Tag Archives: bookstores

The Little Apple Bookshop

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The Little Apple Bookshop, 13 High Petergate, York, YO1 7EN

APPLE.

Apple plum, carpet steak, seed clam, colored wine, calm seen, cold cream, best shake, potato, potato and no no gold work with pet, a green seen is called bake and change sweet is bready, a little piece a little piece please.

A little piece please. Cane again to the presupposed and ready eucalyptus tree, count out sherry and ripe plates and little corners of a kind of ham. This is use.

– from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein

Little things are not always as simple as their littleness makes them seem. The little finger of a newborn holds all the worry and anxiety and joy in the world to a new parent. William Blake saw a world in a grain of sand, heaven in a wild flower, and found infinity in an hour. James Joyce saw the eternal struggle for empathy and communion between human beings in one bumbling newspaper man’s wanderings around Dublin on the 16th June. Gertrude Stein saw in an apple a whole rainbow of things that were decidedly not an apple.

Little books, like Heart of Darkness, Mrs Dalloway, and more recently, We Should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, can house world-changing, perception-altering ideas within a few dozen pages.

The Tardis is bigger on the inside.

The Little Apple Bookshop in York is…a little bookshop. It’s almost comically little 028considering that it sits in the shadow of York Minster, one of the largest cathedrals in Europe. But inside, there are books. Which means that inside, it’s bigger than you could possibly imagine. Inside, it contains more information that you could ever learn, more characters than you’ll ever know, more reasons to laugh, cry, rejoice, despair, be inspired, be depressed and ask questions than you would ever create on your own. And all in a single room not much bigger than my kitchen.

Crammed inside are books for all sorts of people, but mainly for the best sort of people: little children. Picture books, story books and chapter books line the walls and make them satisfyingly colourful. The children’s books at the Little Apple are excellent ones and there are actually enough of them! As an adult, I almost never give up on a book I’ve bought and decided to try, but when I was younger I could read the first paragraph of a book and decide yea or nay for absolutely no logical reason. If it was a no, I wouldn’t read another word. Children like this need lots and lots of choices, and not all bookshops understand this. But never fear; though she be but little, the Apple is fierce. It has books to satisfy the tastes of even the pickiest readers.

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If you’re not a child, I commiserate. But there’s even choice for us grown-ups crammed in there. Classic and modern fiction from around the world is beautifully chosen, as are crime and mystery, graphic novels, cookery and a bit of 027non-fiction. Does the Little Apple have everything? No, stupid; it’s too little. But it’s got far more good stuff than most of us will ever need, let alone deserve. Such is the magic of good books; they expand time and space. They make a tiny, poky little room feel never-ending like a palace. They make an afternoon stretch time back and forth, so it’s like a year and also like 5 seconds at the same time, and then, like an elastic,  when you close the book, it snaps back and it’s just an afternoon again. The Little Apple Bookshop is a place where one could easily get lost in space and time, even if you haven’t much of either.

It’s such a bright, friendly, open, inviting place to be, that just visiting is reward enough. I didn’t even feel the need to bring home any new books for myself. I did, however, buy a present for my youngest brother, who never reads, though I always insist on buying him nothing but books at every gift-giving occasion. This time, the book he’s getting that I hope he might actually read is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. A fellow browser noticed me take it down from the shelf and whispered to me that her daughter loves this book, so I knew I had a winner.

According to Wikipedia, the subject matter of this book is: ‘good and evil, survival, magic.’ All that covered in 180-odd pages.

Next time you’re in York with a little bit of time and a little bit of money, pop in to the Little Apple Bookshop. You’ll want to buy everything, of course. But even if you walk away empty-handed, it’s impossible to leave without feeling like something – the world, your heart, your mind – has been made a little bit bigger.

 

Nomad Books

IMG_2837Nomad Books, 781 Fulham Road, London, SW6 5HA

Like many of you, I am, for all intents and purposes, a ‘grown up.’ I live in a flat, where I pay rent and bills and spend time between coming home from work and going back again. I have an alarm set for 7:20 every weekday morning. I leave the house at around 8:20 and take the Victoria line to work. I work until 6pm, when I walk back to the station and take the tube home. I worry about horrible colleagues, unmet targets and the damp in the corner of the bedroom. In other words, I have a routine. Most days, I do pretty much exactly the same thing. But some days, I do something different.

It seems to me there are two modes of everyday living. You can live in your little bubble or box, going back and forth between work and home and doing more or less the same thing. Alternatively, you can do something new every day, live a life of individual days, each one unique and exciting and new and full of adventure. Sadly, the world we live in makes it all too apparent that we are supposed to opt for the former – that this is a sign of success and normality. Sanity, even. So, most of us spend about 90% of our time in the box. The internet makes it easier, of course, by making our lives more uniform. It’s a shame, given the potential of the worldwide web to help us reach outwards, but sadly we never use it that way. The internet could take us to Maui, Malawi or Mexico, or let us see the Andes, the Aztecs or the Arctic. But the reality is that the vast majority of people, when they open Google Earth, look first for their own house. Yes, the internet, despite giving us delusions of grandeur, actually just seals the lids of our boxes ever more firmly. This isn’t the end of the world; very few of us have the energy or the funds required for a purely nomadic lifestyle.

Nonetheless, it’s in that 10% that most of us create our most treasured memories, so it’s that 10% I want to talk about. We all find ways of bringing that lifestyle into our daily lives and for me the main ones are reading, travel and buying books. Going to Nomad Books in Fulham is one little thing I can do to get a bit of adventure in my life. It is the perfect place for reading (and planning what I’ll read next), travelling (I take a long trip on the District line to get to their travel books) and buying beautiful books.

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Nomad Books has been on Fulham Road for over 20 years. It’s a lovely little building on the corner of a lovely little street. It is particularly popular for its large selection of travel books and travel guides, which are housed in a room towards the back of the shop, along withIMG_2830 the art, architecture, design and photography books. There is a small couch and table here, away from other browsers and staff. In some bookshops, sitting areas like this look a bit forced, but at Nomad Books, I really did feel that I could sit down with a book, get comfortable and read undisturbed for the rest of the afternoon. I might even plan my next trip away from the box while sitting in that comfortable seat and looking at photos of Peru.

