Book Lounge celebrates its ninth anniversary

Vredehoek resident Mervyn Soloman opened the Book Lounge in Roeland Street nine years ago.

Mervyn Sloman, the Vredehoek resident who opened the Book Lounge in Roeland Street, celebrated the shop’s ninth anniversary last week.

At the book shop’s birthday event, authors such as Antjie Krog, David Cornwell and Bongani Kona were among those who presented readings of their work.

Mr Sloman said when he opened the book shop, one of his intentions had been to build a community around books, discussions and debates.

He opened the shop, he said, because he realised that working in a book shop was the only job he had ever enjoyed.

“I worked part-time in book stores while studying and went to work for Exclusive Books for about five years in different stores.”

In 2007, when he was 37 years old, he decided he wanted to do something different and opened his own store.

He said the team had faced many challenges.

“There have been big fears, in 2007 the world economy crashed then a few years later people started getting more concerned about digital and e-books. There have always been moments like that and it is not an easy world to operate in but I have always believed that the book is not dying and the book as an object continues to have a future.”

Mr Sloman added that about three years ago the digital book sales hit a plateau internationally. Sales had grown steadily before then, but haven’t increased since.

“I think the opportunities the digital platform provides are a good thing and they can live alongside traditional books.”

He added that one of the joys of books for a lot of people was sharing and passing a book onto somebody else. “There is something about a book that you have enjoyed reading, being on your book shelf at home and sharing that.”

And a book shop, he believes, is more than a place that just sells books. “It is also a space in which books can be discussed and a space where you can create access to authors for readers and vice versa.”

And that is part of the reason he launched the Book Lounge – to create a space where readers could interact with writers.

“I thought there was a need for something like that but I didn’t think there would be as many events as we host. If anything I underestimated the need for a space in which people could interact with writers. One of the things I really value about this place is that we have built a wonderful relationship with a lot of Cape Town writers over the years. There are a lot of fantastic books coming out and we have a lot of talented writers in Cape Town. Part of what we’re trying to do with the shop is build a sense of community around books, reading and writing. That is something that is central to the ethos of the shop.

“It is important to have a mixture of people who range from the established through to the young and up-and-coming writers.”

He said the Open Book Festival, which takes place every year in September, was an example of how what takes place in the shop can be extended to larger audiences.

Mr Sloman added that while the challenges of running an independent book store would remain, he is positive about the future.

“It’s about looking at different projects and different things to try but the core values of what we do won’t change dramatically. It’s about trying to do everything we do better.”