I am a proud book worm. As far back as I can recall I have loved reading and felt content in the presence of books. Before Boarders on Queen Street in Auckland closed down, it was my favourite book shop because of the floor to ceiling shelves and how it sprawled over multiple levels. It is unfortunate that Auckland currently lacks good bookstores with Unity Books on High Street being the only one I like to spend time in. London has filled the bookshop shaped hole in my life. Even in the realm of large chain stores, there is more variety here. Most of those stores however, are similar to Whitcoull’s and Paper Plus with actual books tucked away at the back of the store behind glitzy gifts, stationery and magazines. I was thrilled to discover a number of cosy (but not necessarily small!) book stores which sold mainly books – imagine that! I recently utilised my time to go and visit two gorgeous bookshops and wanted to share my findings with you.
The day of the expedition was grey and blustery with sporadic rain drops from time to time. In a way, it was excellent weather for spending hours in bookshops. I have just started reading Neither Here, Nor There: Travels in Europe by Bill Bryson and got a good chunk of reading time on the train to my first stop; London Review Bookshop. The classic shop front reminded me of old cartoons which was reassuring.
Once the door closed behind me I was wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and the quiet calm that comes from being surrounded by books. The shop is spread across two levels with a wide variety of categories including modern history, ancient history, travel writing, food & drink, religion, natural science, philosophy and a beautiful children’s section. Probably due to my currently circumstances, I find myself drawn more to travel writing these days. There is so much more of it than I ever realised!
While the shop was on two levels, it was crammed to the brim with books including tables and shelves through the centre of the store. It was not spacious though I didn’t mind. I think a bookshop might be the only place that I can stand being a little cramped. In fact, it’s almost as though that is the way they should always be! The extra dazzle here was that through a narrow passageway on the left side of the store is a cake shop – brilliant! Cake, hot beverages, and books are such a winning combination.
Just over ten minutes walk away from the London Review is a large bookstore which easily swallows you up into its deep nooks and crannies throughout four levels of densely packed pages. The fifth level has a café for you to rest your weary feet though I must admit, I didn’t get up that far on this first visit. Foyles has been around since 1903 and is an independent bookstore with the Charing Cross branch that I visited having the largest foreign language selection in the UK. Along with endless books to satisfy your every interest, they stock sheet music stored in towers of drawers. I have never seen sheet music sold in such high quantity. They also have a portion of the store dedicated to classical and jazz CD’s and vinyl. Something I liked in particular was the provision of seating which allowed people to rest, relax and enjoy.
Naturally I was sucked into the food section and spent a considerable amount of time flipping through beautiful volumes on Nordic cuisine, bread and gin – England’s other great love. There were so many books I would have loved to take home but I have exercised extreme restraint in an attempt to save space in our flat. I hope to visit many more book stores in the near future so we shall see if my self-control can withstand all that temptation!
While we are on the subject of books, I must admit that I bought a Kindle soon after we moved to London. Many of my friends will know that I resisted the Kindle and other e-readers for a long time because I very much prefer to hold an actual book in my hands. The thing about living in a city of small spaces, and also travelling, is that books can be a little impractical. It was with some reluctance that I bought the Kindle. I cannot say I regret it in the end. Its portability is perfect for zoning out on the sardine-can tube ride to work and passing hours in airports or on a plane. Since we arrived I’ve been able to enjoy a number of great reads.
French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman is an American journalist’s tale of adapting to life in Paris and raising her two children there. The French attitude towards parenting went against much of what she considered natural instinct but gradually she was able to employ their techniques with some success. We haven’t been to France yet but her book would imply that French children are better behaved in public than their American or UK counterparts. If that is true, then perhaps there is something to be learned from Druckerman’s experiences.
Consider the Fork by Bee Wilson is a book that is so “me”. It is a fascinating look at the history of how we cook and eat. It shows that the kitchen utensils we consider mundane and ordinary, actually have great stories behind them. The history of technological development in the kitchen lends us another fascinating view into how our society has become the way it is today. Bonus: Auckland is mentioned at the end! “The most avant-garde coffee experts in the world – in London, Melbourne and Auckland – now favour French press and filter over pricey espresso machines.” I will leave it to the coffee lovers to determine the truth in that statement.
I even had time to finally read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World before working through the rather dull Networked: The new social operating system by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman. I am happy to report that Bill Bryson’s book is very entertaining so far, as I have come to expect from his work, and hopefully I can soon tick that off my list of books to read.
Bookshops are not for everyone but I think the majority of people could find something great in a London bookshop. I’m looking forward to exploring more hidden gems and will share the very special ones with you. This coming weekend we are setting off for a much anticipated visit to Copenhagen – look out for that post!