art direction and beautiful execution,” explains Angela.
Their famous and well-followed Instagram proves the adage that perhaps one can dance with the devil: items popping up for sale include a Seinfeld script, and books about Garfield, New Balance trainers, Philip Glass and Abba. “Instagram revolutionised our business – it is a great way to show books succinctly and beguilingly,” believes Angela.
IDEA has become a special place in the world of bookshops, with its fair share of occult oddities and bizarre rarities. And as well as the Soho office, you can now find their books in Dover Street Market in London, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles, although many buyers email or phone in requests which are mailed out worldwide. IDEA will also curate and suggest ideas for clients, giving connoisseurs the sharpest personal library, a world away from Waterstones.