Tag Archives: independent bookshops

Book-ish

IMG_3563Book-ish, 18 High Street, Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1BD

Earlier this summer, making my way slowly from Abergavenny to Hay-on-Wye for the Hay Festival, I decided to opt for slow travel, meandering my way through the Brecon Beacons on foot and bicycle, along canals and public footpaths. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm week at the end of May. One day, I ended up in the town of Crickhowell, buried deep in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is an oasis of a town, the perfect place to stop mid-hike for a drink in one of its many comfortable pubs. Or perhaps a cream tea; in general the town veers towards the twee. And nothing could be more twee than a little country bookshop, in a beautiful old building in Wales.

IMG_3556The glass windows at the front of the shop are speckled with advertisements for events, readings and classes, and in May, were beautifully decorated with swirling letters, delicate plants and curlicues, which were promoting an upcoming Calligraphy workshop. Whimsical, literary and fun, I can’t imagine who could possibly walk past this shop without stopping.

 

Inside, Book-ish feels spacious and modern, but is certainly not without charm. Its clientele seems to be a mix of local families hikers or holidayers who are either just stopping in to enjoy the space, or are desperately trying to find their next read, realising they didn’t pack enough books! But what is most noticeable, is that it is a child-friendly IMG_3560space. Normally, the chidren’s section is tucked away at the back, but here, even in the front room, you find that children’s books and grown-up books are given pretty much equal amounts of space, and presented alongside each other, which is probably why there are so many families inside. Unlike the browsers who come and go, many of the families look like they are setting up camp for the day, because turn the corner and there’s even more to discover; a whole children’s room with books from floor to ceiling reveals itself. No adults are allowed, so mums, dads and other guardians will just have to sit and have a coffee and a Welsh cake in the charming cafe at the back.

IMG_3559But of course the kids can’t have all the fun. Aside from this one room to which they lay claim, the rest of the bookshop is ripe for discovery, and encourages the browser to pick up something they’ve never heard of before. With an admirable collection of local and Welsh writers, it’s a great opportunity to delve into a literature you might not be familiar with. There is also a good selection of literary and popular fiction and some fascinating non-fiction titles, mainly in history and culture. I can imagine this would be a boon to anyone headed to Hay but concerned they’ll not look the part without a hefty non-fiction tome.

The selection is good; it’s not the most high-brow and it’s not the most wide-ranging, but there are two things I love about Book-ish. First, there is something for everyone. You could bring the whole family and every person could find something to curl up with,IMG_3557 from toddler to teenager, the fiction-lover to the Welsh-language enthusiast, the home cook to the gardener, from your Corbynista cousin to the Leave-voting great-uncle who you’re starting to wish had decided to skip the family holiday this year. Secondly, it is a genuine delight to spend time here. The kindness of the helpful staff, the smells from the cafe, the beautiful, clean design of the shop and the presence of many species of books combine to make it somewhere that I could gladly have spent hours in. In some bookshops, it’s not about getting in and finding the perfect book for the rest of your holiday, it’s about being in a place that excites, delights and inspires, or perhaps just soothes. On a sunny day in May, the place was beautiful, the sunlight pouring in through the wide glass windows and a soft breeze dancing in through the open door. But I can imagine it would be just as pleasant in proper Welsh wet weather, where it would keep the outside world and the inside world inspiring.

On this occasion I left without a book, perhaps conscious that I was on my way to Hay on Wye where I would undoubtedly see my wishlist double in length and spend a fortune trying to keep up with the onslaught of recommendations. But next time I’m in the Brecon Beacons, I know exactly where I’ll go. You’ll find me in Crickhowell, with a cup of tea and a new book, spending the better part of an afternoon in the cafe at Book-ish. As long as you don’t talk to loudly, please come join!