Nomad Books also has a good classic fiction section and a very thorough display IMG_2833of contemporary fiction and non-fiction, prominently on display at the front of the shop. Bays full of recent publications, both the bestsellers and the more obscure, are dotted with insightful staff recommendations, so you’ll never be short of good suggestions if you’re overwhelmed by the selection. The fiction selection is by no means extensive; it’s eclectic. This is not Amazon and you will not be able to find anything you want. Embrace that and find something you weren’t looking for. Finding what you’re looking for belongs to the 90% realm. Finding something exotic and tempting and buying it on a whim belongs to the 10%. This eclectic fiction selection, such that it is, covers the walls on the side of the shop that is also a coffee, where you can buy tea and coffee and tasty treats and sit for as long as you like and admire the books or get a head start on the one you’ve just purchased.

At the back of the shop are the children’s books, with more comfortable chairs, IMG_2836couches and tables in amongst them. It’s perfect for an impromptu story time if you can’t make it to one of the shop’s weekly story circles. When I went in last week, during the schools’ Easter holidays, two mums with 4 children between them in tow where chatting away happily in the back of the shop about what books they’d buy. Nomad Books feels like it’s part of the community. These families passing through on their day off were not the only ones giving me that impression; when I walked in a very elegant older lady was sitting in the café reading. About fifteen minutes later, an elegant little old man walked in, gallantly took his hat off and sat down across from her. Eavesdropping told me that they both live in the area and often bump into each other here.

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I’ve spent a lot of money on books lately, but it was my day off, I was on the other side of the city and I was on an adventure, so I bought Kazuo Ishiguro’s new novel The Buried Giant. It is still in a beautiful hardcover edition that won’t be around forever so if you’re thinking of buying it, do it now. It cost £20 but if the first 100 pages are anythingIMG_2831 to go by, it was more than worth it. On the back of this lovely hardcover is written a quotation from the first chapter, written in large gold writing, which captures the feeling I got in the shop. It was the feeling that there are infinite worlds out there, in the world and in books, waiting to be explored. It was the feeling that life is too short to spend only 10% of your time on adventures. It’s the feeling we get at airports and train stations at the beginning of a journey. It’s the feeling readers get when they hold a heavy hardcover in their hands, or turn the brittle first page of a favourite old paper back or read a great opening line:

‘There’s a journey we must go on, and no more delay…’

Ocelot

IMG_2398Ocelot, Brunnenstraße 181,10119 Berlin,Germany
 
If you asked me to describe my perfect bookshop, it would look nothing like Ocelot. It would be small and dark, warm and quiet, disorganised and absolutely crammed with books. It would certainly not be sparse, modern or filled with what they call ‘clean lines.’ I may sounds like a curmudgeonly old person, but this is not how a bookshop is supposed to look. So why, then, do I love it so much?
 
 
I happened upon Ocelot during a morning stroll through the trendy Mitte district of Berlin. I stopped for a quick cup of tea and a croissant in uber-hip St Oberholz cafe near Rosenthaler Straße and couldn’t help but despair a bit at the sight of so many bearded young people staring at screens which ostensibly held the beginnings of their great novels, though it kind of looked like they were just playing Words with Friends. I was put  in the mood for another kind of coffee shop so I made my way to Ocelot.
 
 
I’m told the coffee you can buy in the bookshop cafe is excellent, but I was more IMG_2395interested in the books. Still, the quiet chatter and the gently clinking of cups and spoons make for a nice atmosphere. Ocelot is not the kind of cathedral to the glory of books that I love; it’s more like a Greek agora. It’s still a serious place where great minds come together, but you’re allowed to chat and get your hands a bit dirty rather than being consigned to silence and awe. Ocelot is a fun, open and inclusive space, as any bookshop should be. It doesn’t matter why you’re there, it’s just great that you are.
 
 
The bookshelves in Ocelot are stylish and fun, with an excellent selection of hardcover IMG_2392books showing off their spines as they peep out of little holes and ledges that make even this dark wood seem open and keep the shop from feeling oppressive. The way they curve around the corners of the bookshop and ripple like waves makes you feel like they’re just begging for you to play, to skip along like a child in a German folk tale, deeper and deeper into the woods. Only unlike in the folk tales, there’s nothing too sinister awaiting you; you’ll quickly find the bright and beautiful clearing where you can take your shoes off, nestle down into the grass and lie in the sun letting your mind take you on any number of adventures.
 
 
One of the most interesting paths you can take is the one leading to Gestalten, an excellent German publishing house which creates big, gorgeous books (worth buying and owning in their own right and totally immune to comparison with a digital ‘book’) on a whole range of subjects. Ocelot has Gestalten books on almost every surfaIMG_2394ce and in almost every section. Clearly someone here is a fan and so am I. One of my favourite things about rummaging through bins in the basements of bookshops is that I come across so many inspiring independent publishing houses that I never would have heard of otherwise. Since I’ve been writing The Matilda Project, I’ve told you about Persephone, Taschen, Herperus, Virago, Slightly Foxed, Pushkin Press, Gallic Books, Capuchin Classics and who knows how many others. These publishers do vital work, bringing books that might never have seen the light of day into our independent bookshops and, on the heels of success there, into mainstream booksellers where they can reach an even bigger audience. I tip my hat to them all, for bringing the greatest possible books to the greatest possible numbers they can. There are few pursuits in this world that I admire more.
 
 
So, Gestalten. It doesn’t matter if you’re into poetry, art, architecture, digital culture, IMG_2393design, history, cities, fashion, children’s books, love letters to the days of vinyl (which are returning, they say!), cooking, unusual tourist destinations, bicycles, maps, bejeweled skeleton heads, obscure facts about Lapland, seriously experimental photography or the mysteries of space. If you can think of it, Gestalten has a bizarre, amazing and hilariously specific book about it. Their brilliant an innovative books can be found in bookshops back in the UK and all over Germany. If you’re lucky enough to live in Berlin, you can go to their shop. Definitely, definitely check them out. Roaming around the stacks of Gestalten books in Ocelot, I added Little Big Books to my list of books to buy (one day). This is another big and beautiful book filled with illustrations for classic children’s books by contemporary artists. I think it’s a charming idea.
 
 
I spent quite a long time here, making my way through every  section, from crime to bedtime stories. Sadly, my only hope of finding a book I could actually read was to stick IMG_2396to the Literally in English section of the shop, where I, along with all the other uncultured swine who haven’t read Goethe in the original German, could actually follow what was going on. And yet, while it’s always a good bit of geeky fun to compare the international covers of the bestsellers and see what German booksellers think are the English language’s representative books, I really wanted to be sitting on the cozy cushion in the little nook in amongst the children’s books, surrounded by books in a language I don’t speak but which nevertheless seem to want to say something to me. ‘Adventure on!’ they whisper, ‘Come and catch us!’ I’m still young, they remind me, though I’m sure many of my readers would never guess it from my world-weary tone. I still have time to learn German, to live in Berlin permanently, to write a novel of my own, to read Proust from start to finish. Places like Ocelot, filled with the exciting mystery of a thousand unread titles, spur me on and remind me to never stop learning. There is always another language to master. There is always another city whose special little places need to be explored. There is always another book to read. I’m going to turn off my computer right this minute and open one. Let the adventure begin.
 
