Located equidistant from Cape Town’s old city jail built-in 1855, and Houses of Parliament built-in 1884, in a street that is a mixture of gentrified and derelict buildings and homeless people is the Booklounge. On sunny days this corner bookstore has a bright blue-sky canopy and part of Table Mountain is visible, the rest of the mountain is hidden behind tall buildings. With its huge wooden framed windows, gated front door and chandelier entrance – this bookstore invites and welcomes the community, and this is not a mono-syllabic crowd of people at all, but rather a tiny slice of the famous rainbow nation all under one roof.
I interviewed Mervyn Sloman owner and manager of the Booklounge. A Capetonian who grew up with a privileged middle-class background. During his student years, Mervyn worked as a bookseller, and after graduating from the University of Cape Town with a political science degree, he started working as an IT contractor. After spending several years in the IT profession and reaching the conclusion that bookselling was his passion, both he and his wife teamed up and decided that he should return to what he loved doing best – bookselling! So, the idea of opening and owning a bookstore moved from a distant fantasy to a possible reality – the hunt was on! To find the perfect space. In 2007 Mervyn viewed a potential rental space that was a former gallery. While he was viewing the premises, he spotted a hole in the 1st floor and realized that the basement could be converted into a working space. With this in mind, the lease was signed, and the renovation started. The basement was created for a children’s section, coffee, and cake, comfortable seating, non-fiction to include essays, poetry, and psychology. The wooden staircase leading up to the first floor is wide and gradual in the sense that it has no steep incline. The walls are covered in posters from previous and future events all newsy and book related.
The first floor is dedicated to English literature, Biography, Classics, and Sci-Fi. The average book price is R200 and they only sell new books no 2nd hand. At the time of writing the most popular book sold is Experiments with Truth by Hedley Twidle. A narrative non-fiction and the coming of democracy in South Africa https://hedleytwidle.com/experiments-with-truth. The bookstore stocks known and unknown authors as well as a large section dedicated towards local authors, but they tend to steer away from the page-turners. With a few comfortable couches dotted here and there and the constant buzz of people browsing and buying, this gives the bookstore a truly authentic atmosphere.
The bookstore has on average 3-4 weekly events. All events have a no-charge policy and include a free glass of wine or juice. Mervyn has an open-door policy, and this means all are welcome. The idea behind this policy is to stimulate conversation and debate something that South Africa certainly needs. The events are well curated in the sense that not everything is accepted, they have a high rejection rate which means that quality is valued. The events range from authors readings, stand-up comedy, film nights, TEDx and they once even had a wedding in the bookstore!
I attended the reading Living Coloured by Yusuf Daniels. It was a stormy evening, the Cape wind famously called by the locals as the Cape Doctor was howling. At one point as I was driving towards the bookstore, I thought I would cancel and head back home. But I continued and luckily, I found a parking spot close to the event. I was only 5 minutes late, but the first floor was full, and the event was in full swing. There must have been about 45-50 people in attendance, and again the non-monosyllabic group was in full bloom. It was a question and answer series and the author Yusuf Daniels regaled us with tales about what it was like to live in the coloured neighborhood of the Cape Flats during the ’50s. And how he survived, the humor and love that they all shared in the community, emphasized by the use of his classic Cape colored slang Ek sê!
The future for the Booklounge– who knows! Currently, with all the goings-on it is doing just fine. It is also part of the Open Book Festival which is held annually in September or https://openbookfestival.co.za. So for those book lovers out there and for those planning on visiting Cape Town, please do check out their events https://www.booklounge.co.za.Join and sit amongst the local Capetonians for an hour or two and buy and support a local author it’s the best souvenir you can take home with you.