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Highgate Bookshop

IMG_2926Highgate Bookshop, 9 Highgate High Street, London, N6 5JR 

It’s possible that it’s summertime in England at last! Knock on wood. Last week, on the warmest day of the year so far, I took a long walk in the sunshine from Caledonian Road all the way up to Highgate, a beautiful and vaguely literary area in North London. David Copperfield visits his friend Steerforth at his family home in Highgate and on the walk I passed the Whittington Stone, named after Dick Whittington who, having failed to make his fortunes in London, headed back for his Gloucestershire home with his cat in tow, then stopped in Highgate when he heard church bells ringing in Bow and decided to turn around and have another go at it. Furthermore, whenever I’m in Highgate amongst the yummy mummies and organic cafés, I can’t help but think of Ralph Denham from

Nearby Waterlow Park is a great place to lie in the sunshine and read! I finished Eleanor Catton's 'The Luminaries' lying in the grass.

Nearby Waterlow Park is a great place to lie in the sunshine and read! I finished Eleanor Catton’s ‘The Luminaries’ lying in the grass.

Virginia Woolf’s underapreciated Night and Day, who comes from ‘a respectable middle-class family living at Highgate.’ Like nearby Hampstead, it’s a place of tranquil parks (Waterlow Park is a beautiful place to read in the sun and dogs have to be on leads which is ace!), leafy squares, Georgian townhouses and independent shops in Highgate Village. One of these is the excellent little Highgate Bookshop.

When I visited, the door to the shop was open, which let a warm breeze in, making for a very pleasant browsing experience. A few members of staff were scattered around the shop getting on with their work. They offered knowledgeable advice to browsers who looked confused but seemed able to tell who just wanted to look at books in silence. That discerning nature, in my opinion, is one of the most important qualities of a bookseller. It makes me feel comfortable enough to stick around for a while, to go back and forth between sections as much as I choose.

The shop has a small but well-curated selection of books in all the major IMG_2924categories. There is a good poetry section, a small drama section and shelves full of books on History, Philosophy, Psychology and Politics, as well as lots of beautiful cookery books. It also has lots of books on slightly more niche subjects, like Nature, Animals and Gardening. Its New and Bestselling displays are great because they include lots of different genres; I have to admit that I tend to forsake politics, culture, history and even literary criticism in favour of a good thick novel. While I will always believe that the novel is the perfect art form and by far my favourite, there are brilliant books coming out every day, about art, philosophy, feminism, music, society and technology that I know I would find fascinating if I gave them a chance. The Highgate Bookshop is a great place to remember that and dare yourself to pick something up that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred to you.

Its fiction section, though, is still where I spent most of my time. It is an excellent fiction section, where you can find all the classics, a very thoughtful and outward-looking selection of English and international contemporary fiction and lots of lesser-known novels to try. It is also a selection you can trust; under J for James, you’ll find not Fifty Shades of Grey, but rather The Portrait of a Lady, IMG_2923What Maisie Knew and The Turn of the Screw. At least there is order and propriety somewhere in this mixed-up world!

I bought two novels at Highgate Bookshop. The first was by a familiar face on my bookshelf; it was Lives of Girls and Women by The Great Alice Munro, which is her only novel. The second was more of a gamble: Ladies Coupé by the Indian writer Anita Nair. I had never read anything by her before and the cover of the book was halfway between serious world literature and chick lit (it annoys me how often novels by female writers suffer that fate), but the Daily Telegraph described it as ‘one of the most important feminist novels to come out of South Asia’ so I thought it was worth a punt. For anyone curious, I have now finished it and would recommend trying it. It’s not a perfect novel; the prose is good but not great. There are moments when it absolutely soars, and other moments where it feels clunky, contrived and cliché. But overall, it’s good, and the story is incredibly engaging, the characters are three-dimensional and memorable and the main messages – that women can be happy on their own, that women must be happy on their own and that storytelling should be a crucial part of any social movement – will stay with you long after the end of the book. It was one of Nair’s earlier novels so the next time I visit a bookshop I’ll have to look into what she’s done since.

