Wednesday 14 October 2015

Bookshops will always be my bag

***As usual for a bookshop crawl, there would be too many words to write properly about each bookshop in this one post. Come back later and each destination will have had its own proper write up – they're worth your time. Honest***

There aren't enough hours in the day. Or even days in the week. Especially when work's really busy, a friend has a birthday, you're engrossed in an unputdownable book and counting down to the annual Books are my bag day of bookshop parties.

Which is why, despite a month of excitement, I found myself Googling routes to Dorset at 9pm the night before. It was at this point I discovered the bookshop I'd planned to visit is almost three hours drive from my home, which wouldn't've left enough time for a trip to Monkey World while I was in the county. I needed a new plan. Fortunately, I remembered previous bookshop crawls and another blogger's* recommendation to visit Pages of Hackney. Having started in the south last year, the north east seemed a good place to go this time.

The first stop on my route took me to London Fields overground station, followed by a walk along the bustling Broadway Market and the unexpected discovery of Artwords Bookshop.

Packed with books dedicated to visual culture, there was no doubting the cool, questioning attitude of this bookshop and its customers. All of which was about engaging with the world and opening minds. This isn't the bookshop to visit for a mindless holiday read, but lighthearted reading could still be found: I bought What if? by Randall Munroe.

Moving to somewhere I had planned to visit, The Broadway Bookshop is a short walk further on, at the end of Broadway Market near Regent's Canal.

A small front opens into a surprisingly large bookshop space, which saw a steady flow of shoppers young and old. Awed by the wall of literary fiction in front of me, I could've happily bought half the shop as I encountered author after author that I've long meant to read but never quite been brave enough to try. Thankfully, a bookseller was available to help me narrow down my selection: The Third Reich means I can finally begin my acquaintance with the works of Roberto BolaƱo.

Walking along the Regent's Canal, I eventually spotted the sign for my next stop sticking out over a busy high street but, as I got nearer something wasn't quite right. A note in the door told me I'd missed Victoria Park Books – apparently by a matter of weeks – as it's now joined the ranks of the virtual world.

Admittedly, it does still have a presence in the form of Story Habit, but I can't help but be saddened by the closure of another bookshop. If this isn't a reminder of why initiatives such as Books are my bag are so important then I don't know what is.

Staying positive, it was time to head over to the highly recommended Pages of Hackney. A tiny bookshop on a busy street, it was here I got my first glimpse of BAMB orange bunting.

I had no idea what to expect of this bookshop, and renovation works meant my browsing was confined to one space, but the quality of what I did see and the bookseller's friendliness proved the recommendation had definitely been deserved. I picked up one of their recommendations: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

A short walk away, Stoke Newington Bookshop and a bookshop party came next. Art was the order of the day as I explored this large and colourful space, occasionally stopping to read while also trying to sneak a peak at the efforts of the artists and also enjoying the general banter and friendly fun flowing around the shop.

Picking up Dear Bill Bryson by Ben Aitken, I finally got a glimpse at an artist's work when I spotted a tote bag on the counter – with a sketch of me browsing in the bookshop! An unexpected treat, the bag now has pride of place in my growing tote collection.

Heading back into town I stopped off at Old Street Station for a visit to Camden Lock Books. Offering a great selection of new and discounted books, the atmosphere of this Islington bookshop easily reminded me of the destination's namesake and if it hadn't been near closing I could've happily hung out here for hours. As it was I still struggled to select just one book from the discount table in the time I had: The Forever War by Joe Haldeman won out in the end.

Finally, as has become tradition for my Books are my bag crawls, I made my way to Foyles. This time ending my day with hot chocolate and cake as I settled down with one of my purchases while waiting to meet a friend.

Parties may not have been taking over each bookshop I visited, but friendly booksellers, happy browers and the generally great atmosphere I encountered ensured fun was still had. Because let's face it: Bookshops will always be my bag.

Artwords Bookshop
20-22 Broadway Market, London Fields, London, E8 4QJ.
Tel: 020 7923 7507. @ArtwordsBooks

The Broadway Bookshop
6 Broadway Market, London Fields, London, E8 4QJ.
Tel: 020 7241 1626.

Pages of Hackney
70 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London, E5 0RN.
Tel: 020 8525 1452. @pagesofhackney

Stoke Newington Bookshop
159 Stoke Newington High Street, Stoke Newington, London, N16 0NY.
Tel: 020 7249 2808. @StokeyBookshop

Camden Lock Books
Old Street Station, 4 Saint Agnes Well, Islington, London, EC1Y 1BE.
Tel: 020 7253 0666. @camdenlockbooks

107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT.
Tel: 020 7434 1574. @Foyles


*I'd love to thank the blogger personally, but I was so busy noting their recommendations I'm afraid I've forgotten who they were.

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