Friday 30 August 2013

Sanctuary from the carnival

Anyone with an ounce of intelligence would know that heading to Notting Hill in search of a bookshop during carnival weekend is not the most sensible of ideas.

Apparently I'm not one of those people, because as I made my way out of the tube station at Notting Hill Gate, surrounded by colourfully dressed revellers, it didn't occur to me that perhaps I'd not chosen the best of days to visit the rather classy sounding Lutyens & Rubinstein.

In fact, it wasn't until I'd crossed the path of a couple of floats, walked almost the length of Kensington Park Road, navigated my way around the odd bit of spontaneous dancing and resisted the temptations of numerous street food vendors to finally stand outside the temporarily boarded up shop that I realised I'd made a mistake.

Sometimes it really does take a while for the penny to drop.

Fortunately, my naivety means I'm also yet to overcome the touristy habit of looking up at my surroundings, so earlier in my visit - before I'd crossed the path of the parade - the crowds had parted to reveal Book & Comic Exchange.

And what a welcome discovery it was. I may have only been at the carnival for five or ten minutes, but I was already feeling a tiny bit isolated and lost as a lone girl among so many revellers - the sight of a bookshop was like a beacon of light, guiding me from danger. As soon as I stepped through the door I knew I'd found my safe harbour with the wall of secondhand books that greeted me.

I was so caught up in this view that I barely noticed the comics in the centre of the room, and was unable to tear myself away to explore the rest of the shop. Instead I happily browsed my way along the wall, eventually picking up a themed Penguin, First Love by Ivan Turgenev. What can I say, I've a soft spot for Russian writers.

Having selected my purchase, it was at the till that I finally paused to realise what a quirky shop I was in.

Sure in some ways it was a fairly typical secondhand bookshop, with goods crammed into every space, but it's not often you discover puppet psychogeographer Kenneth Desmond behind the counter you're queuing at. As I handed over my cash his human, Matt, introduced the two of us and told me a little about the puppet's creation (by the human) and journey as a film star.

I'd've loved to have found out more, but the bookshop was filling up and I had a bookshop to get to, so I thanked them for their time and went on my way. If only I'd known what lay ahead I'm not sure I'd have left my sanctuary.

Book & Comic Exchange
14 Pembridge Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 3HL
(Yes, I was surprised to later discover it's part of a chain)

Lutyens & Rubinstein
21 Kensington Park Road, London, W11 2EU

Tel: 020 7229 1010
(As I didn't get to look around at this time I will be returning here at a later date, preferably when there isn't a carnival taking place)

Sunday 25 August 2013

Finding my inspiration and The Big Green Bookshop

So of all the bookshops in Britain, why did I choose The Big Green Bookshop first?

Quite simply because it was one of the places that inspired me to write this blog.

My Twitter feed had collected a number of bookshops, several of which I interact with on a regular basis and had often contemplated visiting, and thanks to a fun book quiz run by another shop*, The Big Green Bookshop had caught my attention.

Co-owner Simon runs their Twitter account and had proved a good quiz rival for this highly competitive soul, so I'd taken a look at their website and become rather impressed by their blog about setting up and keeping open an independent bookshop, and all the fun that happens along the way.

Obviously I wasn't going to just turn up at this or any of the other shops and say: "Hello, I'm a girl from Twitter." For starters I'm sure each bookshop interacts with hundreds, if not thousands, of people on social media and wouldn't remember little old me, and for mains I'm simply not that kind of stalker. However Simon's blog got me thinking, and one day my thoughts of a bookshop pilgrimage somehow ended up linked in with my reading and the next thing I knew I was writing my first post on this blog.

At the time I hadn't intended on visiting The Big Green Bookshop quite so soon, I thought I'd cut my teeth writing about the shops I already knew, eventually travelling to the places Twitter had introduced me to once I'd picked up a reader or two. But then people actually read that first post, with comments, recommendations, tweets, and even another blog taking up the cause and making me realise perhaps I'd better start off with a bit more than a trip to my local chain store. And so, earlier today I found myself on a train to north London...