Like all good bookshops (or record shops, galleries or museums…) the Highgate IMG_2925Bookshop is a central part of its community because it provides a place for people to explore things that are decidedly outside of their daily routines. To be in the presence of books and bookish people is always exhilirating and challenging. I love it because I think it is important for know-it-alls like me to be reminded that there is a whole world of knowledge, experience and art out there, and that I’m only familiar with a tiny fraction of it. The Highgate Bookshop, with its thousands of choices, each providing a new window on a different world, is a very important place to me. It challenges me by asking me to look at what I don’t know, and it inspires me to never stop learning and exploring through the pages of books.

The Bookseller Crow on the Hill

IMG_2789The Bookseller Crow on the Hill, 50 Westow Street, Crystal Palace, London, SE19 3AF

My dear friend Adair was born and raised in Croydon and is a die-hard Palace supporter. He’s the kind of fan who calls all his friends at midnight and leaves drunken messages on our phones when Crystal Palace qualifies for the Premiership. He is the only reason I know enough about football to tentatively put the preceding sentence together. He has been trying for years now to get our group of friends to venture South with him to go to a match. Naturally I haven’t gone because obviously football is a sport and therefore is stupid and a waste of time. Time I would rather spend reading books or reading the paper or reading magazines or reading poetry or reading articles on Jezebel or cooking or playing with small children or thinking long and hard about feminism, or any of the other important things I do on a daily basis. But today I  took the train from Victoria to Crystal Palace. Adair is very annoyed that after all these years, when I finally made it down there it was without him and it was not to see football, but to visit a bookshop.

Crystal Palace, as it turns out, is a really lovely part of London. Like other parts of South London, such as Greenwich, Pechkam or Dulwich, you can still get the sense that the area was once its own little village, outside of London, with its own high street and a self-contained community.  Most of the action happens in The Crystal Palace Triangle, made up of three streets full of shops. IMG_2790Encouragingly, these shops are mainly independents. Some are clearly posher new editions (trendly little cafes and brasseries) but others seem like the real deal – family businesses that have probably been there for years. It’s a lovely place to walk around, full of pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, antique dealers, hardware stores, and – since it’s at the top of a hill – a lovely view down over London from St Paul’s Cathedral to Canary Wharf.

The Bookseller Crow embodies everything that’s good about local family-run IMG_2786bookshops. I spent half an hour in the shop and in that time, two people popped in to say hello, chat with the bookseller about their New Year’s celebrations, ask about the new books and chat about the business. If you live in some quaint little village in the countryside you might not realise how notable this is. But this is London. Where people scowl at each other on the street just for daring to walk on the same pavement. Where commuters nudge each other passive aggressively for a tiny bit more space on the tube. A bookseller who can get passersby to pop in and say hello is nothing short of a wizard.

Now, The Crow is probably not your place if you have a really specific idea of what you want. The selection is good but not extensive. It really shines as a place for finding what is new and good, or what is old and unheard of but still delightful. When I walked in, the first display of books was an incredible mix of books I love, books I haven’t read but have been meaning to, books I’ve never heard of but now need to read and delightfully weird and random things. This table included the following amazing titles, which are all on my list of books to read:

1. Wendy Cope’s Life, Love and The Archers, a collection of the poet’s musings, essays and other collected prose.

2. Angela Carter’s Book of Wayward Girls and Wicked Women

3. Marina Warner’s Once Upon a Time: A Short History of the Fairy Tale

4. Something bizarre called William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return, featuring a wonderful illustration of Jabba the Hutt on the cover

5. Murakami’s new novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage and his old but newly translated book The Secret Library

6. The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell’s new novel and finally,

7. Probably Nothing by Matilda Tristram, a graphic novel about the author’s experience of being diagnosed with cancer while she was pregnant.

The shop has great selection of contemporary fiction, science fiction and crime, Local Area books, children’s and teen books, humour and classics. My favourite bay is labelled ‘Sex, Parenting and Health.’ What a funny but oddly appropriate trio of subjects to put together!

