Skoob, 66 The Brunswick, London, WC1N 1AE
Skoob! It’s “books” but backwards! This week’s selection is a bit of a cheat, since it’s by no means a new find or a lesser-known treasure. One of London’s most beloved bookshops, Skoob is the second home and first port of call for all of my friends doing literature degrees. It’s hidden at the back of the Brunswick Centre, just off of Marchmont Street and from the outside it really doesn’t look like much. When you enter you go downstairs into a shop with low ceilings and very few superfluities…concrete and pipes are very much exposed. The shop has all kinds of weird and wonderful features; the piano in the middle of the music section, for instance, is fitting, but still just a bit random. Books pop out of absolutely every possible gap; they’re on the shelves, on top of the shelves, on top of each other, on chairs, on the floor, on the piano…it’s a bibliophile’s paradise. That’s why it’s always full of lovely people who quietly go about their business, smiling genially but not disturbing the relative quiet and apologising profusely every time they block your view of a shelf. Skoob’s selection is great, the staff are lovely and helpful and it’s got the ambiance of a place where you can just stay for hours snooping around. I frequently sit down on the floor and pull out several books at a time off the bottom shelf, which I spread around me as I examine them. The usual clientèle are the kind of people who don’t mind this.
Today, however, I had a mission. It’s my flatmate Grace’s birthday and I try to always give books as presents, so a trip to Skoob was in order! But, while looking for one book for someone else, I found two books for myself in the process.
The first was a book of W.H. Auden’s selected poems, which I bought because I had to bashfully admit the other day that I somehow managed to finish an English degree without ever having read Auden. It was £3. Take that, Amazon.
The second was Falling Up by Shel Silverstein whom I absolutely LOVE; I’m not ashamed to say that to this day Where the Sidewalk Ends is one of my favourite books of poetry. It cost me £8 which is a bit steep for Skoob’s usual standards, but then again, if you know Shel you know that his books are often thick, hard-cover and weirdly-shaped. But the best thing about this book is the writing on the title leaf which, if you can’t read it, says: “23.5.99 To Anna on her 8th birthday, Lots of fun and laughter reading this. From Grandma Nausi [maybe?] and Granddad Stan. x”
I loved this because whenever I give someone a book I always write a little inscription on the first page in the hopes that one day, maybe fifty years from now, someone will find it in a second hand bookshop and wonder who was the giver and who was the recipient and how did they know each other and why this book and what ever happened to them, anyway? And then there I was, sat in my favourite bookshop, thinking that the date of this little note means that Anna turned 21 last week. I’d like to wish her a very happy birthday. I hope she did have lots of fun and laughter reading it and that she thanked Grandma Nausi (?) and Granddad Stan very nicely. I wonder what ever happened to her anyway?
Anyway, I was just on the verge of deciding that Grace was impossible to buy for and leaving the shop when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, To the Lighthouse. It reminded me of something. I’ve lived with Grace since I first moved to London almost three years ago and we had the experience of moving into our first grown-up flat together. We somehow crammed six people into the four bedroom flat (ah the joys of a student’s budget) and while some of us had to share, Grace got her own room. In it, she put up one of those Penguin Classics posters of the cover of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. I teased her quite a lot for having the poster but not having read the book. So when good old Virginia popped into my head, I had that moment where you know you’ve found the perfect book. Sometimes it takes a while, but if I hadn’t been in there ducking around and looking aimlessly for nothing in particular, I never would have found it. Incidentally, it was £2. Not a lot to pay for that rare from-the-heart kind of present.