Tag Archives: antique books

Walden Books

IMG_1850Walden Books, 38 Harmood Street, London, NW1 8DP

Covered in beautiful purple flowers and the overspill of vines from the house next door, Walden Books is an inconspicuous fairy tale cottage hiding on a quiet residential street in Chalk Farm, a refuge just moments away from the noise and confusion of Camden Lock Market.

Outside, inexpensive fiction and poetry books draw wanderers in for a quick IMG_1844browse through the books outside on the terrace. The brave or curious venture further, into the bookshop itself.  The little brass bell that announces the entrance of a customer probably only rings a dozen times a day, so the shop attendant will notice you.  He’s a lovely, friendly man who waved me through to the back room without having to surrender my bag. I’m shocked but delighted to learn that I don’t look like the kind of person who’s going to steal books.  Luckily, I got the chance to browse through the small, cramped shop privately, with only one other customer arriving as I was on my way out.

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The front room has antiquarian books and a whole bay full of secondhand books about London, ranging from the recent to the antiquarian and covering different IMG_1847areas of the city.  Sneaking past the till, I squeezed into the small back room.  For the limited amount of space, Walden Books has an impressive selection of secondhand books.  Books are everywhere, organised horizontally, vertically and diagonally.  For the most part they are actually in vague alphabetical order (miraculously), but there are some who spill off the shelves and huddle on the floor at their feet.  The large column in the middle (covered by books) makes the room feel more cramped, but provides a little bit of privacy so that browsers can hide in corners surrounded by the smell of paper and imagine that they’re completely alone.  In these quiet corners, the browser will find fiction and poetry as well as a huge selection of plays.  Normally, when you ask to be directed to the drama section, you encounter one shelf.  Fifty percent of it is occupied by William Shakespeare.  He’s absolutely brilliant, of course, and deserves his spot in all of our hearts and on all of our shelves, but has drama not progressed at all in the last 400 years?  Answer me, Waterstones!!  The other half will be filled with various copies of A Streetcar Named Desire, Doctor Faustus, Death of a Salesman and, if you’re lucky, an Ibsen or two.  It’s all very limiting and predictable.  But at Walden Books, the plays – dug up from some very interesting people’s attics, I have no doubt – represent a huge range of time periods, cultures and genres.  Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s worth going  and browsing around just to get some new ideas in your head.  I have a little red notebook that I carry around with me whenever I go into bookshops to write down the names of books and authors I discover.  The list is so long now that I’ll probably never get through them all, but for some reason writing them down makes me feel one step closer to having read them.

A whole wall of the middle column is dedicated to poetry.  Again, it’s refreshing IMG_1846to see variety rather than the one typical one bay dominated by Keats, Shelley, T.S. Eliot and Carol Ann Duffy.  Again, all are brilliant, but there’s so much more out there!  My favourite discovery in Walden’s today was a copy of Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems.  It felt slightly serendipitous since just the other day I almost got sucked into buying a book of Pound’s translations of Chinese poetry for £4 at the Southbank Book Market.  The best thing about it was that someone had tucked a clipping from the Times in April 1970 into the front of the book.  The clipping contained a poem by Pound which I think was called ‘The Pigeons’ which I have mysteriously not been able to find mention of anywhere else.  Is anyone able to illuminate? Whenever see something stuck in a secondhand book, I can’t help but wonder what the thought process of the bookseller is when s/he finds it.  Does it cross his/her mind to throw it in the bin, as the refuse of an older reader, of does it get to stay in because it adds to the value of the book?  I sincerely hope it’s the latter.

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Apologies for blurriness. And my generally terrible photography.

Other areas covered on the shelves of Walden Books are local history, philosophy (and it’s a fantastic selection by the way), fiction, natural history, sociology and anthropology.  I came very close to buying and 1959 edition of Frazer’s The Golden Bough, the anthropological study of mythology and religions upon which T.S. Eliot based many parts of The Waste Land.  For those who aren’t familiar with my obsession with Eliot, suffice it to say that I think of my life in terms of ‘before I read The Waste Land‘ and after.  The book was only £5 and had a lovely inscription on the inside front cover – ‘To Kate, on your 17th birthday.’