IMG_2785There is also have a whole bay full of Hot of the Press books. Some of the books in this section are not stritctly new; they still have I am Malala, Watching the English and Americanah in this section. Incidentally, I got Chimamanda Ngozi Adhiche’s We Should All Be Feminists for Christmas and am on a bit of a kick, so I may have to finally buy Americanah, which I’ve been meaning to read since the day it came out. What can I say? I adore everything about that woman. I would honestly marry her. But I digress. I was being picky about the use of the word ‘new’ but I’ll forgive the Crow for putting out a few 2013 books because there was one new book I had never heard of but (you guessed it!) I now want to read. It was called The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang, a Korean novelist.

I discovered so many things today. I love going into bookshops and feeling superior when I’ve read everything, but I really love going in and finding things I’ve never heard of that look inviting and amazing. Have you ever heard of Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler? What about Derelict London and Mindful London, two opposing but equally interesting books spotted in the Local section? Oh! And this is the best one! Have you heard of the Save the Story Series? It’s a series of children’s books commissioned by Pushkin (of course they’re involved – everything they do is amazing!) in which famous authors including Ali Smith, Dave Eggers, Umberto Eco and other international writers retell classic stories like King Lear, Antigone, Gilgamesh and Don Juan for children. The illustrations are gorgeous and the stories look crazy and wonderful.

IMG_2784Discovery, as I’ve said over and over, is what bookshops can give us that Amazon can’t. Of course, I could go online and find a book I’m interested in reading. I could look at book reviews and more often than not just follow a link to order the book and have it appear on my doorstep three days later, requiring no effort from me. But would this make my life better? I dare to say ‘no; it would make my life worse.’ For then I would never be exposed to surprise. I would never be tempted by the exotic or the unfamiliar. I would never find the book that convinced me to reevaluate a whole genre I had previously written off. I would never let my eye by drawn away from the predictable book to settle on the new-found treasure hiding in plain sight right next to it. I would read the same novels by Dead White Western Writers that I’ve been taught and given and seen on lists of books to read before you die for my entire life. Were it not for bookshops like this one, I’d never read Korean novelists or buy Lebanese cookbooks or be interested in Argentinian poetry. I’d never think to buy a graphic novel or science fiction. I’d never bother getting on the train to discover a new part of my city. I would be boring and predictable with a narrow view of the world and little desire to broaden it. Thank you, Bookseller Crow on the Hill, for saving me from that horrible fate.

London: We Need to talk about Paris

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Readers, have you been to Paris? And? Isn’t it amazing?

Yes, I know. Everyone loves Paris. Everyone agrees that it’s one of the most beautiful cities on Earth. Everyone who didn’t run away to Paris at eighteen feels a pang of regret every time someone quotes Hemingway’s statement that ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’ You don’t need me to drive the point home. Well, I apologise, but I’m going to have to put in my two Euro cents.

My favourite thing about visiting Paris – the thing even more dear to me than IMG_1499eating brioche with every meal or walking along the Seine at twilight – is being in a city that looks after its bookshops. Walking around the centre of Paris, I cry out ‘Librairie!’ like a joyful child at least once every sixty seconds, because in parts of Paris, bookshops are everywhere you look.

What astounds me even more than the sheer number of bookshops is that they are all independent. Each and every one of them looks different, feels different and has its own unique character. I’m sorry but DO YOU UNDERSTAND HOW IMG_1085WONDERFUL THIS IS? It means that a book-hunter has the whole world at his or her feet and access to all of the world’s languages, literature, knowledge, art and poetry. Whatever you are looking for you’ll find it in Paris because you can spend your whole life looking for it in new bookshops, secondhand bookshops, English bookshops, Polish bookshops, African Studies bookshops, Philosophy, Law and Science bookshops, Art bookshops, Alpine skiing bookshops (honestly), bookshops attached to a tiny little publishing house and bookshops filled with cats. Paris gives the human race what it deserves: options, adventures, new experiences and mountains of books.

