Riverside Books, Unit 18-19, Hays Galleria, Counter Street, London, SE1 2HD
I love London.
Today I went for a nice long walk from my flat in King’s Cross down to this bookshop in London Bridge. Despite the drizzle, the cold and the wind, it was a lovely walk, because I passed St. Paul’s Cathedral, crossed over the river at Southwark Bridge, getting a view of the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, walked through Borough Market and made my way along the river into Hays Galleria, just off Tooley Street. The walk along the south bank of the Thames is amazing. When I lived in Spitalfields, my favourite route for a run was down to the river at Tower Bridge and along the south bank up through Central London. Oh, I could rave about that route for hours, but it’s one of those things you have to do for yourself if you ever have a sunny (or not!) day in London.
I had walked past Riverside Books many a time before today but never actually gone in. I’m very glad that today I finally did! It’s a wonderful little shop, right on the river, just west of Tower Bridge. It’s a bit of a departure for me, since my favourite haunts tend to be old and crumbling and delightfully unreliable, but this bookshop is modern, fresh and neat. Normally, that’s not a complimentary description coming from me, but in this case, it works. I think what’s so appealing about it is that it’s modern but without being a giant conglomerate or an indifferent money-machine. There’s still character and charm in this shop.
The shelves are populated by a careful, deliberate and masterful selection of books. All the books which have recently won or been shortlisted for any of the big prizes are on display, so you’re sure to come across not just a book, but a good book. Of course, even the most prestigious of prizes are awarded to a dud sometimes (cough, cough, The Sense of an Ending…) but I still think that when you’re looking for a good read, starting with prize-winners is not the worst thing you could do. In addition to these, there is a whole bay dedicated to new releases, some by famous and acclaimed writers and some by less-known authors or newcomers. Bestsellers, of course, also have their place, but I was delighted to see that while those dreadful books by that despicable fifty shades woman were present, there were only one copy of each “book”. Instead of the entire bay of copies you’d see in some bookshops, here they got half a shelf. About a million times more than they deserve. There was a wide range of books in the fiction and poetry sections, so I was very happy! I was also delighted that there was an entire section of literary anthologies! They also have an amazing collection of travel books and guides, which I always enjoy looking at and imaging the possibilities. Berlin! Vienna! Nice! Dublin! The wide range of cookbooks, crime, fantasy, science fiction and children’s books was more than you’d need and they were all arranged beautifully and organised perfectly. As it should be, the books take the spotlight in Riverside Books and it’s a beautiful sight.
Like any good bookshop, this one still has customers shuffling in and out and in a relatively small space, I enjoyed eaves-dropping on them this morning. A couple came in about the same time I did and when they went to pay for their books at the till, the bookseller asked the man if he wanted a loyalty card. His hilarious response was, “No, I’m not loyal to anything.” His girlfriend, without missing a beat, replied, “Thanks for that”, leaving him awkwardly fumbling with change and words to try and make the situation go away. Listening to snippets like this is, aside from the books, one of my favourite parts of going to a bookshop!
I was particularly excited to see that there were lots of books about books, as I’ve pointed out in a couple of other shops recently. Is it possible that as we see physical books, publishing and a reading culture in general being threatened, people are mobilising, making their voices heard and taking time to talk about, celebrate and properly appreciate books and the printed word? One can only hope! Anyway, it was in this section that I found the book I came home with today. This is not the end of the book;by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière is a conversation between these two literary men about the future of books. I laughed out loud at the quotation from Umberto Eco on the back cover: “The book is like the spoon: once invented it cannot be bettered.” And it’s true, isn’t it? In my life, books, the physical artefacts, have been as common and pedestrian as spoons – always a part of my daily life, quietly appreciated, needed and never questioned. The difference being that I actively adore books. Spoons I just feel okay about.
But books, real books, are exactly perfect, just as they were the day the first one was bound. They fit in our hands, they play with our senses, they create joy and excitement with the built-in metaphors of turning new pages, starting new chapters. Books are our lives; we move through them the way we move through our years. Our bodies, like our books, are always being shared, being admired, getting damaged, being marked by experiences (whether ear-marked or scar-marked), changing (whether yellowing or wrinkling), being loved, being forgotten, being remembered. And our hearts, in our lives and in our books, are always changing, growing, making new friends, missing them when they go, fearing what comes beyond the next turn (or page, or chapter), wanting to flip ahead to make sure it all turns out all right but knowing we can’t, worrying about how many pages we have left. Books and human lives go together, perfectly.
At Riverside Books, I was reminded of this. Places like this are a relief, a redeeming bit of sunshine and of hope, where books (and truly good books) are all that you really need. Well, okay; a view like this doesn’t hurt either.