Tag Archives: Pushkin Press

Foyles

IMG_2826Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT  

For many years, Foyles was at 119 Charing Cross Road. Founded in 1903 when the brothers Foyle sold their textbooks after failing their civil service entrance exams, it moved to the heart of the West End and the street of books in 1906. It took off and the brothers went from selling books out of their mother’s kitchen to owning one of the world’ most famous bookshops. Charing Cross Road is a very special place for books and book-lovers and Foyles has long been the jewel in its crown. With its erratic shelving, its labyrinthine corridors, Christina Foyle’s Literary Lunches and Ray’s Jazz cafe, this bookshop has become a London favourite a second home to many a frazzled Literature undergraduate. Its history is so long, illustrious, confusing and entertaining that I won’t try to tell it here. But if you’re interested in how 119 Charing Cross Road came to be, you can read more on the Foyles website. If, like me, you have a soft spot for misanthropic Luddites, give Christina Foyle’s obituary a try.

When I first went to Foyles, it had largely modernised, leaving behind its days as the world’s most infuriating bookshop. It was still a higgledy-piggledy mess of genres and a maze of floors and stairs and lifts, but they had abolished the now-infamous system whereby, for many years, you had to queue twice to buy a book: you’d queue for a hand-written note in the section where the book belonged (not necessarily the section where you’d find it, of course) then again when you brought the note and the book down to the main IMG_2820till. If you mixed things up you’d have to go back upstairs with your book and do the whole thing over again. While I may have missed the glory days of disorganisation, Foyles was still a place that marched to the beat of its own drum. The staff were always a little bit quirky. Some quiet corners were so isolated that you’d suddenly look up from a book and realise that you hadn’t seen or heard a human for 20 minutes and anxiously poke your head out to make sure the rest of the shop was still there. The segues between different subjects never quite made sense (you’d walk along rows of shelves on 20th century Middle Eastern history and then suddenly find yourself surrounded by books about Alchemy) and the books on display were consistently, even stubbornly, alternative. As a student, I spent many hours in Foyles, partly for the atmosphere and partly because its selection of academic books and obscure novels made it absolutely necessary to anyone trying to avoid buying books on Amazon. I remember rushing around London trying to find books in Waterstone’s branches, secondhand bookshops and university libraries, all the while knowing that the only place that would have them would be Foyles. Some of the books I found at Foyles and nowhere else were: Bug-Jargal by Victor Hugo, Cane by Jean Toomer, Country of my Skull by Antjie Krog and Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein. Yes, Foyles was a lifesaver for me countless times, but it was also one of my favourite places in the world.

So, imagine my anxiety when I learned that it would be leaving 119 Charing Cross Road, closing up the old shop and moving down the road to number 107. I admit that to most people, this was barely news. To me, it hinted of catastrophe. The idea of Foyles being anything other than the place I knew and loved activated those human fears of loss and change and for about a year I mostly pretended it wasn’t going to happen. At the Hay Festival in 2013, we went to listen to Miriam Robinson (then Head of Marketing) and Alex Lifschutz, the architect of the new Foyles. They talked about the changing industry and the importance of making bookshops cultural destinations in their own right and about finding the balance between tradition and innovation. I was reassured but unconvinced. When the new Foyles opened up in the summer, I was anxious. The first time we went I tried to be balanced and to reserve judgement. The second and third times it felt really strange. I’ve now been in about ten times since it reopened. It was on about the 8th visit that I admitted to myself, ‘Okay, I really love this place.’ When I went again this weekend, I realised I might love it even more than the old Foyles.

IMG_2825When you walk in, you are greeted with a huge sign that announces, ‘Welcome book-lover, you are among friends.’ While I don’t love the way this is punctuated, the sentiment is one that fills my heart with good will. Here is a place where we belong! The people who come to the new Foyles are, honestly, the loveliest bunch. Where are the arrogant philistines expounding all the reasons that Toni Morrison is actually overrated? Where are the giggling couples hiding in corners and the creepy old men loitering around the books about sex? Where are the talkative hipsters who think a peaceful bookshop is the perfect place to impose their reading of Proust upon innocent passersby? Here there are only quiet hipsters and real book-lovers. It’s as if this temple of books and reading casts a spell on browsers and makes them act like decent human beings. It’s like heaven!