As promised on their website, The Big Green Bookshop is just a five minute walk from Turnpike Lane tube station (Piccadilly Line). Fortunately for my useless navigation skills, you just keep walking in a straight line until you spot Brampton Park Road on the left, with a big sign for the shop to tell you you've reached your destination (once you pass the colourful fruit and veg stall on the corner, should you visit on market day).

Founded by Simon and Tim when the chain bookshop they worked for was closed, the shop has been a part of the Wood Green community for several years and has a fascinating selection of clubs and events listed on their website, including reading and writing and even a comedy night. I really do recommend giving their site and blog a read to find out more, I certainly wish I'd paid the events section more attention and made my visit in the afternoon to make the most of boardgames day.

Anyway, despite missing out on a spot of Carcassonne, my visit was no disappointment. The website describes the shop as 'an oasis of calm in the metropolitan madness', which made a lot of sense as I stepped inside after the colour and bustle of the busy High Road. The noise of the street could just about be picked up over the background music, but more as a gentle reminder of the outside world than a disturbance to my browsing, and I was soon lost among the rows of books.

Chalk boards label up the different sections, with the super, smashing, great section grabbing my attention. I'm a sucker for bookshop recommendations as they're the perfect introduction to something I've not encountered before, in this case The Princess Bride - how did I not know the film was based on a book? I read the recommendation, picked it up and started reading, and carried on reading until I realised that perhaps it was about time I handed over some cash.

Unfortunately I'd picked the day to visit when both Simon and Tim were off, but I still had a nice chat with the woman behind the till, finding out a bit more about the venture and work with children and, naturally, talking about a book or two as she looked one up on their ordering system for me. As for meeting the two gents, well I never said I'd only visit each bookshop once.

1 Brampton Park Road, Wood Green, London, N22 6BG
Tel: 020 8881 6767

UPDATE: I almost forgot, this is the blog post that really got me thinking.

*More on Say What You See later.

Monday 19 August 2013

On bookshops and my intentions

Books are my addiction.

If I see a bookshop I have to go inside, and walking inside means I inevitably leave with at least one book, generally two or three. From fiction to cookery, classics to sci fi, crime to chick lit, I love them all.

But it's not just about the subject, a book is a true sensory experience. Reading the story, savouring the words, hearing the pages turn, the scent of the paper and ink and feeling its weight in my hands. Each one is unique, with its creases and imperfections, markings in the margin or name inside the cover - recording the journey the book has taken with each individual reader, a memory that no e-reader can mimic.

And the bookshop it comes from is just as important a part of the reading process. Row upon row of books lining the shelves, with central tables drawing our attention to key themes or authors as we browse, looking for inspiration, or perhaps move with purpose on the quest for something specific.

Then there are the booksellers. Readers themselves, they can be a great source to tap when looking for your next big read - or struggling to find a gift for your Dad/friend/boss. These people help bring the personal touch that very few websites are able to claim.

But all is not well, the bookshop is in decline.

I'm not about to go into facts and figures about how many have closed and when, as I'd probably find it too depressing and that's not what this blog is about. Instead I'm going to - mostly - ignore the e-reader and internet shopping and focus on the positives.

Just a brief search of the internet reveals a wealth of bookshops to be enjoyed by the discerning reader, all with their own character and charm, all crying out to me to visit. And so we come to the purpose of my writing.

This blog is to be a celebration of the bookshop.

Every entry will be about a bookshop of some kind or another. Generally I plan to visit the bookshops (independent or part of a chain, so long as they're real I'll visit) to tell you what's special about them, or why I want to visit them, but given that time, money and geography will limit me somewhat I'm sure the odd (real) fictional bookshop will sneak in to ensure regular writing.

I hope you enjoy exploring the bookshops with me and maybe feel inspired to visit a few more yourself. Also, if anyone has a bookshop they want to recommend (preferably in the UK unless you want to pay for my travel) I'd love to hear about it with a view to hopefully visiting sometime.

Thanks for reading,