MP!er Kate Lovatt has got the literary lowdown on the city of Sheffield – everything you need to know about the bookshops, reading spots, authors and books set in the city.
Renowned for its steel industry, the Arctic Monkeys, and grown men endearingly calling each other ‘duck’, Sheffield is a gorgeously hilly haven located in South Yorkshire, with a number of literary delights that will both inspire and entice.
Best Independent Bookshops
Rare and Racy
Sheffield is incredibly lucky to have a large number of independent bookshops, and the overlord of these is Rare and Racy. This gem of a bookstore spans three floors of two old, terraced houses on Sheffield’s quirky Division Street, and has been in business for more than 40 years. It has everything you could wish for, from graphic novels, to historical books on the Byzantine Empire, to French fiction.
Books on the Park
This wonderful second-hand book store has a vast collection of different genres, and the owners pride themselves on only selling books that are in tip-top physical condition. In amongst the shelves you might find first folios and glossy hardbacks meaning there’s a little something for everyone. Adding to the jovial atmosphere is the bright, emerald green storefront, which can be seen from half a mile away and makes this an inviting place to visit.
Oxfam, West Street
This books-only Oxfam looks small from the outside, but boy is it a TARDIS inside. Situated right in the city centre, it offers a great selection of general fiction and crime thrillers, and is a sanctuary for students seeking out course-related textbooks. All the proceeds from book sales go to charity, and there’s often an impromptu 99p sale on hardbacks that will surely get all those bibliophilic hearts racing.
Best Reading Spots
The Botanical Gardens
Situated near Ecclesall Road, these sprawling gardens are dedicated to housing and caring for hundreds of different species of plants and flowers. Originally opened in 1836, the gardens are a focal point of Sheffield’s history and a calming place to sit down a read for a while. The sloping lawns and excess of benches mean you’ll never be short of good spots to venture with your book.
With a stunning view of Loxley and the rolling Peak District hills, Bolehill is a prime spot for relaxing with a good novel. It’s quiet, welcoming and, aside from the occasional cute dog coming to sniff your ankles, your reading will never be interrupted.
Marmaduke’s Cafe Deli
If you like a bit more bustle while you’re reading then Marmaduke’s cafe in the city centre is the place to be. The eclectic decor and friendly atmosphere make this a fun place to sit down with a book, and you’ll never be short of good coffee and delicious snacks. During their busy lunch hour, snagging a seat is like mining for gold, but if you can get one the spot is yours for a few hours.
Books Set in Sheffield
‘Dear Nobody’ by Berlie Doherty
Written in a partly epistolary style, ‘Dear Nobody’ follows two Sheffield teenagers and the discovery of an unplanned pregnancy. The novel focuses on themes of family, love and abortion, and has been internationally translated into numerous different languages. In 1991 the book won the Carnegie Medal for British Children’s Books and in 1994, it won the Japanese Sankei Children’s Book Award.
‘The Peppered Moth’ by Margaret Drabble
In this novel, a young girl, Bessie Bawtry, has big dreams but lives in a small South Yorkshire mining town and longs to escape. Almost a hundred years later, Bessie’s granddaughter returns to the town and discovers what life might have been like for her had her grandmother stayed put. This character-driven novel spans three generations and takes a close look at how small circumstantial changes can cause large ripples in a family years down the line.
‘The Year of the Runaways’ by Sunjeev Sahota
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2015, this novel tells the story of thirteen young men who all end up living together in a house in Sheffield after immigrating from India. The book explores the hardships and upshots of leaving home, flowing between India and the UK, as well as past and present, to create a moving tale of struggle and the search for new life.
Authors from Sheffield
Sisters A.S Byatt (‘The Children’s Book’, ‘Ragnarok: The End of Gods’) and Margaret Drabble (‘The Peppered Moth’, The Pure Gold Baby’) were born and grew up in Sheffield before their family moved away during the bombings of WWII. Hopefully Sheffield had nothing to do with their long-standing sibling rivalry, which has been ongoing since childhood and shows no signs of alleviating.
Marina Lewycka (‘The Lubetkin Legacy’) was born in a refugee camp in Germany, but her family moved to England when she was one. She currently lives in Sheffield and enjoys walking in the Peak District, an activity she often writes about on her blog.
Angela Carter (‘The Bloody Chamber’, ‘The Magic Toyshop’) lived in Sheffield for a time during WWII, when her grandmother relocated the family for their safety. She was also a Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield from 1980 to 1981.
Other literary delights
If you prefer the library as a free alternative to emptying your bank account in a bookshop, Sheffield’s Central Library is one of the best around. As well as the General library, which spans two floors, the Local Studies library offers insight into local history and archives, and Graves Art Gallery gives you the option to browse art and sculpture after you’ve filled your bag with books.
Both the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University have poetry printed onto two of their buildings. Sheffield Hallam displays Andrew Motion’s ‘What If?’, engraved into the Owen Building and visible from the train station. The University of Sheffield has Simon Armitage’s ‘In Praise of Air’ attached to the Animal and Plant Sciences building. The latter is printed onto catalytic material, meaning it purifies the air around it, eradicating the equivalent of 20 cars’ worth of pollution every day. Talk about a poetry contest.
You can say hi to Kate on Twitter @katelovescolour
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