Foyles, Foyles, Foyles! It makes me so happy that this place exists! The ground floor has bestsellers and hot of the press books, as well as magazines, art IMG_2824and architecture books and gifts. The lower ground floor has a huge children’s book section with expertly-chosen books and knowledgeable staff. It is also home to cookery, travel and craft books. At Foyles, none of these are token one-shelf sections but comprehensive overviews of a whole genre. Then there is the amazing fiction section that takes up most of the first floor. Here you’ll find the Highlights section which draws attention to some amazing contemporary books you might have missed and the staff recommendations which are wonderful. It is global in its scope and the books on display are impeccably selected. This floor houses literary fiction, graphic novels, crime, fantasy, science fiction and a huge poetry section. There are also plenty of beautiful editions of classics, IMG_2818including my favourites, the Folio Society editions. Upstairs, on floors 2,3 and 4, you will find books on every subject under the sun. Foyles has books on all of the major subjects: History and Politics broken down by geographical region, biography, religions, philosophy, science, maths, sport, travel, music, law, medical, business, economics, film, drama, nature, health, Women’s studies, Culture, LGBT studies and a tiny section about Transport for London where I found a geeky but very interesting book about the history of the names of all the London Underground Stations. Flipping through it, I learned that my area of London used to be called Battlebridge because it was the site of a IMG_2819bridge over the River Fleet where the battle between Boudicca and the Romans was fought. I think that’s far more interesting than ‘King’s Cross’ and I’m glad that I know it. Foyles also has a world-class selection of Foreign Language books and a great music section, where you can find CDs, books about music and sheet music. Can you believe all of this is in one shop?!

On the fifth floor you’ll find the Foyles cafe, the perfect place to have tea and cake and admire your purchases. It’s a bright and lovely cafe full of almost entirely bright and lovely people and it’s quite an ideal place to re-energise after IMG_2822you’ve climbed your way up to the fifth floor and spent ages looking at books. At Hay, Miriam Robinson talked about how going to bookshops in the 21st century has to be an event. Well, in my household, ‘going to Foyles’ has become a perfectly acceptable thing to say that you’re doing this weekend. (Disclaimer: this may not be the case across the board; we are very bookish people and don’t get out much). Nevertheless, we can spend hours there, particularly if after our browse and our tea and cake, we’re going to one of the many events and talks that Foyles hosts. Foyles really is a place where you might go for a day out, the way you would go to a museum or gallery. In my eyes, it’s a complete success.

And now it’s time to tell you about my spoils. I bought A Tale for the Time Being IMG_2816by Ruth Ozeki. When it first came out, Foyles (the old Foyles!) had a beautiful limited edition hardcover that I never got around to buying and now they don’t make them any more. I have finally accepted this and bought the paperback edition. I started reading it the same day and it’s great so far. I also bought The Vegetarian by the Korean writer Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith and The Hen who Dreamed she Could Fly by another female Korean writer, Sun-Mi Hwang translated by Chi-Young Kim. I should also mention that when I was in the shop 2 weeks ago, I bought another lovely Pushkin Press edition of Journey by Moonlight by the Hungarian author Antal Szerb, translated by Len Rix. I have since finished it and it is beautiful – ironic, playful, emotional but not melodramatic, and highly intellectual. I definitely recommend it. Foyles, like any good bookshop, is a great place for discovering international writers you might not have heard of and giving them a try. In my experience, it’s almost always worth it.

So go and visit! It doesn’t matter when! There will always be knowledgeable staff IMG_2823who recommend excellent books. There will always be books on display that make you think and feel and want to act. At the moment, the Penguin Little Black Classics line the stairwells all the way up to the fifth floor. It may not be number 119, but the new Foyles will make you fall in love with books and bookselling all over again. I wasn’t sure at first. I missed its old home and mourned my student days getting lost in those meandering shelves. But I promise you, 107 Charing Cross Road is a very good place. The spirit of Foyles is still here and this new home is one of my favourite places in the world.

 

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.

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.