Despite the clutter, the confusion, the awkwardness of being one of two strangers in a very small space and the unorthodox collection of books, there is something beautiful about Walden Books.  It’s messy, scattered, dusty and dingy.  It’s madness, yet there is method in’t.  It is full of a chaotic promise, that if you have the patience to sit and look, turn pages and inspect overleaves, you too can be part of something magical.  It doesn’t have the sanitary neatness of a chain bookshop or – worse – of your Kindle’s ‘library’ if we must use the word, but it has something infinitely better.  It reminds us of the simple beauty of a row of old books and the promises they make to anyone brave enough to pick them up.

The Haunted Bookshop (Sarah Key Books)

IMG_1827Sarah Key Books The Haunted Bookshop, 9 St Edward’s Passage, Cambridge, CB2 3PJ

It’s official.  I’ve found the strangest bookshop in the UK.  Congratulations to me.

Cambridge’s Haunted Bookshop is one of the few bookshops in the world that is truly unique  – the only one of its kind – and I love it. I’m massively intimidated by it, but I completely love it.  While the Waterstone’s in Cambridge has a great selection and a plethora of inspiring titles, it still looks exactly like my local Waterstone’s in Islington.  And the one in Trafalgar  Square.  And the one at Gower Street.  Even Cambridge’s own independent bookseller, Heffer’s (review forthcoming), looks exactly like every other branch of Blackwell’s, the major chain that now owns it.

There are a lot of up-sides to this gentrification of everyday life; it makes us comfortable enough to go into a bookshop anywhere in the world (or at least the country) because we know it can’t be all that different from the one at home.  And in this day and age, any method towards the end goal of getting people into a bookshop justifies the means.  But I think there’s also a lot that gets lost when the slightly different, thoroughly quirky and downright bizarre are edged out.  Haruki Murakami wrote that ‘if you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.’  Surely he could just as easily have warned us that if you only get those books from Amazon’s Top Ten List or – worse – the Books section at Tesco (shudder) your bookshelf will look the same as everyone else’s.  And your stories will be the same, too.

That said, I would love to meet someone whose local go-to bookshop is this tiny, cramped little shop in St. Edward’s Passage.  What if this was the place you always went when you fancied a browse, if this the collection of books you had to work with whenever you needed a lit fix?  I’d imagine that the bizarre combinations your bookshelf held and the stories of hunting, finding, losing, sharing, wanting, coveting, considering and surrendering that those books told about you would fill many pages themselves.

But enough of my philosophising. There’s a bookshop to be fawned over.

First of all, it seems like the shop has two names.  Fine.  Why not?  As it turns out, Sarah Key Books (named, no doubt, after a woman called Sarah Key) specialised in secondhand and antiquarian books and particularly in children’s literature for years before it found its current home at what is called The Haunted Bookshop.  Unfortunately I do not have any answers as to how, why or by what it’s haunted.  I mean I could of course go all humanities student on you and say that it’s haunted by the voices IMG_1823and stories of writers and readers past.  Which, you know, I’m pretty much convinced it is.  But I’ve been waxing poetic about dog-eared pages a little too much of late, so I’ll refrain.  The other possible haunting is the palpable presence of the owner, sitting behind her desk, head popping up from between piles of books, who almost seems to wish that you’d leave her alone and let her get on with it.  It’s kind of a Bernard Black situation.  Although once you actually go talk to the staff I promise they’re much lovelier than Bernard Black.

The collection of secondhand and often first editions of classic children’s books is absorbing.  From Matilda to Harry Potter, from Enid Blyton to Hans Christian IMG_1825Andersen, from Alice Liddell to Snow White, every child and every childlike adult is covered.  Beautiful illustrated hardcover copies and tattered paperbacks range from £4 or £5 to roughly £1500, for something like, say, a first edition of Prince Caspian.  For those of us who will probably never have the kind of disposable income required to do more than pick up and maybe sniff these books (if you’re feeling cheeky) it’s like the trials of Tantalus.

