Any Amount of Books, 56 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0QA
Walking up Charing Cross Road, coming from Trafalgar Square, Any Amount of Books is the first of many second hand and independent bookshops on the road. On a sunny day in London when I haven’t got much to do, I love to stroll along Charing Cross Road from Trafalgar Square up to the flagship Foyles near Tottenham Court Road, popping in and out of the long line of shops. Each one has its own style, its own atmosphere and sometimes its own speciality. But in my mind, this bookshop is special because from the bargain books outside to the crowded wooden shelves to the eccentric staff, this is the quintessential London bookshop.
Of course, this means that it is probably not ideal for a species of human that, though I don’t associate with any, does exist among us. If you are a sad, goal-oriented little person whose only experience of book-hunting is writing down the name, author and ISBN number of the book you need and staying in a shop for only as long as it takes to determine if it’s there or not, you’re not going to like this place. The layout seems to change quite frequently, the alphabetisation is a bit dodgy and no one seems to notice or care that you’re looking a little bit lost. No, this is not the place for a quick and effortless find. But if you have just the tiniest modicum of patience, you’ll see that in the process of looking for one specific book, you’ll find about twelve other, weirder, and completely unexpected ones. This is the joy of the organised chaos that is the basement of this shop.
Today I went in looking for Faulkner’s Light in August and, though it wasn’t in either of the Fiction A-Z sections (yes, there are two; we don’t ask, we just go with it), I managed to find a very strange little book indeed which, though it’s not what I wanted, is something of a hidden gem. It’s black with silver writing and it’s called A Writer’s Notebook by W. Somerset Maugham. My first thought was that it was some kind of lesser novel, or maybe a biography…it’s filled with little chunks of text separated by asterisks so I was quite puzzled. Upon inspection of this mysterious little book, I found out that it is, in fact, what it says it is (allowing us to rethink the maxim “Don’t judge a book by its cover”); it’s Maugham’s collection of the interesting bits from his personal notebooks over the years. What finally convinced me to buy it was finding two things tucked inside: the old train ticket of someone who travelled from London to Brighton on July 17th of an unspecified year and a bookmark from Waterstone’s in the days when there were only 5 Waterstone’s locations in London. Quite a strange find but very interesting and only £4. Not bad for a hardback 349 page book these days, eh?
I checked out the poetry shelf and the children’s books section (where there are many more beautiful hard cover books, including older ones with brilliant colour illustrations throughout) before heading up the stairs. On my way up, I could hear people talking upstairs and that’s when I remembered one of the most wonderful things about this shop: the hilarious staff. They sit behind the desk clucking away to each other, oblivious. I once heard one of them in the back room yelling at his ex-wife (I gather) on the phone while a room of customers awkwardly pretended not to hear and another one of them, an older gentleman, has the most absurd laugh I think I’ve ever heard in my life.
Do go visit them.