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...