Children’s books aren’t all that’s on offer though; the Folio Society editions make their appearance too, as do various editions of classics. I had my eye on a copy of one Sherlock Holmes novel or another, as well as a FS edition of Wuthering Heights.  I refrained from buying anything, to my dismay and my wallet’s satisfaction.

IMG_1826Despite not going home with any of these beautiful books, I still felt glad to have found this strange and wonderful little place today.  Like Alice falling into Wonderland, or Harry landing in Diagon Alley, walking into the Haunted Bookshop is like stepping through a portal.  It’s like being transported back to a time before global monopolies (yes, I’m cross with Amazon for buying Goodreads; I promised not to rant about it), super-chains and clinical, sanitised spaces where no one is ever challenged and nothing new ever happens.  It makes me glad to live in the UK because it seems to me that while so much of the world just steps in line and lets the strange and quirky and unpredictable fade out of their lives, some people here (few and far between as they may be) still put up a fight for their weirdness.  Sarah Key Books: you’re one of a kind and I hope you never stop fighting to stay that way.

G. David Bookseller

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G. David Bookseller, 16 St.Edward’s Passage, Cambridge, CB2 3PJ

St. Edward’s Passage is a narrow little side street that ducks away off King’s Parade in Cambridge.  It’s the kind of street that you could very easily not notice and pass by without ever realising that it was there.  G. David Booksellers (also referred to as David’s Bookshop) is, remarkably, even easier to miss, as it’s on a narrower bit of street which veers off to the left while the rest of the street carries on forward.  It’s almost as if the bookshop is hiding from the prying eyes of noisy tourists, setting itself apart for those who really want to find it.

Inside is a world where any book-buyer will find something to fall in love with.  IMG_1822To make sure of this, G. David stocks new, secondhand and antiquarian books.  The new books are usually slightly cheaper than retail price, and they fill up the history, fiction, classics (not classic literature, but classical literature – I love that they have an entire section just for that), Shakespeare (again, his own section), poetry and drama.  In amongst these new titles are secondhand books for very cheap prices.  In the children’s section there were £1 Wordsworth Editions copies of all the classic children’s tales and cheap secondhand copies of everything from Harry Potter to Narnia, all for around £2 or 3.

IMG_1817The selection is a bit quirky, as it usually is in secondhand bookshops.  Like any good secondhand shop, it’s not the place to go when you know what you want or need immediate results.  But it is the perfect place for browsing.  The new books are clever and well-chosen, so if you do wade through the unorthodoxy that always exists in any good used bookshop and actually buy something, you’re guaranteed to walk out with an actually good book.  The secondhand books reveal some interesting patterns – someone nearby has an obsession with PG Wodehouse and has provided dozens, if not hundreds, of his novels, which take up an entire wall.  There are also, as I mentioned, dozens of editions of Shakespeare’s plays and poetry and piles of secondary criticism about his works.

Downstairs, in the basement, are the sections that always seem to get relegated IMG_1820to the basement.  Isn’t it unfair that fiction is always front and centre, while gardening is always hiding somewhere in a back corner or a dingy cellar?  As someone who’s never bought a gardening book in her life, I have no right to complain, but I must say it gives me much more sympathy with the gardening, nature and pets books that always populate those silent, cobwebbed back corners.  Although if I were a book, I must say those quiet corners are probably where I would set up camp.

IMG_1818If the front rooms and the basement are the areas where browsers are likely to find something they want to flip through, buy, take home and treasure, then the back room is the place to go when you would actually like to be impractical and a little bit decadent, thank you very much.  For it is here that the antiquarian books live.  Modern first editions and early copies of classics line the walls with their leather bindings, gold leaf pages and their red and brown spines facing out to the world.  They are a sight to be seen.  Particularly worth looking at are the many books in the Local Interest shelf, which cover the history of the city of Cambridge, the university and local customs and traditions in Cambridgeshire.  A lot of them have fascinating photographs or illustrations of the city from years ago.

