Monday, 7 June 2010

London bookshops

A recent jaunt to England's fair capital found me spending a fortune in two wonderful bookshops. The first, Persephone, will be familiar to many already.

It was a real joy to spend half an hour wandering amongst the piles and boxes of titles so familiar to me from the catalogue and magazine, and I found it interesting that I came away with not only one title I had wanted for ages (The Journal of Katherine Mansfield) but also one I'd never really considered before (RC Sherriff's The Hopkins Manuscript). I could easily have purchased ten books on the spot, but with my TBR pile growing faster than I am able to read them, I forced myself to leave it at two. I did, however, also buy a Persephone bag, which now swings rakishly from my bike handlebars, and I very nearly bought a notebook too - imagine, the classic Persephone design, filled with one's own scrawlings! But again, I have a box full of as-yet-virgin notebooks, and couldn't justify another.

Two Persephone books I wanted are currently being re-printed, so the aim is to get the two I bought read so that I can make a guilt-free return visit in the summer.

The shop itself is lovely, achieving the perfect balance between modern-vintage (think Cath Kidston without the garish flowers) and Dickensian curiosity shop. Of course, the books themselves are the stars, and I can never seem to quite get over the beauty of the dove grey and ivory design: to see them piled in such quantities rather than sitting sadly isolated amongst less considered paperbacks was a joy, even a little overwhelming. Clara and Nicola carried on the business of the company in the back half of the shop, and the whole place had an idyllic air of industry teamed with relaxation; despite the pouring rain outside, a beautiful browse.

After coffee and a few minutes admiring my purchases (seriously, is anything more beautiful than a brand new Persephone?), I headed into Marylebone (ostensibly for shoes) and fell into Daunt Books.

What a treat! The very first shelf inside the door displayed The Letters of Sylvia Beach, which I have looked for unsuccessfully in several other establishments, so I knew I was in for a little taste of heaven here. This was followed with the discovery of Dreamers of a New Day by Sheila Rowbotham, about women who pioneered social change during the 1890-1920 period. I must have typed another 10 titles into my phone as I wandered round this unique bookshop, and came away with Stephen Benatar's Wish Her Safe At Home, Chris Cleave's Little Bee and the autobiographical The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls.

In theory, Daunt is a travel bookshop, but it is, as its own publicity states, so much more than that. The Travel section itself houses not only guides and language books, but also fiction from or set in the country or area, and I could have spent hours - days, even - just moving round the world, browsing titles.

After this, I had planned on visiting Lutyens and Rubenstein in Notting Hill (which had been closed the day before when I had been in the vicinity), but having already bought so many beautiful new books, I couldn't risk it, and am saving that delight till my next trip Londonwards.

And to think, up here I have only Waterstones...


Anonymous said...

Sounds wonderful! I love Persephone books so much, though it is a dangerous place to go for my purse!

Daunt Books I have meaning to go to for years - living in London all my life, I have no good excuse!

verity said...

I've only just found your blog! I LOVED the Hopkins manuscript - so different from anything I usually read:

i also got a Persephone bag this year - wonderful. Will be bookmarking your blog!

The English Writer said...

I absolutely adore independent book shops. Shifting about in them is a joy, they seem to go that one step further.

Hannah Stoneham said...

What a lovely post -

Have you ever been to the Kensington High Street Persephone? They are closing it down so it may not be open now but I actually preferred it to Lambs Conduit Street (shh about that, but for some reason I just found it easier to browse in there).

Have you ever tried out the Charring Cross Road? that has loads of good second hand book shops (and some dodgy ones as well, but they are kind of obvious).

Hope you are reading a good book at the moment


Thomas at My Porch said...

A perfect day for me is a nice long browse at Daunt, then a walk down the street to Waitrose to buy nosh for a little picnic in nearby Regent's Park. I love that part of London. One could also add in the Wallace Collection, Wigmore Hall, or the Royal Academy of Music...oh, and the Conran Shop...

A Bookish Space said...

Despite living in London, I have never been to the Persephone bookshop or Daunt Books - your post has reminded me that I really should make a visit soon :)

Vintage Reading said...

Nothing like a trip to Persephone to lift the spirits! I liked the coffee shop opposite and Coram's fields, too. It's a lovely area of London.

Lulu said...

So that's a general thumbs up for both indie bookshops and London, then!

Booksnob - you MUST go to Daunt. I almost cried with how many exciting books were just lying around on tables. I could have spent an absolute fortune in there. Stunning building too. Verity - lovley to have you onboard. I'm looking forward to the Hopkins Manuscript. I may take it away with me this summer so I can savour it properly on a sun lounger...though that does create the rsik of suntan cream ruining a Persephone...

Hannah - I never got to the Ken shop, no, and it has closed now, unfortunately. When I lived in London, I spent much time on Charing Cross Rd, but lots of the littler shops there have closed in the past few years. They just can't compete with the ubiquitous 3for2s, particularly in a recession. And of course, Borders is gone now too. And the whole of the corner of Charing Cross and Oxford St has been demolished to make way for a new station for the Olympics. The Astoria is gone, the Marquee... its gutting. My youth has been knocked down.

Thomas - I loved Marylebone. Although I lived in London for 5 years, I never really visited that area, but I'm moving back next year, and am consodering somewhere round there is I can afford it!

Vintage Reads - you're right, that whole area is incredibly interesting. The Dickens Museum isn't far either. Have you read Coram Boy? It's a kids book, but very good.


La chica automática said...

What about Skoob Books, just off Marchmont St (5min walking from Lambs Conduit a.k.a. Persephone's street)? Lovely basement! And not just because I work there, hehe. Great blog, just discovered it!