 
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In Which the Author Confesses her Crime

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Dear Readers,

I have a confession to make: I am guilty of a small crime. I only hope you find it charming and that you don’t abandon your well-meaning but overly-zealous book-hunting correspondent.

Last week I walked into a large second hand bookshop in the south-west. I’m afraid I can’t be more specific than that lest my confession is whispered into the wrong ears. I roamed through aisles of bookshelves, looking for the good and interesting secondhand books in the sea of mass market paperbacks. The hidden gems are always there and I welcome the challenge.

I picked up a tattered old hardcover book (which I shouldn’t name) and was turning the the thick, yellowing pages when a small piece of paper fluttered out. I knelt down to pick it up and read the little note that had lovingly been tucked into this book.

Some time ago, judging from the name ‘Neville’ and the fragility of the paper, a sister used this funny little book as a means of transporting a feeling, a thought, to a loved one.

The note reads, ‘Neville, Dad’s copy of S.C.C.C. Handbook, thought you might enjoy it,’ followed by a swooping signature I can’t quite make out but for some reason am supposing is female.

Now, I know this note wasn’t meant for me. But it was meant for someone who would know what it meant. Someone who would understand that within the brittle, yellowing pages of an old book, a human life can be deposited, memories can sit and collect, waiting to be opened up and brought back to life with startling force. Maybe Neville wasn’t that person, and when he was clearing out his cluttered house he didn’t keep a piece of his family history. I prefer to think that he did understand, and kept the book in a place of honour, even if he never read it himself, because it meant something. I don’t know how old this note is, so maybe Neville is long dead and it’s the original owner’s grandchildren who sent it to its new home here in this bookshop.

The truth doesn’t really matter. What means most to me is the way this simple note, tucked into this little book, opens up infinite possibilities for stories happy and sad. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I believe that human lives are bound up with books. We move through chapters in our lives, turn over new leaves, impose narrative structure on random events and aspire to happy endings. I know this note wasn’t meant for me. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to be part of the story. So, selfishly leaving the book itself to wait for the next browser, who, I know, will now get less out of it, I tucked the note into my pocket and took it home with me.

I just can’t help it; I love a good story. I hope you won’t judge me too harshly.

 

Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights

IMG_2345Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, 14-15 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL

If you live in England and love bookshops, you already know Mr. B’s. When I started this blog I was asked endless questions about the places I’d been and hadn’t been. Most often, people wanted to know if the bookshop was still at 84 Charing Cross Road (it’s not, sadly), what I thought of Shakespeare and Company in Paris and whether or not I’d been to Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

IMG_2327Although Mr. B’s only popped up in Bath in 2006, it has quickly won the hearts of even the most prickly and become a cult favourite with a global following. Going to Mr. B’s is something of a right of passage for anyone who considers herself a reader.

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This is my mate Dom admiring creative magnet poetry. Hi Dom!

What makes this bookshop so beloved is, I think, partly that it bucks the trend. It opened up while we were all worrying about independent bookshops but, through ingenious new methods of bookselling – which never lose sight of the bibliophilia that must always be at the heart of it all – it has excelled, being named Independent Bookshop of the Year on two separate occasions. Those of us who love bookshops were delighted to be shown that they can still make it, even ‘these days.’ However, to say that we only love Mr. B’s because it keeps us self-proclaimed Luddites from fretting too much would be to seriously and gravely undermine what it so brilliant about it. Mr. B’s combines everything that is right and good about an old-fashioned bookshop (the smell of books, the impeccably curated selection, the clean, crisp white shelves, the staff recommendations, the quirky decor and the peaceful, quiet bliss) with a barrage of new ideas sure to woo readers back into its arms and away from the clutches of The Great Brazilian River Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.

When you walk in, you are met by the Fiction section, where the fun begins. With a board where you can play with magnet poetry and a bathtub full of Young Adult novels, a sense of whimsy that would make a more cynical person IMG_2329scoff delights the naive, romantic bookish types. One of my favourite touches are the little ‘Mr. B’s Thoughts…’ cards that dot the section, guiding browsers to a special treat. I love bookshops that do this. For avid readers who know what they like and can sometimes get in a bit of a rut making only safe choices, these recommendations give a nudge in a new but always good direction. For those less accustomed to browsing the shelves, they make the experience more friendly and less elitist, while ensuring that you find something with a bookseller’s guarantee. As you follow the excellent selection of contemporary and classic fiction from Z to A, you turn the corner and find children’s and Young Adult books. The collection of IMG_2328books gathered at Mr. B’s are the type that will not just grab the attention of a child, but also satisfy even the book-snobbiest parents. They are all fantastic books and there are many really lovely editions of children’s classics to be found in amongst the picture books and longer chapter books. While there are books for every age group and every type of child, there are, I am pleased to report, none of those silly, flimsy little IMG_2326paperback series that are always aimed at one gender only. You know the ones I mean – the forty part ‘Cupcake Fairies’ series that keep little girls entertained for about a day until they need the next one. Surely it’s much better to eschew Waterstone’s and head for Mr. B’s to buy something a bit more substantial? Whether you’re looking for a book for a little one learning to read, a quiet, bookish little boy, a brave, excitable teenage girl or an adult who wants to feel like a kid again, there will be an adventure for anyone on Mr. B’s walls.

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Past the till, passing poetry, drama, cookery, books abIMG_2341out Bath and even a small music section, is the staircase leading down to More Reading Delights. In the basement are the typical basement subjects: Biography, History, Current Affairs, Politics, Economics, Business, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion and Science. I fear that some people miss this basement. Don’t. The selection, as elsewhere in the shop, is inspiring. The booksellers at Mr. B’s have saved us the trouble of wading through the confusing world of publishing. They have picked out only the most intelligent, relevant and beautiful books available so that book hunters really can’t go wrong. Despite knowing next to nothing about the enigmatic Mr. B, I know that I trust IMG_2344him without a doubt. If a book is here, it’s  because someone who knows what (s)he’s talking about has vouched for it. The basement is only a small room but books cover all the walls, the table in the middle and even the fireplace. Down here there is also a modest selection of graphic novels, arranged on the shelves in and around said fireplace. These, like the fiction books, are a mix of the classic stand-bys of the genre and the newest and freshest books. If there is something good going on in publishing, you can trust Mr B’s to be all over it.