From obscenely beautiful books about mundane things like the UK’s flora and fauna to first editions of Ford Madox Ford and T.S. Eliot, there is something here for everyone to admire and try very hard not to literally drool over.  The best IMG_1819thing I found, though was a first edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  Aside from how incredible it is to hold a first edition of any famous book in your hands, this particular copy was absolutely unique because of what other readers from the past had left inside it.  In the front cover was a beautiful ex libris, which I think was issued by the owner’s primary school, which said that it had belonged to a little girl called Caroline and was given to her in 1950.  In addition to this little footprint there was a small yellow sticker on the inside cover referring to a book club operating in Nairobi.  How this book made it from a schoolgirl in England in the fifties to a reading group in Kenya is, I’m sure, a fascinating story which I would love to know, but am happy to imagine. I was sad to leave it behind, but maybe one day I’ll go back for it and add my own story to the – clearly long – list of stories in which this single book has played a part.

My parents, together, have read Narnia out loud 28 times. Seven books times four children, taking up years and years of bedtime stories and years of their lives.  The box set we have, though it’s not a first edition, is worth infinitely more to me because not only did I sit and invest hours of my life reading them, but I know that all of my brothers, with their tiny child hands, did the same and that 28 times my parents read them aloud, providing definitions of hard words, acquiescing to demands for one more chapter, and doing the squeaky mouse voice of Reepicheep.  Beautiful old books have always excited me; medieval manuscripts were my favourite part of every museum, just about beating the IMG_1821dinos for the top spot.  There’s a sense that holding them, you are experiencing some kind of communion with the first scribe who copied out the words in some French monastery all the way down to the little girl who wrote her name and the date inside the front cover.  But you don’t need to be holding the first edition of Ulysses (but oh my god, can you imagine?) for a book to bring you closer to someone else.  Any old book buried in a pile in a shop far away from home can call to mind our own experiences reading, reminding us of the people who’ve shared them with us, the questions they’ve made us ask and memories – private or shared – we’ve made between the pages.  Yes, I want the beautiful first edition, but I’d never trade it for my own tattered copy, infinitely more precious but probably worth only about a hundredth of the price.

Word on the Water

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Word on the Water, Regent’s Canal, London

“So close your eyes while mother sings of the wonderful sights that be,
And you shall see those beautiful things as you sail on the misty sea,
Where the old shoe rocked the fishermen three – Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.

– From Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod, a Nursery Rhyme.

I’ve been in a lot of bookshops and sung their praises, but this one takes the cake. To be fair to them all, those very worthy other bookshops are often just as good as this one in terms of selection, decor and price, but all of them are lacking one essential ingredient that makes this competition not even close to a fair fight.  While every other bookshop I’ve been in has been firmly planted on solid ground, today I set foot inside a floating bookshop on the inside of a London Canal Boat.  You just can’t beat that.

IMG_1708I heard about this mystical creature some time ago and have been trying to track it down for ages.  It moves along Regent’s Canal which cuts through North London from Harrow in the West all the way to the Thames River Basin at Limehouse in the East.  On their facebook and twitter pages, Word on the Water post where on the canal they’re going to be and for how long.  Once or twice I’ve gone to City Road Basin in Angel to try to find them, but always seem to miss the canal boat.  However this time, I just happened upon them by accident.  When I saw the “Floating Book Sale” sign I had a feeling I had accidentally stumbled upon this thing I’d been wanting to find for so long.  This week, the boat is stationed just west of Camden Market on the canal, and a two minute walk from The Blackgull, another amazing Camden bookshop which works brilliantly as the second half of a double feature.  If you’re in that area at all this weekend, you should visit both of them and support two amazing businesses for less than you’d expect.

