Some Bookshops of London
On account of the sunshine and the injunction to rest from work one day a week, was taken on a whirlwind tour of popular London bookshops this bank holiday weekend – well, as popular as bookshops can be in this Amazon-and-kindle age.
Waterstones (203-205 Piccadilly, London) – “the largest bookshop in Europe”. In recent years, the space dedicated solely to books has shrunk in favour of more profitable ventures by Paperchase and 5th View Bar & Food. Still, a fantastic range of books in various editions; space enough to browse without being in anyone’s way; adequately comfortable seats in which to do so. There’s also The Russian Bookshop on the mezzanine floor at the back of the store, staffed by a Russian lady.
Just a down the road, Hatchards (187 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LE), the oldest bookshop in London, appeared to be preferred by those wearing quilted jackets, tweeds, and Barbours (and also, Her Majesty The Queen). To distinguish itself from the masses, many of the book here are signed or special editions. Single chairs were situated at the end of browsing tables.
London Review Bookshop (14 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL) – as one might expect of the bookshop of the London Review of Books, a fairly curated contemporary selection, with a section for “Current Affairs”.
Stanford’s (12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9LP)
“The famous map floors in Stanfords’ London store were originally produced for us by Marley Tiles when we completed our 2003 refit. Our ground floor is covered with the National Geographic map of the world, the first floor with the NG map of the Himalayas, centred on Everest, and the basement with a giant A-Z map of central London. Each map floor cost approximately £15,000, and the map data we used was kindly provided by National Geographic and Geographers A-Z. Marley’s photographic print flooring department no longer exists, and in fact, our floors were the last piece of work they completed.”
Daunt Books (83-84 Marylebone High Street, London) is well-known for its beautiful Edwardian wood-panelled gallery, its vintage travel books, and its re-wrap canvas bag that has hung off the arms of celebrities with some intellectual cred.
Another bookshop known for its canvas bags is Lutyens & Rubinstein (21 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, London W11 2EU) in Notting Hill. A compact little space with a coffee and tea point to encourage browsing. They also do book subscriptions and house a literary agency.
Around Notting Hill, there is also The Notting Hill Bookshop (13 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, London W11 2EE). It is apparently famous for being in a movie – but not being a movie-goer, its tinseltown lustre bypassed me completely.
Across the road is Books for Cooks (4 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, London W11 1NN).
Foyles (113-119 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB) is a large independent bookshop with a great range of books. According to wikipedia, it was once listed as the world’s largest bookshop in terms of shelf area. Cue: discussion about spending money here rather than at the Waterstones chain. Pride of place near the entrance: a whole shelf of Everyman’s Library in hardback and all the Wim Wenders films I’ve never got my paws on.
Lovejoys Book Shop (99A Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0DP) – unused yellow-edged (aged?) classics with a definite leaning towards military history, Wordsworth Classics, the Beat Generation, and early post-modern novels. Obtained Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat & Three Men on a Bummel for £1.99. Nothing in our experience suggests that the staff are in danger of being pretentious literary types.
Forbidden Planet (179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8JR) – a megastore of science fiction and fantasy books, comics, graphic novels, merchandise, both mainstream and indie. Singapore’s Serene Centre Comics Mart on steroids.
Gosh! Comics (1 Berwick St, London W1F 0DR) focuses more on the graphic novel / graphic fiction genre, with signings by artists and launch parties for small press publications.
SKOOB Books (66 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AE) is quite the epitome of a secondhand bookshop – the information desk/cashier by the stairs hidden by piles of books; magnificent representations in philosophy, politics, classics, Roman and Greek literature; whole bookcases of Penguins in their various orange and black guises; an old upright piano hugged by scores of scores; and even rows of Pevsner Architectural Guides that I’d always wanted to read. The privilege doesn’t come dirt cheap though.
Judd Books (82 Marchmont Street, London WC1N 1AG) – Bloomsbury space for used academic books.
Any Amount of Books (56 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0QA) sells secondhand books. Love that the proprietors are themselves, readers; that the more modern paperbacks have rightly made it to their £1 book bins; that the organised mess in the basement contains useful old scores, pocket hardback poetry collections, and bible commentaries; that the book stock is constantly renewed and that their cause for boasting is that they have just bought some interesting collections.
Henry Pordes Books (58-60 Charing Cross Road) is another secondhand bookshop. Beautiful antiquarian and out-of-print books, but sadly quite out of my budget.
On cheaper end of the scale are Music and Goods Exchange Ltd‘s many stores, eg.
Book & Comic Exchange (14 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill, London W11 3HL) – with its stacks of old comics where vinyls would have been, and its section on “Cult Books” – meaning Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, not the Moonies (even if they sound like a band). “Aura of somewhere out of a Jim Thompson novel” is about right.
A little further down the road is Retro Clothing – 2nd hand bargains for men and women (28 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill, London W11 3HL). Inside, the clothes are books, and offering are sparser. But if you find some thing you want, it’ll have a good chance of being between 10p and 99p.
Oxfam Books, depending on location, might also provide bargain-ous bounty. There is a better selection of 99p books and 29p magazines at Oxfam Dalston, for example, than Oxfam Marylebone.
Bookshops as Meeting Points
The Society Club (12 Ingestre Place, Soho London, W1F OJF) is an interesting concept – a bookshop, a cafe, a gallery, and, self-consciously, an intellectual exchange.
I do not think book-readers are innately superior (intellectually or otherwise) to those whose reading diet consists of tweets and Facebook posts, because it is the ability to assess the truth of what is being said and to act accordingly that is important. But it seems to be the case that (1) what we read/hear generally informs our thoughts; and (2) the content of books are usually of higher quality than the generally uncensored unconsidered content of what can be found on popular social media, even if it is because of editorial discretion and/or a sudden prudence brought on by the cost outlay of putting books through print.