I didn’t even mean to go to this bookshop today, but it was a very happy accident. I’ve been into a lot of interesting bookshops in the name of The Matilda Project and in them I’ve found intellectually, aesthetically and emotionally pleasing sights, but it simply cannot be denied that this is the most beautiful bookshop I’ve been in yet.
Hanging from the roof there are elegant white lighting fixtures and, scattered amongst them, small white explosions that look like flowers or birds or snowflakes. But really, they’re books. Old books whose pages have been used to create the sense of being surrounded by a flock of birds, whose wings are printed pages, about to fly off, out into the streets of Notting Hill. I’ve always felt a certain ambivalence to book art, even though I know that there are some truly beautiful sculptures made of hollowed-out, old and obsolete books. Of course it depends on what the books is. Cutting up the pages of a book about business-management-finance-legal-bureacray-or-whatever doesn’t seem like such a crime at all, in fact, making it into a piece of art is doing it a favour. But to desecrate a copy of the 1623 Folio would, obviously, be an atrocity deserving a lifetime in jail. Listening to Rebecca Black. In a way, books are brilliant because they give their authors (and sometimes their readers) a life that goes on even after the individual is gone, so why shouldn’t we return the favour, and give them a second life? It’s a bit of a sticky issue and I haven’t figured it out, but the book birds at Lutyens & Rubenstein, no matter what I decide, will always be something special.
The rest of the shop is bright with an open, modern feel. A sleek white staircase leads to the downstairs and the children’s section is up on a little mezzanine level with a view of those paper mobiles and the rest of the shop. It’s a really beautiful shop, worth it even if you’re not a big reader just for the absolutely lovely space.
But if you are a reader, you’ll be pretty pleased as well. Upstairs is the beginning of the fiction section (A to about F, I think), a poetry corner and many books about art, history and politics, as well as biographies. The selection is fantastic and represents a real mix of classics (there were SO many Dickens books!) and contemporary fiction. The choice of books about culture, politics, history and media was thoughtful and relevant. Downstairs there was a really impressive selection of art, architecture, photography and fashion books, displayed neatly and beautifully on the shelves, a table and even sitting in one of two armchairs. The other one, I was delighted to find, was empty, tucked in a corner and had a little lamp beside it. I cannot express how much I love bookshops with comfortable seating.
I was tempted to buy a very interesting book about the Regent’s Canal, which replaced the south bank as my favourite running route when I moved all the way to North London (shiver…just kidding, now I love it). It was such a cool book, tracing the canal as it moves through different areas of London, from Little Venice to The Olympic Park. So cool! I decided not to in the end and it was my boyfriend who ended up making the purchase. Since reading The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow, he’s been looking for something else by him but has been having a hard time finding it. In L&R, Doctorow was there and he bought Ragtime. I overheard him having a chat about it with the very friendly bookseller while I was looking through the children’s books.
Once again, I came out empty-handed, possibly because I know that Christmas is coming and I will very soon have to fork over lots and lots of cash in bookshops. (By the way, if you haven’t seen it, Jon Green’s video about buying books for Christmas is brilliant: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4UT9iBdQDI and I’m in love with him.) Despite not buying a book today, I love this bookshop. It’s a quiet, beautiful space, a bit like an art gallery or a museum, where the centrepiece is BOOKS and all kinds of beautiful, clever, interesting, unique books. Spending half an hour among the paper birds and flying away with the words printed on them is a lovely way to spend a morning. And if you can do it in a light and pleasant bookshop while sat in an armchair in a basement, well then you’re pretty lucky, wouldn’t you say?
Two Notting Hill Bonus Bookshops!
If you find yourself in the area with time and the inclination to browse around a bit more, try Books for Cooks! This lovely little bookshop is just around the corner from L&R and if you love cooking (or just love food) it’s a fantastic place to be. The walls are covered with bookshelves and the shelves are absolutely crammed with cook books. Organised by region of the world, you’ll find more than your standard Jamie and Nigella here. These cookbooks bring the whole world and all of its smells and tastes to even a cold and dreary December morning in Notting Hill. The sheer number is quite overwhelming to anyone who’s not a chef or an absolute connoisseur, but even if you know nothing at all about food, poking around is fun! And if you get there early enough in the morning, you can even grab a bite at the cafe in the back of the shop!
The Notting Hill Bookshop, 13 Blenheim Crescent, London, W11 2EE
Built on the site of the Travel Bookshop made famous by a certain film called Notting Hill (maybe you’ve heard of it?) this little bookshop is officially the most tourist-y bookshop in London. In a way, that’s cool. In a way, it’s completely and totally awful. If you can bear the crowds, it’s actually a really lovely little bookshop, with a great fiction and poetry selection and well-stocked history and politics sections too. And of course, a wide range of travel books.