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Upstairs, you’ll find books on art and architecture, travel (the ‘Travels with my Book’ IMG_2333section), crafts and design as well as an even larger selection of graphic novels. It is also the space for featured books, sporting colourful and exciting bays labelled ‘Mr B’s Delightful Lists’ and ‘Our Favourites/Your Favourites.’ You have to marvel at the booksellers’ never-ending capacity to pick out a great next read for you. Recommending books new and old, which you’ve always meant to read IMG_2336or never heard of, the good men and women of Mr B’s Emporium provide their most earnest recommendations, all in the interests of ensuring that as many people as possible benefit from as many good books as can possibly be fit into what is not actually that large a bookshop. They also feature books related to or following on from their many events. Mr B’s draws some of Britain’s biggest authors through its doors for readings, signings and debates and you can buy the books they’ve discussed in the shop.  But be warned – being taunted about Our Norse Night by a shelf full of interesting books can be quite frustrating if you’ve missed it.

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And finally, the crème de la crème, Mr B’s Emporium’s crowning jewel and the IMG_2334reason for much of its fame. After wandering through the rest of the shop you finally come to The Bibliotherapy Room. This room is covered in books and very much part of the regular bookshop for regular customers. But so much more can happen here. Seeing as we are in Bath, after all,Mr B’s has styled itself as a spa retreat for the mind rather than the body and offers a variety of luxurious treatments for book-lovers. Please do try not to drool over your keyboard as I describe them.

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First comes Mr B’s Sumptuous Reading  Booth, a tiny little nook with a lockable door where you can sit and read in peace. For £3.50 you get 30 minutes in a locked room to sit in a comfortable chair with music, tea, biscuits and a book. Plus a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. It’s really the perfect birthday present if you know a misanthropic bibliophile like mIMG_2338e who considers a day alone in the silence with a book the best gift you could ever be given.  I covet my lunch hour at work, my alone time when I get to go sit in the park or in a cafe and read. I like my co-workers but they just don’t seem to get that I need some time with my book. For anyone who has this same problem, £3.50 is quite a bargain for some time snuggling up in a comfortable chair without any distractions, being able to read quietly and alone without anyone thinking you’re anti-social. Which, to be fair, you probably are, but what’s so wrong with that?

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Finally, if you fancy spending a little more money on your literary R&R, you can buy yourself or a loved one (obviously you’re going to buy it for yourself though) a Reading Spa. It costs £55 for the basic package and you get an hour alone with a bookseller who creates a bespoke stack of IMG_2331book recommendations just for you, time to sit and read with tea and cake and a £40 voucher to spend on the books you pick out. The Reading Spa, in addition to being The Best Idea Ever, is also a reminder to sad, apathetic little people who love the Brazilian River Which-Must-Not-be-Named of everything that you miss when you give up on independent bookshops. But the great thing about Mr B’s is that you can be extravagant if you want to, but you don’t have to in order to enjoy it. Even just strolling through, you’ll still get the incredible service, curated choices of excellent books and the relaxing, welcoming atmosphere that independent bookshops do best.

I spent money at Mr B’s aIMG_2335nd was happy to do it because I was not only paying for two new books that I know I will enjoy, but also for an hour of entertainment and enlightenment and, which is truly priceless, lots and lots of inspiration. I bought two books. The first was The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, which made me think of the bookshop in Cambridge that I love and was recommended after a Ghost Stories evening at Mr B’s. The second was A God in Every Stone, Kamila Shamsie’s new novel. I had seen this in a Blackwell’s in Bristol a couple of weeks before and fought the urge to buy it. When I got back to London I hunted around the London Review Bookshop and the Islington Waterstone’s after I IMG_2332realised that I couldn’t live without it. When I couldn’t find it anywhere I thought maybe I’d made it up – that I’d read the title or the author’s name wrong and was searching for a book that didn’t exist. I didn’t go to Amazon to immediately gratify my desire. I waited. And it popped up again in Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights where finding it again really did delight me.

I have since devoured both books and, unsurprisingly, both were excellent. IMG_2330However, I took away a lot more from my short visit to Mr B’s. I took away a list of other books that I want to buy, including books I don’t have yet by authors I already love and other books I’d never heard of. A trip to Mr B’s is delightful because, like any other good bookshop, it doesn’t end when you walk out the door. The ideas, the yearnings, the questions it brings up stay with you long after. They will influence what you read next. They will form your opinions on a whole range of topics. They will wake you up in the middle of the night and drive you crazy when you can’t remember that name of that book! They will make you want to come back and back and back again for more. A bookshop like Mr B’s can begin an addiction which will stay with you for the rest of your life. It can begin a love affair with reading that will never end. It can reignite a passion for books in the hearts of people who long ago opted for convenience over adventure. Simply put, like a day at the spa, a trip to Mr B’s Emporium just makes things better.

Taschen

IMG_2218Taschen, Rue Lebeau 18, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

If you love art, chances are that you know Taschen.  The German publishers of beautiful and fascinating books on art, architecture, design and photography can be found in libraries, museum shops, and good bookshops the world over.  They publish ‘coffee table’ sized books which are not only full of stunning art and masses of information, but are also wonderful, comforting physical objects in their own right, worth treasuring.

The Brussels shop is in the Sablon district, just off a lovely square that it shares IMG_2225with a beautiful old church, a weekly antiques market and about half a dozen chocolate shops.  Wandering around the shop I saw everything from clothbound editions of fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm to The Complete Paintings of Gustav Klimt to the 36 hours series – colourful and creative travel books detailing how to get the most out of 36 hours in locations around the world.  Reflecting the diversity of their subject matter, the books in this shop take many different shapes and sizes.  There are massive five volume guides to the architecture of the twentieth century, small notebooks or pocket-sized books of photography and art books which are coffee-table size but are so expertly and lovingly crafted that they demand far more attention than mere background pieces.  My personal favourite was the Mid-Century Ads: Ads from the Mad Men Era series, with beautiful full-page, full-colour images of adverts from the 1950s and 60s. Just looking around you can tell that Taschen clearly take great pride in their books and make an effort to produce books that will delight all their readers, whether they’re artists looking for inspiration, academics doing research or know-nothings like myself who just like the feel of the thick , fresh pages between their fingers.