But this didn’t just happen. The French government has very actively made sure that independent bookshops, which thrive in the rest of the country as well as Paris, are able to survive in increasingly uncertain times. They have done IMG_1086this with a couple of brilliant bits of legislation. Firstly, in 1981, French lawmakers fixed book prices, which means that the discounting that makes Amazon so successful is effectively banned. Then, in 2013, MPs passed what many called the Anti-Amazon bill. Despite the fact that Amazon later called this ‘discrimination’ against online retailers (cry me a river, Goliath), it was really more about preserving the independents and ensuring that they weren’t bullied out of the market by the online giant. Now, I know that my evidence is largely anecdotal, but I think it’s working because I spent for days in Paris last month and I really did sing out ‘Librairie’ every time I saw a bookshop and I really did do it about 30 times a day. My travelling companion was very annoyed.

So, London, my question is: why aren’t we doing this? And the only good answer I can come up with is that we should be, but I’m not holding my breath. See, Amazon doesn’t even pay its tax in the UK and no one in power seems to be doing anything to keep it in line, let alone to support the character-filled, community-gathering bookshops it’s oh-so-casually threatening.

Fortunately, there is such a thing as people power and as long as you, loyal readers, continue supporting your local independents, we might just be able to IMG_1455turn the tide. Keep going to Skoob for your secondhand books and the London Review Bookshop for new ones… and for cake. If you live in Stoke Newington, go to Stoke Newington Bookshop and Church Street Books. If you live in Dulwich, it’s time to meet Dulwich Books. Next time you’re at Camden Market, check out the Blackgull Bookshop. If you’re up in NW3, try Keith Fawkes. If you’re looking for a Christmas present, go to Hatchards for choice or Persephone for something special. But enough about London. This is a tale of two cities.

IMG_1462I clearly don’t have the time to tell you about all the bookshops I visited in Paris; you’ll have to go and see them for yourselves. But I did take a few photos of a lovely bookshops called Tschann Librairie in Montparnasse. We came across it quite by accident as we wandered through the area vaguely making our way back to the Latin Quarter from the Fondation Cartier. It is a beautiful bookshop full of French books only. Tschann is quiet and warm and in the early evening, gave off a warm and welcoming glow, enticing passersby in to browse through the books and visit the attached children’s bookshop. I made my way through the bookshop, trying to decide whether or not I could justify buying yet IMG_1453another book on holiday when I’ve got such a large pile of ‘to be reads’ sitting at home. Of course, I decided I could. The shop had a great selection of history, biography, poetry and philosophy books but naturally I gravitated towards the novels. I bought Dans la café de la jeunesse perdue by Patrick Modiano who won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. I had been meaning to read one of his novels and buying one in French in Paris seemed the perfect way to start. It also seemed perfect because the two books I’d brought with me on holiday were The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing and Dear Life by Alice Munro. I figured you can never go wrong when you’ve got three Nobel Prize winners in your rucksack.

Oh, Paris. I love you. I love Shakespeare and Co, I love the Abbey Bookshop, I love Gibert Joseph and Red Wheelbarrow and all the independents that line your beautiful Haussman-ised boulevards. Long may they live on. Vive la librairie!

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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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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.

Independent Booksellers’ Week

Dear Readers,

I hope you have all had a lovely Independent Booksellers’ Week. I celebrated by buying books at the London Review Bookshop (including a beautiful edition of Teffi’s short stories published by the independent Pushkin Press) and attending The Big Bookshop Debate at Foyles. I hope you did something equally enjoyable!

Last year I wrote about one independent bookshop every day this week. This year, well, I have a full-time job that involves listening to screaming children all day every day, so I’ve been a bit too tired! However, lots of bookish treats are coming your way in the next little while, including:

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A cult favourite: the beloved Mr. B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, England;

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trendy little Ocelot, in Berlin;

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and the massive booklovers’ paradise Dussman Das Kulturkaufhaus, also in beautiful Berlin.

