From big to small, independent to chain, secondhand to new, London has it all when it comes to brilliant bookshops. Earlier this month, I took the opportunity to explore some of them on Bookshop Day, an annual, nationwide celebration of physical bookshops run by Books Are My Bag. Let the bookshop crawl begin!
- Blackwell’s in the Wellcome Collection
We begin our tour of London’s bookshops just outside Euston station at the Wellcome Collection. In addition to being home to intriguing exhibitions that seamlessly blend science and art, the Wellcome Collection also hosts a fantastic Blackwell’s. It is particularly good for fans of popular science, psychology and philosophy and it has a well-selected choice of graphic novels, non-fiction comics, clever games and gifts. Be sure to wave to the Antony Gormley sculpture on your way out!
- Gay’s the Word
Established in 1979, Gay’s the Word was the UK’s first LGBT bookshop. Located in Bloomsbury, it has always been more than just a bookshop, hosting regular discussions and events and acting as a meeting place for community groups. In the 80s, it was the London headquarters for Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, as portrayed in the 2014 film, Pride. Gay’s the Word remains the best place to find a comprehensive range of LGBT fiction and non-fiction in London.
Just a stone’s throw from Gay’s the Word and hidden away in a basement underneath Waitrose is Skoob. If huge towers of secondhand books from floor to ceiling are your thing, Skoob has you covered. It’s also quite easy to find recent bestselling fiction paperbacks, such as Tessa Hadley’s The Past and Hannah Rothschild’s The Improbability of Love, in good condition for no more than £4.
- Persephone Books
Persephone Books reprint ‘lost’ fiction and non-fiction from mid-twentieth century (primarily women) writers. Their books are all encased in the same simple grey jacket, with an individual patterned endpaper and matching bookmark unique to each title. They are elegant, beautiful objects and the Persephone Bookshop, which is also home to the two desks from which all of their publishing is done, is a perfect setting for them. Neat, cosy, and filled with pretty florals and typewriters, it is hard not to fall in love with it. It is a unique experience to enter a bookshop and not judge a book by its cover, but instead take the time to read the descriptions or talk to a friendly bookseller.
- London Review Bookshop
After four bookshops, it is probably time for a tea and cake break. If you can nab yourself a table, the Cake Shop at the London Review Bookshop is always top notch. Choose from their large selection of teas and freshly baked cakes before browsing the shelves of this thoughtful bookshop aimed at the intelligent reader.
- Any Amount of Books
My number one top tip for bookshop crawls in London is found on Charing Cross Road. With so many secondhand bookshops to choose from on the same street, it’s easy to overlook Any Amount of Books. Don’t be foolish! This unassuming shop is the ultimate location for finding recently published hardbacks in fantastic condition for cheap.
- Foyles, Charing Cross Road
Here we are – the mothership! With over 200,000 titles set over four miles of shelving, Foyles is the place to come for that unusual book that nobody else stocks. If I could live here, I would.
- Waterstone’s, Tottenham Court Road
A new addition to the chain, the Tottenham Court Road branch of Waterstone’s is noticeably more stylish and modern than others. It has become a firm favourite of mine and has a good selection of drinks and snacks on offer too. Cocktail in a bookshop, anyone?
So there we have it! Just eight of the many fantastic bookshops of London. And, in case you are interested, here is the all-important haul from the crawl…
Have you visited any of these bookshops? Do you have a favourite? Let me know in the comments below!