The Brussels shop is modern, minimalist and clean; rows of perfectly arranged IMG_2221books fill up the sleek black shelves.  As much as I love disorderly piles and shelves where the alphabet has given up and let anything poke out where it may, there’s something inspiring about a clean wall of uniform books lined up in front of you. It’s a magic, I think, that comes from the knowledge that while they all look so well-behaved, the second you pull one out from the wall it will suck you into an adventure that may well be a lot messier and weirder than the first impression suggested.  There’s also the knowledge, which I always sense when looking at a bookshelf, that every book in the orderly line holds some different secret inside of it.  There’s nothing more exciting to me than a wall of orderly books just waiting for you to pull one out and let it come to life. Fortunately, at Taschen, you don’t even have to take the book home with you to begin; the vibrant illustrations and stunning photographs on these pages come to life all on their own as soon as they’re opened.

FIMG_2222or the books that don’t fit on (or are just too beautiful for) the shelves around the edges, there are big golden blocks dropped all around the middle of the shop.  Books are never piled but always artistically displayed on the top.  There isn’t much inherent logic in the arrangements; 36 Hours in Latin America and the Carribean may well be sandwiched between The Golden Age of DC Comics and The Big Penis Book.  Seriously.  It makes for a unique and very enjoyable browsing experience. Even IMG_2224more books peak out from inside the gold blocks; piles of books lined up perfectly wait in these little nooks, not fussed about being away from the limelight. They’re relaxed about it, because people like me will always be quite happy to hang out on the floor for a bit if it means getting the chance to admire each and every one.  I did leave with dust covering the back of my coat, but I think it was worth it.

The Taschen shop is a great reminder of why we love and need independent bookshops and independent publishers.  Taschen and other publishers like it are the champions not of the faceless masses, but of the passionate weirdos.  They are places where the random, the niche and the IMG_2220obscure are celebrated.  They form communities of readers for the people who need them most; the scholar of Ancient Assyrian sculpture working in isolation in a tiny studio flat, the nature photographer whose family and friends don’t see why she won’t just get a normal job, the weird arty kid in small-town middle America who just wants to know that someone else in the world loves Modigliani this much!  By filling up our museums and galleries and bookshops with their inspiring, life-affirming books, Taschen assures us all that Yes, this is important, and No, you’re not the only one who thinks so.  In this beautiful shop in Brussels and in the countless other places around the world where their books are found, Taschen are succeeding in opening our minds and exciting our curiosity.  And that, I believe, is how you go about making the world a better place.

Tropismes

IMG_2163Tropismes, Galerie des Princes 11, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

Places like the Galerie du Roi, a covered arcade in the centre of Brussels, near the Grand Place, fascinated Walter Benjamin.  Lined with chocolate shops, bookshops and cafes, the Galerie du Roi is akin to the arcades of Paris, those magical places which Benjamin alternatively described as ‘Dream Cities’ and ‘Catacombs.’  At times, he praised them as places which fostered browsing, people-watching, flâneur-ism and observation while at other times they were dens of consumerism and commodity fetishism.  I can’t enter a place like this without thinking of Benjamin and wondering what he would make of it.  Indeed, sometimes when I go into a bookshop, I can’t help but feel a bit of conflict between the commercial aspect of shops (we are, after all, just buying products for consumption) and the intangible quality which creates so much more meaning: the opportunity they provide for us to expand our minds, embrace serendipity and start a journey.

IMG_2165At Tropismes, a large bookshop just off to the side of the Galerie du Roi (on the Galerie des Princes, no less), the balance is struck perfectly.  The beautiful displays in the window and the clean, modern interior create a palace filled of wonderful, attractive things to buy.  But the books on offer are chosen, curated and presented with so much charm, playfulness and intelligence that it’s hard to see them as just numbers in someone’s inventory or products to push before the Christmas rush.  That, I think, is what makes books different from every other thing we buy: they are not just bought, consumed and thrown away.  Instead, we as individuals bring each and every one to life in a different way and create a completely unique relationship with it.  We carry them through our lives (either on our bookshelves or somewhere at the back of our minds) and we don’t just act on them, but let them act on us.  Books are truly magical and Tropismes, which is whimsical and full of hidden possibilities, is a fitting home for them.

Naturally, the majority of the books are in French.  I don’t know why (perhaps someone can enlighten me) but books in French always seem to have quite plain white spines, so a wall full of them looks particularly refined and calming.  Tropismes has an amazing IMG_2164selection of French fiction, philosophy, poetry and history, as well as a mouth-watering cookery section downstairs which represents cuisines from all over the world, but particularly French and Belgian food.  On the ground floor, little nooks just big enough for a few people give the opportunity to get up close and personal with the books even when the shop is busy. In addition to books in French and books translated into French, there is a good collection of English books, which are always oddly reassuring. Tropismes has an admirably international range of novels and you can read where the books come from on the little labels that poke out from the IMG_2172shelves.  Tropismes takes you on a tour of world literature from every continent.  In one picture alone you can see a selection of Arab, Palestinian, Hebrew, Indian, Russian, Slavic, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Czech, Egyptian, Libyan and Iranian literature.  Now, I like to think that I’m quite good at reading books from other parts of the world, but Tropismes puts me (and everyone else I know) to shame.  And yet it never feels intimidating or pretentious because the whole atmosphere of the shop is friendly and inclusive, embracing people from all over the world just as it embraces their books.

When I went in, there was a pleasant level of chatter all throughout the bookshop which made it feel warm and inviting.  The shop is open, with bright lights illuminating what is in fact a beautiful old building.  The sleek and modern mirrors (which reflect the Christmas lights outside) work well against the older decorative features of the building, particularly the ornate columns and the beautiful roof.  The combination makes people feel happy, and that’s all there is to it. IMG_2169One of the things I truly love about bookshops (and people) in England is that they understand the value of peace and quiet and know how to be silent and let a person think, but this happy, community bookshop reminded me of how nice it can be to have a chat as well.  The booksellers were all lovely and (from what I could understand) very well-informed about everything they had in stock as well as about books from all over the world that they didn’t.  On a couple of separate occasions I heard a bookseller talking to a customer about just how they were going to manage to get their hands on that new novel from Burkina-Faso or somewhere equally random.  One thing I noticed is that the booksellers here were quite a lot older than the majority of booksellers in the UK.  Waterstones and London independents tend to be populated with twenty-something English graduates (like yours truly) and IMG_2171struggling playwrights  because there’s some kind of cultural idea that it’s okay to ‘just’ work in a bookshop when you’re twenty-three but by the time you’re forty-five you really ought to have a ‘proper job.’  I may be inferring too much from this, but it seems to suggest that in Brussels, they take their bookselling as seriously as they take their chocolate.  (I’m still smarting a bit from being told off by a chocolate seller for getting too close to the merchandise.)

