Thursday 3 July 2014

Ignorance is bliss

Hatchards of London, bookseller to the queen, stands proud on Picadilly, a symbol of Britishness with its royal seal, flags, and regular procession of black cabs outside. 

Entering this famous bookshop I was awed by what I found. The many floors of books - accessed by a feature staircase in the front room - and varied rooms were more than I’d ever imagined I could find in an independent bookshop, even one with such a regal recommendation. 

I found globes in the travel section, attractive selections from independent publishers, cuddly toys for the kids, and all manner of antique chairs and sofas (including my favourite Chesterfields) for readers to relax in. Sure, there was something vaguely familiar as I roamed the bookshop, but isn’t that always the case when you enter a shrine to books? There will always be similarities and differences to any bookshop traveller, with the individual details being what makes each one unique. 

And so I wandered, falling in love with the dark wood shelves, those varied chairs, and the many interesting collections on offer - especially one room near the back, crammed with all manner of these, from the colourful spines of the Folio Society, to smaller groupings such as Slightly Foxed

It was simply wonderful to just walk, and walk, exploring and revelling in the fact it is possible for an independent bookshop to continue successfully for hundreds of years (Hatchards was established 1797). 

The more knowledgeable among you will know what’s coming next. 

Because my excited wandering was cut short when I stumbled across one set of shelves. From a distance I didn’t really understand what I was walking towards, and indeed, it wasn’t until I saw the word kindle that I could really believe what I was saying. 

The penny dropped. 

This wasn’t an independent bookshop. 

Worse, it was a bookshop selling e-readers. 

Now as I’ve already said, I have no problem with Waterstones. But I do have a problem with honesty, or lack of, and while the ownership of this bookshop was never denied, I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated that it wasn’t really owned up to either. Add to that the horror of e-readers and my excitement was shattered. 

I loved the bookshop, indeed, I happily sat in one of those comfy chairs to read the first few chapters of my purchase: Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall. But I loved it more when I explored in ignorance.

187 Picadilly, London, W1J 9LE 
Tel: 020 7439 9921


  1. Don't worry - you're not alone. Until I read this I hadn't realised that they were owned by Waterstones - interesting, given the flagship store just down the road.

    And I've never understood their rationale for selling Kindles either. I can't believe they get anything from Amazon other than a (very small) profit margin on thedevice itself. Maybe they think that, by surrounding them with the real thing. they'll convince some users of e readers that the occasional purchase of the real thing is a good idea.

    1. I feel bad for complaining about the 'secrecy' because I'm certainly glad for all the different owners who've stepped in and ensured the bookshop continued over the years, I just wish I'd known to begin with.

      And I agree about the kindles thing. At least other bookshops sell e-readers that can be stocked from any number of outlets...


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