Home Bookshops The real deal: Bear Island Book Exchange, Cardiff

The real deal: Bear Island Book Exchange, Cardiff

by John Maguire
Share 10mh on Social Media

Remember when the best bit about the days between Christmas and New Year was spending your book tokens? We do. Let John Maguire take you for a stroll to a literary garden in our latest wander around our favourite bookshops…

Books wash away from the soul the dust of everyday life. In Cardiff, the city that brought us Shirley Bassey and the Doctor Who re-boot, you will find, or indeed stumble upon, a fabulous book store that will revitalise the soul.

bear island

Described simply as ‘the real deal’ by its proprietor, BEAR ISLAND BOOK EXCHANGE in Cardiff Market is sandwiched between a sweet shop and a deli. A commixture of smells combust in the air, fresh fish from Ashtons, the fishmongers (tenants in the market since 1866), strong coffee, Mediterranean spice and the leafed pages of worn and well-read paperbacks.  Books that have been lived in, crammed with notes and the odd coffee-stained pages that almost tell a tale in their own right.

ashtons cardiff

True Detective, Vintage Comics, Commando Action magazines, a heavy laden, almost cascading, mountain of Mills and Boon, rare and Antiquarian books crowd the shelves. The books are haphazardly organised by genre, this forces you to look at new authors, instead of opting upon tried and tested writers. I always feel like a literary pig, sniffing out new creative truffles in amongst the written foliage.

true detective

This little overgrowth of literature is like a well-loved piece of garden, blooming throughout the year, ever-changing. A tiny literary paradise where I  always find at least one book to buy, one I may have read before and want to revisit or pass to a friend, like Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, or books that I have for one reason or another not got around to reading, like my latest acquisition Bald Twit Lion by Spike Milligan.

true crime

Either way, it is a magical place to visit. A relief from the chain book stores that pop up in every city high street, like literary McDonald’s. BEAR ISLAND BOOK EXCHANGE is thankfully a blot of individualism on a piece of town planning parchment paper that has become the same everywhere, a blueprint of monotony.

Here is to the real deal! Happy hunting!


Share 10mh on Social Media

Related Articles


ifyoulivetobe100 30 December 2013 - 11:43 pm

As an avid reader of classic literature in hardcover (not what the chain stores usually stock), I’m always appreciative of finding another great book store.

As a resident of the U.S., not likely to be in the U.K. anytime soon…I’m jealous as all hell. ;0)

Ben 31 December 2013 - 8:45 pm

if you do ever get to South Wales then you might like to vist the book town… http://www.hay-on-wye.co.uk/bookshops/

markwoff 3 January 2014 - 9:30 am

To Cardiff! For the book truffles… Very nice shop, cheers JM.

Malcolm 6 January 2014 - 9:11 pm

i’ve been there when visiting Wales found it riveting! Bought a ‘Rough guide to Wales’ but the welsh language was double-dutch to me. plenty of choice just wish i had more room in my backpack.

johnmaguirewords 7 January 2014 - 3:57 am

I am sure you could get copies sent over to the USA. Let us know of any recommendations.
Ben, Hay on Wye is going to be a definite destination in 2014, so many book havens, so little time.
The book truffles are indeed exquisite Mr Woff.
Malcolm I have just had a similar experience in Scotland and that language was a puzzle………..keep on visiting these little independents people.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.