Down in the basement, in addition to the cookery section, you’ll find books on pretty much everything under the sun.  There’s psychology, music, cinema, IMG_2170sociology, anthropology, science, nature, art and architecture, all of which are arranged impeccably in beautiful displays on the shelves and tables.  Although the basement doesn’t have the same light, airy, open feel as the ground floor, it’s still a place where you could easily spend hours if you had the time.  In fact, I think it would take that long just to get your head around the selection.

IMG_2166Finally, there is a large children’s section up on the first floor, which is a balcony looking down over the rest of the shop.  Here you’ll find children’s books for all ages and all types of children.  What was brilliant about this selection was that they weren’t just French translations of American children’s books, but new and innovative picture books, novels and comics from the country that brought us Tintin.  The graphic novels available all looked excellent, which I suppose is to be expected in a city that has a Comic Strip Museum and an apparent love affair with the genre.  It also seemed to me that a lot of the children’s books were much edgier than their Anglophone equivalents; I saw a lot of books and graphic novels that dealt IMG_2167with adult themes in understandable ways, rather than sheltering children in fairy-tale worlds.  I was particularly happy to see that small Belgian children are being exposed to great literature – there was a A La Recherche du Temps Perdu  comic book, which I now really really want.  I can’t say whether that’s indicative of a difference between the UK and continental Europe, but it is interesting how much you can learn about a culture just by looking at the books their children read, isn’t it?

Which, in a way, brings me back to where I started, with Walter Benjamin (can you tell that I love him?) and his marvelous exclamation: ‘How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!” As I examined books at Tropismes, I thought of him sitting in a new flat unpacking his library of books, picking up each one and letting it flood him with memories of the city where it was bought and the stories it carries on and between its pages.  I’m sure that the books I buy in Belgium will serve the same purpose, guarding my memories and my stories until the next time I pick them up again, in whatever city I find myself in.  For now, exploring the world at Tropismes has been adventure enough.

She Said Boom!

IMG_2134She Said Boom!, 372 College Street, Toronto, Canada, M5T 2N9

There’s a lot of pessimism about books at the moment.  When I tell people I’m devoted to real books they look at me like I’m a bit sad and hopeless; when I tell them I want to own a little bookshop one day they say things like ‘Well, if people still read books in ten years, that is…’ or ‘But there won’t be any bookshops in the future…’  and other nonsense.

We’ve all watched in horror as, in America, Borders closed, in Canada,Indigo replaced books with slippers and throw pillows and in the UK, Waterstones dropped the apostrophe and added Kindles to its shelves. We’ve all seen a local independent close.  We’ve all heard the by-now trite advice that if a bookshop wants to survive, it has to up its game, becoming a cafe on the side and selling games, toys and household trinkets that have only the most tenuous relation to actual books.

It’s a sad day for our culture when books aren’t enough, when the hundreds or thousands of titles available in a bookshop can’t hold our attention.  Because, you know, it’s just the entire creative and intellectual output of an entire civilisation, but you’re right, it’s just boring when we can’t also buy chaimochafrappacinolattes and throw pillows in the same place.

The sooth-sayers are loving it, saying that bookshops are doomed, saying that consumers are too lazy to leave home and too apathetic to support local businesses. Frankly, it’s all crap.

I know that because yesterday I went to She Said Boom!, a used bookshop in downtown Toronto, which thoroughly lifted my spirits.  She Said Boom!, which sells books, comics, CDs and records, is not gimmicky or touristy or sexy.  It’s just a good bookshop.  All that means and all that should ever have to mean is that it has knowledgeable staff, a good selection and a bit of room to browse.  A beloved institution on College Street, She Said Boom! was bustling when I visited.  It does this old heart good to see that a good local bookshop can still draw a crowd.

The College Street location is a kind of satellite store for She Said Boom!’s main IMG_2133location in Roncesvalles Village in the West End of Toronto.  Both have excellent and very broad selections of books, but specialise in Literature, Philosophy (of the Eastern and Western varieties), History and Politics.  The College Street shop also has an interesting selection of books on Religion and a great poetry section, where one of the booksellers had a  really sweet conversation with an older customer about his love of Robert Frost as she helped him find Frost’s Collected Poems.

At the College Street location, the books get the most attention.  Bookshelves cover all available wall space in the shop, jutting out into the middle in places to create nice little private nooks where mousy booklovers can follow the alphabet from A to Z as the Fiction section snakes its way over many shelves and in and out of corners.  All the books are used, so they are always significantly cheaper than retail price.  Even though I really shouldn’t be buying too many books while I’m away, I bought Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie for $8 (£4.75) and I love it so far.  Salman Rushdie is one of those authors whose writing I trust so deeply that I will gladly buy anything he wrote without reading the blurb; his name is enough for me.

She Said Boom! has a section devoted to the Classics, by which they do not mean Jane Eyre and David Copperfield, but actual Classical writing from the Ancient Greeks and Romans.  I love when bookshops have a selection of Classical literature that has more in it than The IliadThe Odyssey and The Aeneid.  Here, you can find Greek tragedy, epic poems, Roman comedy and all the greatest writers of antiquity, including Sophocles, Euripides, Catallus, Cicero and Ovid.  Like any good bookshop, She Said Boom! has a selection that does more than just satisfy your cravings and demands, but inspires you to explore different books and give them a chance.

IMG_2131In the middle of the shop, there are tables and boxes full of records, CDs and even the odd cassette tape.  Now, I may know my way around a bookshelf, but (as that statement perhaps proves) I’m not very cool. The people rummaging through these boxes of old records like they were on a treasure hunt definitely are, so I was reluctant to budge in and push them out of the way; they looked like they knew what they were doing.

I was a bit intimidated at first by these objectively cooler browsers (not to mention the tattoo-ed, incense-burning, Velvet Underground-playing, grumpy-looking staff).  But then I saw the looks of joy and contentment on the faces of all different kinds of browsers, whether they were mouthing Robert Frost poems to themselves, gingerly turning the pages of vintage comics or quickly flipping through piles of records like they were magazine pages.  And I realised that what’s so great about She Said Boom! is that they have something for everyone, and a way of bringing out the geek in each one of us.

