A recent afternoon in Remera saw a steady stream of shoppers perusing and conversing with Carolyn Ransom at her bookshop. Her store, which has about 2,500 titles, is located along the unpaved road on your right just before entering the Sonatube junction. Customers sat down in a quaint reading nook in the back of the shop, some of them engaged in lengthy conversations. “It happens more often than you would think,” Ransom, the warm and kind-faced owner in her seventies said. “Surprisingly, it happens at least once a week. It seems that people in Rwanda who have an affinity for books tend to be acquainted with one another.” One customer approached Ransom and inquired about her preferred genre, prompting her to share insights on two books she had recently read. Meanwhile, another customer, seemingly familiar with the bookseller, messaged her on WhatsApp to inquire about the arrival of a book he had ordered. Ransom apologised as she responded to him. “This gentleman I’m replying to would buy anything in French, Kinyarwanda, and English.” Bookstores are like a symphony of wines, offering a variety of unique experiences. There are huge megastores glistening with pristine, orderly aisles, complete with a café and an expansive children's section that seems to stretch into infinity. On the other hand, some stores have a quirky atmosphere, with disheveled stacks and dusty rows, where you can find both used and new books. And then we encounter the charming allure of small independent stores, which exude a cozy and snug vibe that warmly invites exploration. Patchwork Used Books and More — a bookstore that sells, as its name suggests, secondhand books —, embodies a blend of the last two types. The ambiance is unreservedly cozy, intimate, and exhibits a feminine touch, which is not only an aesthetic choice but also practical as the owner resides next door with her family of six. Inside, you’ll find a plush, oversized gray couch, inviting visitors to snuggle up and read or engage in discussions. Adjacent to it is a dining table with four seats, where one visitor sat absorbed Sue Monk Kidd’s infamous novel, “Book of Longing.” The air is filled with the smell of cinnamon sugar cookies and lavender-scented candles, and the expected – books. Although the primary focus is on book sales, the bookstore also ventures into various items that enhance the reading experience. The bookseller crafts bookmarks by delicately gluing dried flowers onto papers. Additionally, the store offers homemade treats such as brownies, and peanut butter fudge, which the owner proudly refers to as “Kigali famous.” Treasures can be found tucked away in every nook and cranny, with sections dedicated to non-fiction, young adult, foreign language, history, African books, and more. The children's book section is highly sought after, according to Ransom. She mentioned, “It's nearly impossible to keep the children's section fully stocked. I'm constantly searching for more books to meet the demand. Patchwork came into the woodworks about three years ago when Ransom noticed a scarcity of diverse book options and the high prices at the few bookshops that did offer some variety. This situation left her feeling frustrated yet inspired. At the time, she had been living in Rwanda for a year. “This was very surprising to me,” she recalled. “And I thought to myself that I couldn't be the only one wanting good books at affordable prices.” To better understand people’s preferences, she began reaching out and gathering information. With this knowledge in hand, she started frequenting garage and yard sales, where she collected books from expatriates who were leaving Rwanda. She was also fortunate to have friends who generously donated some of their books. Over the course of three years, she managed to amass a collection of over a thousand books. In July of the previous year, after her volunteering contract came to an end, Ransom officially opened Patchwork. She secured a suitable space that now serves as both her home and the welcoming venue for the bookstore, where book lovers like Kysha Mitchell are warmly embraced. While checking out at Patchwork, Mitchell, a tourist visiting Rwanda with her family, shared her thoughts on the shopping experience. She happily selected two books during her visit. “I absolutely adore this bookstore,” Mitchell expressed. “It feels like stepping into someone's house, you know, like you're in someone's cozy living room. It's the kind of place where you can engage in discussions with people you'd genuinely want to talk to.” Having been in Rwanda for two months, Mitchell had explored other bookstores in Kigali but found them to be excessively expensive. “I could only afford to buy one book and had to resist getting another.” Patchwork’s success is even more remarkable considering the challenges posed by larger bookstores in Rwanda. Your favorite African books in other bookstores in the front window could easily set you back at least $16, making them less accessible to many. “I sell them for much less. Take Chimamanda Adichie, for instance. She's highly regarded by readers, and her books typically go for Rwf4, 000 here,” Ransom said. At Patchwork, books are priced starting from around $1 and can go up to approximately $10. In a far corner of the shop, two girls were crouched down, carefully selecting romance novels. These were the kind commonly found in grocery stores, featuring covers with bare-chested men and impossibly voluptuous women enraptured by each other’s presence. “It's truly a beautiful aspect of reading and sharing,” she went on, “Many of the books that come into my possession eventually find their way to someone else.” Ransom believes there is an indescribable quality to a remarkable bookstore. She dismisses the notion that Rwandans are not fond of books and finds customer research of that nature inaccurate. When asked about whether Patchwork tracks the demographics of its customers, she responded, “I would say it's a split, half Rwandans and half foreigners.” Estimating the number of customers, Ms. Ransom approximated around 20 per week, mostly consisting of individuals in their 20s and 30s, as well as families. “I have a deep love for reading, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new books to dive into,” shared Jean Michel Habineza, a regular customer. “I frequently visit Ikirezi and Charisma to explore their book selections, but Patchwork holds a special place in my heart. It offers a unique collection of rare books that are also incredibly affordable.” Habineza, who visits the bookstore at least once a week, discovered Patchwork through a flier sent by his sister. Since then, he has become captivated by the store and developed a strong relationship with the owner. She has come to know his reading preferences well and would even send him pictures of new arrivals. “Visiting the store not only allows me to find great books, but it also gives me the opportunity to chat with the bookstore owner,” Habineza added. Patchwork was intentionally created as an alternative to the previously mentioned megastores, aiming to offer discounted prices while also providing a relaxing atmosphere for individuals to unwind. “I receive countless comments from people who claim this is their favorite place,” Ransom shared. “Just last week, I was assisting a regular customer with an application when a long-lost friend walked in, and they immediately reconnected. It was heartwarming to witness.” Patchwork has become a popular gathering spot for individuals from all walks of life in the town. It attracts a diverse range of visitors, including children, families, college students, and various interest groups such as cooking enthusiasts, comic book lovers, academics, young adult fiction fans, and business enthusiasts. “You might assume that nobody would be interested in a dictionary, but then someone walks in and exclaims, ‘I've been searching everywhere for that book!’” She acknowledged that the profitability of the bookstore was limited, as most of the modest profit she earned was reinvested in acquiring more books. However, she strongly believed that the community required a place that provided the authentic experience of browsing through physical books in a traditional store setting. “It's not merely a bookstore; it has truly become a vital community space,” Ms. Ransom continued. “Every week, I receive messages from two or three individuals eager to know if I have any new books. Being able to fulfill that need for them brings me immense joy and satisfaction.” When we visit online bookstores, our focus is often on finding specific books we already have in mind. These virtual platforms rarely lead us to those delightful surprises and hidden treasures that serendipitously await us in physical bookstores, though. It is within the walls of brick-and-mortar stores that we can stumble upon captivating ideas that we would have never discovered otherwise. And if there happens to be a cozy coffee shop nearby, the experience becomes even more enticing. That was precisely the allure of Patchwork for me. It wasn't just a place to purchase books; it was a sanctuary where I could immerse myself in their presence for as long as I desired. Unlike other bookstores, it had ample seating available, seemingly inviting visitors to sit and stay awhile. Moreover, unlike its counterparts, Patchwork offered books at affordable prices, making the joy of book browsing accessible to a wider audience.