Parlour Press is a five-strong all-female arts collective, brought together through a love of literature. Their newest nomadic project, The Reading Room, attempts to raise awareness of independently made books in a series of events across the UK. Wonderland talks to the five-strong collective about the ongoing venture.
The Parlour Press collective – namely, Caitlin Howard, Mandi Goodier, Sophie Lee, Lucy Vann and Libby Scarlett – all live and work in London and Manchester. They met at an exhibition where they were all showcasing their own books. The story of their serendipitous meeting, according to Scarlett, goes something like this: “By the end, we’d drunk beer and were all a bit in love with each other – and lots of people were being enthusiastic and nice about our books. So we vowed to do more together, and make a collective out of the five of us.”
The Reading Room idea sprang from a desire to create a place to discover new books in relaxed, unusual settings. The group had become tired of the traditional world of vast book and zine fairs, where huge amounts of material are on display. “They’re important in building a community and getting instant feedback, but it’s really frustrating when you’ve made this book that you’ve poured yourself into and you audience overlooks most of what’s there [at the fairs]. The commercial element was also getting them down. “It’s like going to an art gallery and having the artist stare at you while you look at their piece.”
And so the concept of a small, cosy space, with drinks and a carefully curated selection of new and emerging writers and artists was born. Visitors are encouraged to sit down with a drink, and while away a few hours leafing through a selection of new books. “We just want people – any people – to come and realise that books are for them. It’s about discovering something new, that you’ve never seen or read before, with a whole evening in front of you to read and drink beer or wine or gin in this nice, comfortable atmosphere,” says Scarlett.
Armchairs, stools, bookcases and rugs collected by the Press are all ready to be rolled out at each event. While previous gatherings have taken place in pubs and on seaside piers, the girls don’t have too much criteria for a future space, as most of their setup can be crammed, as they put it, “into the back of a Nissan Micra.”
So far, the concept has been a success, and Lee believes that the decision to present a few books and magazines rather than hundreds is a timely one. “I think lots of people are tired of this fast, too-much-information-at-once existence – or people at least like the idea that they can be quiet for a while. There’s so much noise, in cities in particular, and we just wanted to create some kind of antithesis to this.”
Reading Room events are growing, and they’ve been asked to bring their brand of small-scale magic to arts festivals and to new locations. Working across cities makes it harder, but the five say it’s worth the effort. Scarlett says: “It’s a long distance relationship – we all just have to work a bit harder. We’ve always said we would love to take the Reading Room on tour one summer… pretend we’re in a band… it’s been organic from the start and I’m happy for Parlour Press to keep it evolving in that way.”
The Reading Room takes place every third Wednesday of the month at The Kenton, E9 and at various locations in Manchester and London.
Words: Olivia Gagan
Photographs: Tom Cockram