Bookshops like this – good bookshops – are places where it’s okay to get excited about silly little things like paper books and vinyl records that other people will IMG_2132try to tell you are behind the times.  Good bookshops are places where we come together to acknowledge our common weirdness, our geekiness, our passions for things that other people tell us aren’t worth it. I’m partial to books, but I think that what I’m looking for between the pages is the same thing that other people find through their favourite lyric or a single burst of colour on a canvas.  We’re all just looking to know that someone else in the world shares (or once shared) our passions, our thoughts, our feelings.

That’s why we still need bookshops like She Said Boom!, where the passionate weirdos and misfits who’ll one day rule the world can discover new things to get inappropriately excited about and fan the flames of lifelong passions.

John Sandoe Books

IMG_2108John Sandoe Books, 10 Blacklands Terrace, London, SW3 2SR

I remember the first time I realised that not everyone enjoys a bookshop the way I do.  I was with some friends of friends walking on Hampstead Heath and when we came out near Keats House, Daunt Books’ glowing green and gold worked their magic.  The girls cooed, ‘Oh a bookshop, I looooove bookshops!’ Oh good, I thought, I’ve found some kindred spirits!  I was thrilled to leave behind the awkward small talk and bond over books.  So I felt cheated when, after five minutes in the fiction section, they were ready to go.  Muggles.

IMG_2101I’ve since become aware of the two different types of browsers.  There are those who pop in for a few minutes to enjoy the quiet or the warmth and give a cursory glance to a few books before quietly wandering out.  Despite my ‘muggles’ comment, there’s nothing at all wrong with this kind of browsing.  I think it’s lovely when someone on the way to do something else decides to spare a few moments to be with books.

But then there’s the second kind of browser.  The kind who does not just pop in, but rather plans her entire day around the outing.  The kind who looks at the spine of every single book, reads IMG_2103the backs of hundreds and flips through the pages of dozens, collecting a pile of ‘possibles’ as she goes along and keeping a wish list.  This browser can spend hours walking around in circles, squatting as she reads the first chapter of a book on the bottom shelf and getting comfortable in chairs, stairways or doorframes.  John Sandoe Books, which has been located on Blacklands Terrace, just off the King’s Road for over 40 years, is the ideal place for this kind of reader.

The shop spreads over the three floors, and on the busy ground floor you may have to squeeze through a wall of other browsers to view the IMG_2095shelves.  It’s a popular shop and you sometimes have to share the space.  It’s worth it.  On the ground floor is a superb collection of fiction, classic and contemporary, history, cookery, gardening, art, architecture and, covering the staircase to the basement, philosophy, psychology and popular culture.  There is also a bay of books from independent publishers – including Persephone Books and Slightly Foxed.  The selection is extensive; anyone who’s anyone is represented and there is simply no room for the mediocre.  The booksellers have chosen beautiful editions of old and new favourites that are made to be cherished, read, reread and passed along.  It’s yet another reminder of why we still need booksellers, dedicated and passionate people who know books and want to share their favourites with the world.

IMG_2094The ground floor is busy; readers awkwardly dance around each other for a bit of floor space and the booksellers handle telephone enquiries and customers’ questions with expertise while running back and forth to put books on hold for loyal customers.  It’s full of casual short-term browsers and the dedicated I-could-literally-spend-hours-here type. But the patient browser is rewarded with the luxury of space and privacy in the basement and the first floor, where those just popping in rarely make it. I was lucky enough to have both other floors to myself and was glad of the privacy.

I first made my way down to the basement, down a staircase covered in books for IMG_2096adults and children.  I was particularly excited to see Kay Thompson’s Eloise books about a little girl who lives in the penthouse of the Plaza Hotel in New York City and causes all kinds of trouble and headaches for adults.  Thomspon was American so while her books are quite popular there, but they’re a bit less common over here.  Which is a shame because they’re delightful.  You can also see Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand  – about a pacifist bull who prefers prancing in meadows to fighting in rings – peeking out.  The staircase alone (which, like every other surface at John Sandoe is absolutely covered with books) indicates that this is a good place for children’s books.

IMG_2097And down in the basement, even the greatest poetry enthusiast will brush past the poetry section and head towards the beautiful, colourful and inviting children’s section.  Once again, the shelves, the tabletops and the little chair are all covered in books and there is not a mediocre one in the bunch.  It’s the kind of children’s section parents and children alike must dream of, where whether you’re seven or sixty-two you could pick up any  book and IMG_2100trust it to be a winner.  In the end, I came home with Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline.  I don’t often buy children’s books, especially not when I know there must be a copy lying in some box or hidden on some shelf at my parents’ house.  But I just couldn’t resist little Madeline because I happened to have been thinking about her just a few days earlier and remembering the original book’s legendary beginning: ‘In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.’  It’s a simple and perfect beginning to a sweet and timeless story.

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I also gave in to temptation in the much larger than average poetry section in the basement.  I decided to buy two books of poetry: one by a giant and one by a rising star.  The first was Seamus Heaney’s Death of a NatuIMG_2099ralist which contains his moving poem ‘Digging,’ which many journalists quoted in the wake of his death about a month ago.  In many ways it is a statement of Heaney’s goals and intentions as a poet and I wanted to have a copy of it.  When I heard that Heaney had died I was surprised at how upset I was.  I didn’t even know him!  But then, I had read his poetry, so in a way, I did.  The second was Memorial by Alice Oswald, a creative re-writing of The Iliad which has recently made her the first poet to win the Warwick Prize.

And finally, I headed to the first floor, where I was surrounded by paperback fiction and biography.  The names of authors marched around the four walls in IMG_2105alphabetical order, while biographies of writers, philosophers, politicians, composers and other important and interesting figures filled the shelves in the middle.  Ever since I read Ulysses, I have had my eye on Richard Ellmann’s biography of James Joyce.  Unfortunately it’s massive and I already had three books under my arm so it will remain on my wish list.

But I could still enjoy standing in the middle of that room with bookshelves full IMG_2104to bursting and books everywhere else.  Now, readers, when I get left alone in a room full of books, I get weird.  I stroke their spines and spread my arms out across the shelves to gather them in.  I sniff their pages and I whisper to the authors.  ‘No no, you’re much too conventional, I’m in the mood for someone like…her!  Yes, you, you’re great.’  I must have become so involved in the books that I didn’t hear as one of the booksellers came upstairs.  As I looked up at the wall of books behind me I let out a loud sigh of contentment.  And heard a woman’s soft chuckle behind me.  I turned around, embarrassed, but the bookseller just looked and me and smiled.  I knew she was like me.  The kind of reader who will structure her day around a bookshop, spend hours hiding in a quiet corner or whisper to a long-dead poet.  In a place like John Sandoe Books, the weird ones like us are right at home.

