Wednesday 18 September 2013

Books are my bag

*** Including a proper write up of each bookshop got far too wordy for one post, so here's an overview of my bookshop crawl, over the coming days/weeks I'll add links to individual posts about each bookshop ***

If you’re a fan of books then last weekend it was pretty hard to miss the sea of orange that engulfed our bookshops.

From bunting and balloons to books and bags, the national campaign was encouraging book lovers and novice readers alike to return to their local bookshop and buy a book. The reward? A Books Are My Bag tote, a portal to a different world and a reminder of just why bookshops are such great places to visit. But you knew that already.

To ensure I enjoyed the full experience I set off on a bookshop crawl of London, visiting a mixture of old favourites, new finds and bookshops I possibly wouldn’t have considered going to during an ordinary day of bookshopping.

Stockists of first editions, Goldsboro Books was also my first destination and my first out of comfort zone visit. Fortunately, I found myself very wrong in my fear as I discovered that first edition needn't mean 'so expensive you have to remortgage your house' when I picked up Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon for its ordinary cover price. A book to be cherished in its own right, I suddenly found the acquisition of my first tote bag to be of little consequence, so pleased was I with my purchase.

Whether it was my spangly new bag or the big grin on my face from my first book, I certainly caught the eye of a few startled shoppers as I merrily skipped along Charing Cross Road... Thinking about it, it was probably the skipping that made me stand out.

Blackwell's was my second stop, where I munched on a suitably orange Jaffa cake (or two) as I basked in the friendly atmosphere of the popular chain. Knowing I was on a tight schedule I found myself agonising over how I could possibly only buy one book, eventually selecting the appropriately themed The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald.

My next new experience was Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop on Bloomsbury Street and another destination I’d shied away from before BAMB gave me a good excuse to visit. As it was, the moment I entered I was fascinated, soon snapping up Cairo, My city, our revolution by Ahdaf Soueif. In fact, I was so engrossed in the books that it wasn't until I went to pay that I noticed the total absence of BAMB orange. A tweet exchange later in the day let me know the bags had finally arrived so I popped back for a bag with my name on it.

For bookshop number four I hopped on the train to Kings Cross and Watermark Books. Nestled between platform nine and three quarters and a Harry Potter shop, stepping through the door was magical as I left the bustling station for the calm of a space packed with all manner of books. After a brief play with Elmer the elephant in the children's section, I returned to adult life to buy The Elephant's Journey by Jose Saramago.

Heading south to Green Park, G Heywood Hill is just a short walk from the tube but in a different world. Bunting around iron railings announced the shop's presence on Curzon Street, in an impressively fronted building complete with blue plaque. Entering a wonderfully atmospheric room with books piled on tables, and a further room with red, wood panelled walls and shelves, it seemed appropriate to buy a classic novel from a classic shop - Erskine Childers' The Riddle in the Sands. Currently undergoing building work, I finally managed to return to
G Heywood Hill to experience it in its full glory at a later date. 

Continuing south, I found myself at H R Stokes & Co in Belgravia. Had I been a random passer by, I probably wouldn't have realised this was a bookshop, but BAMB ensured I popped in for a look. While less than half the shop is dedicated to books - the rest selling all manner of delightful gifts and stationary - the woman I spoke to certainly showed a bookseller's enthusiasm. Being number six on my list, by this point I admit my energy was flagging, so I asked for help, had a lovely chat and came away with my excitement revitalised and a book by an author I love, Kathleen Tessaro's The Perfume Collector.

My penultimate shop was Belgravia Books, just a hop, skip and a jump away along Ebury Street and not far from Victoria station. I unfortunately found myself running out of time here but still managed a chat with the bookseller, who helped me choose Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos as my lack of time had turned me into an indecisive ditherer. He also opened my eyes to the loyalty card Love Your Indie and the opportunity to bag a free book - how have I not discovered this before?

And so, with seven books in my bag, we come to the final stop on my bookshop crawl, Ray's Jazz Cafe inside Foyles on Charing Cross Road, where I met up with friends to recover from all the excitement with a glass of wine and my first ever experience of live jazz. Having started the day with one first it seemed only right that I finish it with another, and while I sadly ran out of time to buy another book, I know I'll be back again soon.

I may have only visited eight of the many hundreds of bookshops involved in the Books Are My Bag campaign, but I had a wonderful day and met some lovely people. Most importantly though, the campaign gave me the encouragement to visit some places I wouldn't necessarily have visited quite so soon on my bookshop adventure. In a similar way, I hope a few more people were encouraged to visit a bookshop they'd perhaps neglected previously either through lack of knowledge or maybe because they went online instead. And hopefully I won't be the only person planning to return to the bookshops they've discovered.

23-25 Cecil Court, London, WC2N 4EZ. Tel: 020 7497 9228. @GoldsboroBooks

100 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0JG. Tel: 020 7292 5100. @BlackwellCXR

1 Bloomsbury Street, London, WC1B 3QE. Tel: 020 7367 1848. @Bookmarks_books

Kings Cross Station, London, N1C 4AL. Tel: 020 7713 7903. @Watermark_Books

10 Curzon Street, London, W1J 5HH. Tel: 020 7629 0647. @HeywoodHill

58 Elizabeth Street, London, SW1W 9PB. Tel: 020 7730 7073. @HRStokes

59 Ebury Street, London SW1W 0NZ. Tel: 020 7259 9336. @BelgraviaB

113-119 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0EB. Tel: 020 7437 5660. @Foyles


  1. Everyone should skip somewhere every day.

  2. I've just visited Heywood Hill to see if it was bookshop I could trust to choose books for me before taking out one of their subscription packages. I fell in love at first browse and am now waiting for my first book from them. You can read more about their service on my blog.

    1. What a wonderful blog post! I'm now feeling a little jealous that you've obviously visited since their refurbishment has been completed (I've not managed to return yet) and also at the thought of your reading package. I definitely need to sign up to one of those. I look forward to reading more about how yours turns out. Thanks for getting in touch.


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