You might find that you hear the boat before you see the grey plume of smoke rising out from its chimney, as music always seems to be playing from the deck.  If you catch them at the right time, you might be lucky enough to hear one of their live music shows or the poetry readings for which IMG_1711they’re famous.  I’ve never been to one but I hear that music and poetry are shouted out from the deck of the boat to listeners down below and I can only imagine that it must be magical.  But on a weekday at lunch hour, classical music from speakers is perfect.  After examining the paperbacks on sale for £1 or £3 on the deck of the boat (bargain!) and the small selection at the helm, I crouched down and crawled into the cabin, where the magic happens.  The shop’s inside is warmed by the heat of the wood-burning oven in the corner and the couches around it are inviting and cozy.  To live in the cabin of this boat would be a dream come true.  You might be able to grab a spot on the couch and sit for a bit with a book if the cats aren’t monopolising the space.  Yes, there are two little cats (although perhaps there are more, but I only saw two) who live onboard and on this chilly January day they were huddled up on the couch close to the fire.  They must be used to IMG_1710visitors because they didn’t seem to notice me rummaging around the shelves of books that cover the walls.  For such a small space, there is a decent selection of secondhand books, all for very reasonable prices.  I bought Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood for £3.  As with most of the bookshops I frequent, you’re in a real-live establishment, not on Amazon, so they don’t have everything, but I think that forces you to really look at what’s there and invites you to try a book you might not have thought of before.  If you’re not up for these more bookish of adventures, you’ll just have to settle for the charming ambiance and the original idea, which are reason enough to pay the barge a visit, if you can find it.

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While I’m on the subject of adventures, despite the frustration of a few failed attempts, I’m very glad to have found this bookshop today by accident.  It goes to show that you can search and search as long as you like for exactly what you want, trying to plan every detail of each day of your life, but in the end, life surprises you.  The plans you made might fall through and one day you might just be glad they did, because the things you never even imagined would happen will come to be the most important moments of your life.  I harp on a lot on this blog about how bookshops are worth saving because they privilege the act of searching over instantaneous finding.  But I think this bookshop doesn’t need to preach that lesson at you because it’s the living proof of it.  You might not find exactly what you’re looking for in such a tiny little bookshop,  but the experience IMG_1709is worth so much more than what you come out with.  To walk along the canal like you do every day and then to come across a boat you’ve never seen which has been styled a “book barge” moored at the side sounds like the beginning of a pirate novel and reminds me of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in a way.  And I think we all need a little adventure in our lives.

For example.  I recently had to track down a copy of Home to India by Santha Rama Rau for a class I was taking.  There were no copies at Waterstone’s, Foyles, any of my usual local independents, my uni’s library or the University of London and the British Library’s copy was off-site.  I tried all of these places and finally found a copy at SOAS.  After weeks, I finally got my hands on a tiny, weathered red copy of the 1936 edition published by the Left Reading Club, an organisation which operated in the 30s and 40s, disseminating quality literature about leftist ideology among the British intelligentsia and which I had never even heard of before.  Everyone else in my class had ordered the reprinted version from Amazon instead of bothering to look for it.  So, sadly, none of them really got the sense that a text like this, by an Indian woman writing in the 30s about nationalist politics, was not exactly floating around freely.  The experience of tracking down that novel added something to my experience of reading it; its evident rarity really made its revolutionary aspect and its profound modernness (which of course becomes so relativised over time that it’s well-nigh invisible to recognise if you’re not looking for it) all the more real.

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The point of that story, which somehow became a very long anecdote, is that oftentimes the adventures we have while looking for books add something special to our experience of them that wouldn’t be there otherwise.  And it’s the sense of discovery, adventure and the fanciful that Word on the Water is bringing back to the book-hunting experience.

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On the barge with me today there was a little boy, probably about three years old, admiring a picture book about dinosaurs, which his parents were reading to him (bless them) even though they clearly needed to be on their way.  When they finally managed to get the book out of his hands, the little boy asked if he could drive the boat away.  His parents and another adult in the shop smiled and laughed, in that dismissive way adults do when they’re conspiring to ruin a child’s fun.  I found myself laughing too, but in my heart I thought this little boy is on to something.  For what a perfect fairytale ending would it be to motor off along the partly-frozen canal, into the Thames and out to sea, never to be seen again in a boat full of books?   It reminded me of the nights I feel asleep dreaming of drifting away in a shoe with Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod who ‘sailed off on a river of crystal light into a sea of dew.’