You’ll be meeting them all soon. In the meantime, use this week as a chance to visit your regular or explore a new indie. Find a new book you would never know to look for. It will certainly make your day and it might just change your life.

The French Bookshop

IMG_2142The French Bookshop, 28 Bute Street, London, SW7 3EX

I spent some time yesterday wandering around South Kensington, through the slick wet streets, which were dark already by half past four, a sure sign that winter is upon us. As my umbrella struggled valiantly against the wind and the rain soaked through my boots, I had one of those London moments when you feel like you’re walking through a film set.  The Christmas lights at Harrod’s were already up, twinkling in the cold dusk while tourists and locals alike popped in and out of those lovely boutiques and cafés that fill the area.

Anyone who has been in South Kensington in the last couple of years might have noticed that walking around the museums or sitting in the up-scale coffeehouses, you hear more French than English being spoken.  The area is home to a huge population of French ex-pats as well as the French Institute and French schools, cinemas, cafes and, yes bookshops.  One day I’ll return for Au Fil Des Mots and Librarie La Page, but last night, The French Bookshop stole the show.

IMG_2139Bute Street, just a few minutes away from the tube station (which is seconds away from the wonderful South Kensington Books) is a quiet street that is home to several small independent businesses, the loveliest of which is The French Bookshop, where warm wooden shelves (there’s just something about wooden shelves, isn’t there?) hold an impeccably organised, tidy and straight selection of books from every genre and for every age written in, or translated into, French.  I always love going into other language bookshops because you get a glimpse into another culture, expressed in terms of the different publishers, authors and categories define the reading experiences of another culture.  And being in this bookshop in particular made me want to go to Paris, a city full of beautiful independents in a country which recognises their importance, tries to keep them viable and gives them the love they deserve.

The shop has a large selection of French books, classic and contemporary in many genres, including fiction, history, philosophy, biography and poetry.  ThereIMG_2136 are also children’s books and books for learners of French, so there really is something for every reader at every level of French, which only served to make me feel more guilty about the fact that I’ve neglected my French in the past few years and gone from being quite nearly fluent to awkwardly forgetting the words for things like ‘keys’ or ‘cup.’  So when the booksellers at The French Bookshop started talking to me in French and I could barely string together a sentence, I was rather embarrassed, but if there is any place in the world where hope springs eternal,it’s in a bookshop, where behind every corner another story is about to start and beckons you to come along.  So one of these days, I promised myself, I’ll pick up a book in French (though perhaps I’ll start with a children’s book) and let the adventure begin anew.

But there are many forms that adventure can take!  Of course you can seek out a classic French novel, your essential Zola or Hugo or Proust if you fancy a long haul, but you can also find out about the best in contemporary French literature, which is always refreshing.  Alternatively, there are titles originally written in English (IMG_2138in the top left corner there you’ll see a translation of Joyce Carol Oates) and other languages ranging from Arabic to Swedish, if you felt like re-reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or, Les Hommes qui n’aimaient pas les femmes, a translation that’s quite a bit closer to the (depressing) original Swedish.  And, for those who are more into cold hard facts than escapism, there’s also a better selection of high-quality newspapers and magazines in French than you’re going to find anywhere else in London.  Go on, look, I dare you.

As you enter the shop, there’s a poster on the wall next to the fiction section which I just have to share.  It sets the tone for the rest of the shop and makes any reader, regardless of native language, feel right at home.  It’s Daniel Pennac’s ‘Les Droits du Lecteur’ or ‘Rights of the Reader,’ which are:

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1. The right not to read

2. The right to skip pages

3. The right not to finish a book

4. The right to re-read

5. The right to read whatever you want

6. The right to ‘Bovarysme’ (the error of identifying too much with the book)

7. The right to read wherever you want

8. The right to dip in and out

9. The right to read out loud

10. The right to silence!

I had never seen this before but I just love it, and a friend has told me that Quentin Blake (Roald Dahl’s illustrator, who I had the good fortune to hear speaking at The Hay Festival) has an excellent poster of the rights, which sounds like it would make a perfect Christmas gift for your favourite book-loving child.  And if you can track down a copy in an independent shop, all the better! Just a helpful hint from The Matilda Project!

