January 26, 2021



Lausanne’s Independent English Bookshop

Matthew introducing Jo Ann as she is about to give a reading at BooksBooksBooks

One of Lausanne’s fascinations is its long literary history in the English language. Many visiting writers gained inspiration and renewed energy while staying there. Edward Gibbon completed The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Lausanne and after Lord Byron visited Gibbon’s home with his friend Percy Shelley, he checked into a lakefront hotel, still in existence, and wrote his famous poem The Prisoner of Chillon. Charles Dickens stayed in Lausanne in 1846 and the countryside helped him to continue writing when he felt submerged by financial difficulties. Perhaps the loveliest description of the lake view, so often admired from Lausanne’s hills, was made by Walter Scott who wrote: “This lake seems so tenderly loved by the mountains.”

Unfortunately, Lausanne has not really exploited this legacy. Two years ago, when Matthew Wake, a young Englishman, was reflecting on a career change he felt Lausanne could support an English bookshop. He believed if the shop was in the middle of the community it could be a place to browse and buy good books as well as the nucleus of a creative and literary animation for the large number of resident foreigners as well as the local Swiss.

Matthew is a man who follows his heart. After completing a degree in East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield, he spent two years in a village on Amakusa, one of Japan’s smaller islands, where he taught English, gained fluency in Japanese and became interested in the martial art Kendo, where he holds a fourth degree black belt. After a short stint in London he moved to Switzerland to marry Sylvia, a Swiss Canadian. They have two children. After six years in marketing, with his family’s approval and a viable business plan, Matthew opened BooksBooksBooks on the top floor of Globus, a department store in the old centre of Lausanne.

Members of the Lakelines Circle relaxing at BooksBooksBooks

“I have always done my thing,” Matthew told me when I questioned him about the sheer audacity of his independent venture in a time of universal business consolidation and growing doubts about the survival of printed books. Matthew agreed the bookshop meant more responsibility and stress than he had first imagined, but then he added that any adventure demanded a personal effort.

BooksBooksBooks is now the centre of many literary offshoots. There are three book clubs, a children’s reading club, a women’s entrepreneur group and a writing group, Lakelines Circle, which meets in the shop once a month. Reading events are held regularly with authors from all over the world. Customers are encouraged to bring friends and new ideas.

“Amazon is an anonymous way to buy books. Here you can spend time perusing books and I can order any book you want if it’s not on my shelves,” Matthew said. I agreed. After being frustrated and lonely without a local bookshop, I was delighted to see familiar faces on the shelves again and run through all the new titles on display. There was no way an online bookshop could compete with such physical joy. “Support us and I’ll support you,” Matthew told me and, as a writer and a reader, I knew I’d come home to where I belonged.


the English bookshop
rue de Mercerie 12,
1003 Lausanne

tel: 021 311 25 84



  1. Liz Boquet says:

    Great shot!

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