Even before you step into the front door of Treadwell’s books, you know something wonderful is about to happen. The books on display on the small shelf outside and those in the inviting window display immediately tell you that it’s not an ordinary bookshop. Their focus on folklore and fairy tales, magic, voodoo and the occult immediately catches the eye.
I’ve been in this shop a few times in the past couple of months after a devoted fan recommended it to me and it has become a favourite of mine. So much so that it gets my back up a bit to hear people dismissively refer to it as ‘oh, the witchcraft bookshop…’ Yes, the shop is dedicated to books about ‘esotericism, anthropology, religion and spirituality’ so in a way, it is London’s prime occult bookshop. But it’s also so much more. It’s a crucial meeting-place for the community of people who participate in the tarot readings, spiritual events and other crazy wonderfulness. It’s also a brilliant bookshop – with knowledgeable staff interested in literature, history and philosophy – and the beloved port of call for all kinds of browsers. I was a bit intimidated to go in the first time, worried that I’d be out of my depths, that the booksellers would smell something that didn’t belong right away, but I could not possibly have been more wrong. Although the shop’s collection is unconventional, it’s the most inviting bookshop I’ve ever been in. Honestly. Ever.
The staff do all they can to make it more than just a bookshop; they want Treadwell’s to be a place where you – whoever you are, however different – can feel that you belong, that you’re welcome, that they’re glad to see you and want you to pull up a chair. As a sign atop one of the bookshelves says, ‘You are warmly invited to browse, read, look at stuff and generally poke about the books and treasures.’ There is no need to hurry and no pressure to buy anything, though you might just find you’re so grateful for the hospitality that you want to. The bookseller who was at the desk today greeted me with a huge smile on her face and a sincere ‘Welcome!’ She was so friendly and eager to help that I, who normally prefer to browse in silence, couldn’t help but chat with her. On my way out I told her what a beautiful bookshop it was and how I could have spent hours in there. ‘Great,’ she said, ‘that’s just what we want! We love browsers – we love people!’ And, skeptic that I am, I wholeheartedly believed her. As you wander around the shop, treading over the creaky floorboards or settling down on The Browser’s Sofa in the back, you feel that you belong, that you never want to leave and you almost expect someone to come and bring you a cup of tea. It would hardly be surprising if they did.
Since the atmosphere immediately reassured me that actually, yes, I was very welcome here, I started to feel much more comfortable about browsing. I found myself eagerly poring over books about voodoo, magic and the supernatural which, in any other bookshop, I would have avoided. The signs that tarot readings and related events happen in the back of the shop are everywhere and some of the odder bits of decor include a stuffed raven and assorted bottles, jars and vials. It feels like walking into a storybook. The books that line the walls of this beautiful bookshop are as inviting as its atmosphere. Collections of folklore and fairy tales appealed to my nostalgic side, a reminder that for me, as for countless others, a lifelong love of literature was born out of the simple fairy stories told at bedtime. I don’t mean the whitewashed Disney versions, I mean the real ones, the ones that were sometimes dark and ambiguous, scary and stirring and unforgettable. In addition to these, there are sections that appeal to all browsers, the old faithful categories of Philosophy and History and Local Interest (reincarnated as the much more interesting ‘Unusual London’ shelf) as well as an excellent selection of fiction and poetry, organised chronologically. Although I was tempted by some of the books of fairy tales in the small but interesting Children’s section (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix made an appearance) I decided in the end to buy a novel. I know it’s not the most adventurous choice in such an adventure-friendly bookshop, but old habits die hard. I bought a really lovely 1967 edition of A Meeting by the River by Christopher Isherwood for £5.95. I accidentally gave the bookseller an extra 5p and she kindly chased me out of the shop to return it.
My visit to Treadwell’s today was, as always, a really heart-warming experience. Aside from the fact that it’s always a wonderful surprise to encounter a Londoner who’s actually friendly and open instead of hardened and haughty, it always feels like going home. While the small ‘Occult’ sections at other bookshops are usually alienating and intimidating, Treadwell’s, by being the lovely and appealing place that it is, makes the things that might have put you off or scared you in the past seem perfectly natural and pleasant, which is a wonderful quality in a bookshop. I think that when it comes to reading we’re often guilty of pigeon-holing ourselves, but after half an hour in Treadwell’s, lines like ‘I only read modern fiction’, ‘I don’t like sci fi’ or ‘Fairy tales are just for children’ seem impossibly closed-minded. Many of us are guilty of putting limits on our own imaginative lives with statements like these, and in a world where everyone else is trying to limit us, why should we do it too? Treadwell’s, in its quiet and kind manner, reminds us that the only limits to our creativity are the ones we impose upon ourselves and invites us to branch out. And most importantly, it provides us a place in which to do it, where you are the guest of honour. You can sit down, put your feet up and spend as long as you like idly browsing around, picking up books and other treasures and enjoying the experience of accidentally finding. It’s an experience that’s too rare these days.