IMG_2137The French Bookshop offers so many new ideas and opportunities to discover that you may never want to return to boring old English again. If that’s the case you can buy your travel guides and maps of all of France’s regions on the spot and ride off into the sunset with Flaubert under one arm and your pocket map of Paris close to hand.

That very fantasy got me thinking about cultural exchange, and how books are a huge part of the way that different cultures learn about each other, particularly here in England, where Shakespeare, Chaucer and Dickens are more loved at home and abroad than many living celebrities.  I’ve always felt that when traveling you should go to a bookshop or a library, since the insight they give into  a new place is always interesting and one you might not otherwise get.  I also try to read books about the places I’m going or written by people who call those places home.  But it’s IMG_2140only recently that I’ve started reflecting on the importance of carrying books and writers and special words with you from the place you come from.  I think we enrich the lives of the people we meet if we can bring some unique line of poetry or some unique, untranslatable word from our language out into the world with us.  But maybe we also enrich our own lives, by carrying a piece of home with us.

The French Bookshop, you might say, is a concrete illustration of that principle, a way for ex-pats and émigrés to bring something with them from one home to another, so that they can stay connected to their culture while also bringing it with them as a gift for new neighbours.  And I think there’s something lovely about the thought that when people leave home for unfamiliar shores, the thing they create to remember where they used to be is a bookshop; the things they carry with them to remember who they used to be are words and stories.

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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Broadway Bookshop

IMG_0594Broadway Bookshop, 6 Broadway Market, London, E8 4QJ

Having heard only good things about this small independent bookshop, I set out for a long walk along the canal on Saturday morning to make the pilgrimage to Broadway Market in Hackney.    The walk along the canal, from the City Road Basin to Broadway Market, is beautiful in itself; it’s a quiet oasis right in the middle of the city, where a bewildering mix of people run, walk, cycle, stroll and eat at trendy al fresco bars, or with market food in their laps and their feet dangling over the edge of the canal.  It’s the perfect example of urban living at its best.  Broadway Market, too, is a bright spot of hope against the bleak prospects for the high street we’re constantly hearing.  It’s the quintessential East London street, one of the few places in the city where you can still find a good jellied eel.

Stalls fill the road, making it an atmosphere where regulars or one-time visitors can interact with bakers, butchers, organic farmers, florists, artisans and booksellers.  The independent shops along both sides of the street are busy hubs for the local communities, especially on a Saturday, when the music from street performs and the calls of merchants make it difficult to not want to stay a while.

And it makes me happy that books are a central part of the experience.  In the IMG_0585market itself, Barrow Books, who also pop up at the Goldsmith’s Row, has a stall covered in what is a great range of new and secondhand books, which provide great variety and a thoughtful collection and is very welcoming to browsers.  Donlon Books and ArtWords Bookshop are two art booksellers which keep Broadway Bookshop company.  They are both worth a visit if you find yourself in the area, as they have really interesting selections.  But be warned, both are absolutely crawling with hipsters, whereas Broadway Bookshop attracts a more diverse crowd, including local families and residents of all ages and from all walks of life.

Broadway Bookshop is a central part of the community, as well as a great example of why we still need bookselling in the twenty first century.  It’s a poky little shop with a surprisingly large collection, which stretches out over three floors.  Which makes it sound a lot bigger than it actually is, since each of the floors is actually just one little room, absolutely crammed with books.  But despite the almost overwhelming selection, it still looks neat and accessible.