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Quinto & Francis Edwards

IMG_2044Quinto Bookshop & Francis Edwards, 72 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0BB

Today, the penultimate day of Independent Booksellers’ Week, I’d like to introduce you to one of my all-time favourite bookshops. But first, I’d like to take a second to thank everyone who has written such lovely comments here.  I don’t always reply to every one, but I read them all and I appreciate you sharing your stories with me.  Many people tell me about the libraries and  bookshops they loved when they were growing up, their favourite novels and the state of things in their hometowns all over the world.  Many people ask me questions about books and bookshops.  There are two questions that I have been asked over and over again, which are, ‘Have you been to Shakespeare & Co. in Paris?’ (Answer: yes, it was heaven but it was before I had this blog) and ‘Have you read 84 Charing Cross Road?’  (Answer: Of course I have.)  If you haven’t, the book, by Helen Hanff, is a short epistolary novel that documents the correspondence between an American book-collector and the staff of a bookshop on Charing Cross Road during World War II.  Over the years, the correspondents grow closer and they discuss books, their lives and the events of the war.  It played a part in immortalising London’s amazing ‘street of bookshops.’  The number of bookshops on the road has dwindled since its glory days, but there are still some good ones going strong.  I love living in a city that has a street of bookshops and so, in addition to praising Quinto & Francis Edwards, one of the nicest bookshops in the area, I’d like to pay homage to this road, one of my favourite places in London.

I’ve been meaning to write about Quinto for ages and started to feel more and more guilty about it as I’ve slowly ticked off the majority of the Charing Cross Road bookshops.  In fact, the only ones I haven’t written about are Foyles, Blackwell’s and one other small discount bookshop, which effectively means that this is the last on my list of the proper ones.  A Proper Charing Cross Road IMG_2040Bookshop is a lovely creature and becoming a rarer and rarer breed.  In the four years that I’ve been living in London I’ve seen two shut their doors.  Bookshops close for all kinds of reasons – increased rent, retirement or the unpredicatble events of life.  I always feel a bittersweet relief to learn that a bookshop has closed because the owners are moving on to another project rather than buckling under the yoke of Amazon.  Not every sad thing that happens is Amazon’s fault, as much as I’d love to absolutely demonise them.  Because they’re evil.  But the reality is that over the years, things have changed, London has changed and so, of course has Charing Cross Road.  That’s what makes The Proper Charing Cross Road Bookshops (hereafter referred to as PCCRB) so special.

Quinto, the epitome of a PCCRB, has that special charm, that sense of magic and mystery that a room covered all the way around with books always conjures up. These shops tend to be small, quiet places, that specialise in secondhand books.  They often have dangerously steep little stairwells leading to dusty, low-ceilinged basements and books popping out of every spare inch. Foyles is a kind of honourary member of the clan, because of its humble beginnings as one of many bookshops on the road and its dedication to preserving the character of the area.  But its massive size also sets it apart in a way.  That’s not a criticism; it’s a great bookshop which is modern and accessible and has a great selection.  It has a magic all its own, but it’s not the quaint and quirky kind that defines Quinto and the PCCRBs.

IMG_2043Quinto & Francis Edwards is actually two bookshops, integrated into one.  The ground floor is Francis Edwards, a bookshop based in Hay-on-Wye that specialises in rare and antiquarian books.  The ground floor of its London location is full of beautiful old books.  Most of these come from personal libraries that were sold or donated to the bookshop, so the collection reflects the idiosyncrasies that I think we all hope our collections will represent by the time we’re old. There are lovely hardcover sets of the Complete Works of Dickens which you can buy individually or as a set if you IMG_2042don’t have the heart to break them up, and other antiquarian books.  There are also rare and first editions of twentieth century books.  Finally, there are massive collections of slightly odder books, including travel, history and sports selections.  Because many of this are antiquarian, it’s quite funny to pick up the outdated takes on history that couldn’t possibly belong anywhere but on the shelves of a secondhand bookshop.

Quinto is downstairs, and it stocks a more general selection of secondhand IMG_2041books, some of which are fairly recent (the entire Twilight series graced the children’s section – what can you do?)  and some of which were very old.  In the A-Z Fiction section I found two special books, sitting together on top of the other books, tucked in on top of a row that was already full.  The first was a 1986 first edition of Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald. While that’s hardly old enough to be considered rare, what made it so special was, of course, a dedication on the first leaf.   The date indicates that Joe gave the book to his mum on her birthday in 1986, when Innocence was a brand new release. Carrying this little bit of human history, it was for sale for only £3.  Sitting with it was a first edition of William Faulkner’s 1948 novel Intruder in the Dust.  It was £8 and I wanted it so much, but after spending £5.95 on a hardcover at Treadwell’s yesterday, I had to leave it for another time.

Which, at Quinto, is always a bit of a gamble.  The basement is restocked once a IMG_2039month, so that all the books in stock get a chance to shine.  This is great because it means that every time you come in, you’ll find a different selection.  It’s not so great if you saw something there once and were hoping it would still be sitting there in the exact same place.  The staff are very friendly and happy to help you locate books, but sometimes you just have to accept defeat.  When this happens, you can soothe your disappointed soul by rummaging through more books.  I particularly recommend the History and Foreign Languages sections, as well as POETRY!  I tend to moan about how little attention most bookshops pay to poetry, but here it’s well-represented.  Three whole shelves are absolutely packed with everything from your classic Donne, Keats and Byron to Billy Collins and Mimi Khalvati.  For a bookshop that feels old and almost crumbling (in the most charming way, I promise), it’s a bit strange to see contemporary poetry, but it’s a very welcome addition.

IMG_2037My one piece of advice is that this is not the place to go when you’re in a hurry.  I told myself going in today that I had half an hour only.  The bookshop is small enough, so that should be enough time to get around and get a sense of the place.  If only the basement weren’t so cosy!  If only the walls weren’t covered in beautiful copies of old friends and the promises of treasures to be discovered, I could have made a quick circle round and left. But I didn’t want to be pulled away from it.  I wanted to banish everyone else and curl up in the corner of this rare quiet place in Central London and never leave.  It’s how I feel about all the PCCRBs. They’re too special to leave, too special to lose.  This row of bookshops, standing strong and willfully anachronistic in the face of a world that thinks it’s too busy for them, deserve to be loved and appreciated and preserved.  They’re a reminder that no matter how advanced our technology becomes, no matter how loud and busy and impersonal our cities are, there can still be peaceful places, like inside the pages of a book, where you can retreat, curl up and be alone in the quiet with words and stories.