St Philip’s Books

St Philip’s Books, 82 St Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1RA

On Wednesday morning, I woke up at the ungodly hour of half seven to help my friend Christine (shout-out to Christine!) move to Oxford, the city of spires and surreal views.  Christine is a smart cookie and I don’t just say that because she’s starting an MA at Oxford.  She’s a smart cookie because she’s picked as her new home a city full of cobbled roads, eccentric academics and many, many bookshops.  Ranging from the ubiquitous Waterstones to the Oxford University Press Bookshop to the very classy £2 Bookshop, Oxford is the perfect city for those of us who wish we could curl up under a blanket in a draughty old stone building filled with books so beautiful and old you’re afraid to touch them and never leave.

Walking around the city, I realised that I could have written about any number of bookshops and I sadly had to bypass some that looked amazing, telling myself that now I’ve got more reasons to go back and wander through the streets getting lost. I chose to write about St. Philip’s Books, though, because my friend Gabi (shout-out to Gabs!) has been working there for a few years now and is always telling me about this completely original and completely strange place.  His insights into the way the shop operates (or doesn’t) add even more humour and personality to a wander through it.

St. Philip’s is one of those places you’d easily walk by if you didn’t know it was there.  There are signs that say there’s a bookshop and promise Theology, History, Literature and Philosophy books, but walking past, all you see is a Chinese restaurant.  Fortunately, I had my own personal guide who led me through the wide stone arch, behind the Chinese restaurant and into this quiet little shop removed completely from any noise from the street.  Apparently the staff often have to deal with disgruntled and hungry tourists who aren’t interested in the books and were actually looking for the restaurant. These people probably make up a large percentage of the people who wander into the shop, since I’m assured that even on the best days they expect only about ten customers.

The books in this shop are not exactly for those of us on a budget and, even I admit it, the prices are about twenty times what you’d expect to pay on Amazon. The trouble is, I don’t think you’ll find them on Amazon.  These rare and speciality books include old bibles, first editions of novels and poetry, obscure and often hilarious religious and theological books, leather-bound history books, speciality books about Oxford and a very awesome hard cover edition of The Hobbit.  The copy of The Hobbit that my dad read to me from when I was a child was the gold, hardcover 50th anniversary edition that came in its own box and had gold-leaf pages.  It was the first book (and by that I mean physical book, not story) I ever loved.  I remember feeling awed and afraid to touch it because it was so special that it seemed wrong for grubby little child fingers to hold it.  This is how every single book in this shop made me feel.  So, knowing that I would never be able to own any of them, just being there was some kind of solace.  Gabi laughed at me, cruelly, as I scuttled through the shop having huge amounts of fun  with the old books.

Some of the highlights of my visit were  a first edition of T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party, a beautiful hard cover copy of The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell which had an inscription dated from 1931 and an absolutely tiny, metal-bound Book of Common Prayer with tiny print, thin yellow pages, beautiful calligraphy and a tiny metal lock.  It was very Jane Eyre.  I am assured that despite the fact that the shop is already busting with books and cluttered with boxes which are, presumably, filled with more boxes, this is just the beginning.  The owner (who for some reason I think of as St. Philip, though I hear he’s just called Chris) apparently has an entire garage filled with books he has yet to catalogue.  I think there’s something romantic about the idea of a man whose entire life is dedicated to collecting beautiful old books, so much so that he can’t even keep track of them.

Oxford is an undeniably literary city. For some, it evokes Alice Liddell and her Wonderland, others imagine being at Hogwarts and still others imagine sitting in on a lecture with C.S. Lewis or Tolkien.  But what was a pleasant surprise for me was to find that this rich literary culture isn’t confined to the university; it spreads out from there and takes over the shops, the streets and even the buildings, which all seem to have stories of their own to tell.  And it is this pervading book culture that I am using to justify my visit to this unusual bookshop.  While one of the intentions of this project was initially to show that buying books cheaply is still possible outside of the internet, it has become about much more than that.  I have come to treasure bookshops where, regardless of the price range, books are appreciated and St. Philip’s is clearly such a place.  It may be true that the average book-lover who wanders in can’t afford to take home any of these treasures, but I believe that it’s important nonetheless just to know that they’re there.  I am grateful not only to the man who collects and keeps and sells these books, but to the generations that came before him who thought that they would make good presents, who cared enough to keep them in good shape and who simply bothered enough to keep them in their basements, even if they were just collecting dust. So while I dream of one day being able to buy one of these beautiful books, whose pages I’ll turn gently and protect them from grubby little children fingers whenever possible, for now, it’s enough for me just to know that they’re still out there.