When you enter the shop on the ground floor (which on a Saturday is full of IMG_0587people), you are surrounded by music, art, architecture and fashion books, as well as a small section about Nature.  This is nice in a way, at least for me, since it prevented me from following my usual routine and heading straight to fiction, never to be seen again. The bookshop stocks an informed and intelligent range of titles, proof once again of a great mind somewhere behind it, dedicated to filtering through what’s out there and bringing you the very best.  It’s a selection that invites exploration and encourages you to think more deeply and more seriously about the world we live in, as it offers you the chance to investigate books that analyse our culture in new ways.

If I was someone who still used Amazon, I can guarantee that it would be to IMG_0589order books by authors I already know, and that my life would be much poorer for it.  But thankfully, I’m someone who goes to places like Broadway Bookshop, where I’m forced to expand my mind and go beyond my usual routine.  In shops like this, with a good selection, well-presented and inviting, I always find myself poring over the most unexpected books: histories of technology, essays on popular culture and feminist treatises that I couldn’t have found otherwise.  My favourite thing about books is the way they make you look at familiar things again and see meaning in them you had never thought to look for.  This makes us smarter people, braver people, more empathetic people.  I have a feeling someone at Broadway Bookshop agrees with me.

IMG_0593The shop is arranged in such an appealing way that it seems to pull you further in before you realise what’s happened, onwards to the next floor down.  Here, you’ll find a great range of travel books, cookbooks, philosophy, fiction and children’s books.  It was in the philosophy section that I found one of the books I came home with, Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations.  Any regular reader of this blog will know that I adore Walter Benjamin.  He’s one of the most intelligent people to live in the past century and he has a piercing truth or brilliant quotation for every occasion.  I’ve read Illuminations about ten times, but have never had a copy of my own and now I do!  The deciding factor in this decision was that it has an introduction by Hannah Arendt who I love almost as much as Benjamin.  I felt a bit bad buying a book I’ve already read when presented with so many amazing new options, but then, you can’t argue with Book Fate.

IMG_0586The children’s books have their own small but cozy corner, where a child-sized chair faces away from the rest of the room.  It seems antisocial, but for anyone who was the kind of kid I was, this is exactly what you want; to shut out the rest of the adult world (and other loud children), put your feet up and turn some pages.  It’s a perfect little hideaway, a quiet fort which defends the imagination from the cold and dreary world outside of it.

The fiction selection which covers the walls covers all different kinds of genres, in perfect alphabetical order.  Including bestsellers, classics and contemporary novels from smaller publishing houses, the selection has something for every kind of book lover, but it’s presented in such a way that anyone can come in and have a look, no matter who they are and what they read.  There is no snobbery in sight, even though being snobbish about a place like this would hardly be IMG_0588unjustified.  There is a table in the centre of the room which puts the spotlight on some particularly interesting books, no doubt chosen with care.  On it, you’ll find established and undisputed classics, like the complete works of Kafka and Nabokov (we came home with a copy of Pale Fire) as well as lesser-known masters (like Italo Calvino whom I cannot praise enough) and new titles, like May we Be Forgiven, the winner of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and Philip Pullman’s adaptation of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a gorgeous hardcover that I’ve wanted for months.

IMG_0590Finally, there is a small little nook that makes  up the third and final floor of the shop, though it’s really only a half-storey.  It’s only big enough for about two people at a time, which is a bit of a shame since it’s the home of the poetry, biographies and beautiful books.  There is a small chair where you can sit and, since it’s such a cramped space, effectively cut off all other visitors, getting exclusive access to the wall full of poetry books from poets ranging from Chaucer to Billy Collins.  A glass chest houses the treasures; a small selection of rare books and literary, political and music biographies are given a small but solid bit of attention.

This bookshop is a special example of good bookselling, with a great and well-curated selection of interesting and inspiring books.  But more importantly, the booksellers are warm and accessible, so it’s not surprising that regulars will have a chat about their latest read and ask for help when they need an expert’s advice.  It’s a bit like an extended family, which welcomes browsers from all over the world to come in, lower their voices and do what they do best.