Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Vacation in Bookstores Part 1- London

When you think about cities like London and countries like Ireland, you don't really think about museums and history and tourist attractions. You think about bookstores, right? Well, so do I. My husband and I just spent three weeks in Ireland and the UK- one week in London, where he was attending a conference, and then two weeks circling the coast of Ireland (and Northern Ireland) in a little rental car. As you will see, I managed to nip into a bookshop or two on my way.

Bookish street art in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London
Our first day in London we hit Piccadilly Circus for the best chain bookstore in the world (at least as far as I'm concerned), Waterstone's.

Waterstone's used to have a store in Boston and I still miss its tempting displays, chic decor and comprehensive selection. If you want it, it's here. And the Piccadilly location has a cute cafe in addition to four huge floors of bookish madness.

South Kensington Books is a small shop near the Victoria and Albert Museum. They carry familiar titles as well as maps and information for travelers. It's a very pretty spot.

One of my favorite London bookstores was the London Review Bookshop, located off Great Russell Street near the British Museum. This is a great, two-floor boutique store (and cafe) featuring literary fiction, criticism and lots of other well-stocked sections. This is the London bookstore where I would want to work!
One thing that I learned about is the prevalence of charity shops in the UK and Ireland. We have them here too, but not so many as they do. And some charity shops are dedicated used bookstores. The Trinity Hospice Shop, near Kensington Palace off the Kensington high street, is one such store, stocked with all kinds of crazy things. Oxfam runs a chain of charity bookshops which I saw positively everywhere so if you're in the UK keep an eye out for them because we found some real treasures in these stores!

Another used bookstore I loved was the Book & Comic Exchange, located around the corner from the Notting Hill Gate Tube on the way to the Portobello Road. This is one of those disorganized, stocked-floor-to-ceiling shops that has who knows what. But it's fun to browse!

Speaking of the Portobello Road, the Portobello Market, held on Saturdays, has a number of bookstalls with the collectible and the curious. This is one such stall, filled with famous-name first editions.

Bookmarks, on Bloomsbury Street not far from an Oxfam bookstore, is a socialist bookstore with a rich selection of leftist political books from publishers large and small. Browsing here will show you another side to life in Great Britain and is well worth your time.

I didn't have a lot of time for the famous Charing Cross Road and its plethora of bookstores but I couldn't leave London without visiting Foyle's. Foyle's is a huge independent bookstore with-what? four or five?- floors of new books. It includes a huge foreign language section and a floor devoted to music and movies, too. You could get lost here!

Nearby Forbidden Planet is the fandom superstore. Here you can find merchandise and gew-gaws for every science fiction and fantasy franchise you can think of. In the basement, you can also find a well-stocked book section larger than some specialist bookstores. It's a must-do for the well-read fan! We visited Forbidden Planet stores in London, Dublin and Belfast.

My favorite bookstore in London though had to be Persephone Books, home of the eponymous publisher of womens' and forgotten books of the early 20th century with the trademark gray covers. It is also the prettiest bookstore I visited, by far:

See, how nice is that? It's a small shop located on Lamb's Conduit Street, a nice pedestrian path not far from the Dickens Museum with cafes and other posh-looking shops nearby. Really delightful. All it needs is its own teashop, then I would hang out there on my days off from the London Review Bookshop.

Hatchards is another beautiful London bookstore on Piccadilly, not far from the big Waterstone's. I really loved the store's quiet, leather-armchair ambiance. If they wouldn't hire me at London Review, my next choice would be to work here!

Not that I'd be able to sit around all day in that yummy sofa as a bookseller, but still!

Come back soon for my post about bookstores in Ireland and Northern Ireland. More bookish fun to come!