Week 8: Ten Editions Bookstore

Ten Editions Bookstore, 698 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON M5S 2J2, Canada

I first discovered this bookstore the last time I was in Toronto, last Christmas. I was strolling around downtown (and when I say “strolling”, read “battling through the wind and snow on streets I could barely see through the tiny slit I had left exposed between my hat and my scarf”)  looking for a Christmas presents.  Ten Editions is on the corner of Spadina and Sussex Avenue, the latter street name providing yet another subtle reminder that this country is basically a small-scale copy of Europe, made up of counterfeit versions that are always smaller and worse than the originals.  But this bookshop is fantastic and very nearly redeems my faith in a continent that has largely lost all of its charming, characterful bookshops to big box giants.

Now this is a proper bookshop, the books-from-floor-to-ceiling kind.  When I was a child I imagined that my future house would have books all over the walls and the floors and on every available surface and no one would ever tell me to pick them up. Being in Ten Editions for half an hour today somehow satisfied that need for chaotic beauty.  I think the thing that first got me hooked were the ladders.  Remember that scene in Beauty and the Beast where she goes into the bookshop and jumps up on the wooden ladder which slides across the shelves?  (If not, you have no soul and need to re-watch Beauty and the Beast.) Anyway, it’s exactly like that; a big wooden ladder that goes from the floor to the top of the bookshelves (which go pretty much to the ceiling) and  a metal bar that the ladder slides along from one end of the shop to the other.  It took a great deal of self-control not to jump up on it.  In fact, there was even a book I wanted which was high up and would have given me the perfect excuse to do exactly that, but I started to feel socially awkward and chickened out at the last minute.  Instead I looked around at the many many second hand books while remaining on the ground like a good girl.  The books were all in great condition and I imagine you’d be able to find just about anything you’d need in there.  There were also shelves upon shelves of antique books, a box of almanacs from the 20s that looked like they’d crumble if you touched them and, excitingly, an early edition of  The Bobbsey Twins in the Country by Laura Lee Hope which was given to a little girl named Patsy for Christmas in 1943.  I could happily spend an entire day browsing through the shop’s literature, history, biography, psychology, poetry, children’s books, crime, drama and classics shelves and its little bit of medieval poetry.  This place is heaven.
The shop is owned by one woman who sits behind her desk all day.  I don’t know her.  But I love her.  Last Christmas, as I was poking around the poetry section in the back room, I heard the door open and peeked through to see a young man with too-low trousers, one of those moronic trucker hats and giant headphones barge in and walk straight up to the woman at her desk.  He took his headphones off but left the  loud (and bad) music blaring while he abruptly stated the name of the author whose book he was looking for.  She looked puzzled (and I imagine this is a woman who doesn’t often look puzzled) and said she hadn’t heard of the writer and asked what kinds of books she writes.  He answered “It’s like…those vampire books!” in the most clueless voice, as if his question were the most obvious thing in the world.  The owner scrunched up her nose and said “You won’t find that kind of thing here.  Maybe you should try one of the bigger bookstores” and gave him a look that said he should be ashamed to be alive.  He exhaled rudely and strutted out as if he didn’t know he was the scum of the earth.

Anyway, today she was much more cordial.  I bought The Complete Poems of Allen Ginsberg 1947-1997 for $8.50,  which, for such a giant book (just over 1200 pages) was quite a bargain since the retail price was $29.00 when it was published in 2006.  The owner laughed as she looked at it and said she couldn’t believe the complete poems of Allen Ginsberg formed such a massive book, since she tends to think of him as someone who just wrote a couple of very important poems.  I laughed and said that the size of the volume probably would have surprised Ginsberg himself and felt very clever until, leaving the shop, I realised that that was the exact line John Ashbery had once used to describe Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems.  And then I was thoroughly embarrassed since I’m sure this woman knows that the line wasn’t mine.  In my mind, this woman knows everything.