Thursday 24 March 2016

A 20th century classic

It's not uncommon for a bookshop to be a specialist in something. The obvious choice would be children's books – I've met six so far – but anything from Dr Who to radicalism has caught my eye, and they've all opened up a new world of reading.

This week's bookshop is another such specialist, but instead of introducing me to another new subject it brought me back to familiar ground, because this week's bookshop specialises in 20th century classic literature, especially Penguin.

I've previously mentioned the influence Penguin had on turning me into a lover of the classics, so as I'm sure you'll imagine, I was as enthusiastic as a kid in a candy store at the thought of visiting such a focussed destination.

The bookshop in question is Books Iconica. Found in the indoor part of Camden Market, it's ideally placed to tease the cash-strapped as they join the never ending queue for the nearby ATMs. A location that must surely have prompted a sale or two. It's also near a place to sit and eat, which to me also means a place to sit, eat and read – it didn't take long before I dived into my purchase, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

First we must return to me, loitering in a queue for a cash machine, being tempted by a bookshop not much bigger than a cubbyhole. The entire of the shop is certainly smaller than most, possibly the smallest I've been to, but the bold colours and carefully thought out layout mean it doesn't look small from the outside. Even when you step through the entrance (the shop front is open) and take the two (maybe three) further steps to the back, there's so much to see that size is definitely not to be complained about here. It also helps to remember this bookshop's priority is 20th century classical literature – it doesn't need as much space as other bookshops.

On the day of my visit, the first thing I spotted was the half price table in the middle of the room, and it was from here that I was to select The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury as my purchase at the end of my visit, but first I looked around.

The beauty of this bookshop was in the detail. I don't just mean the elegant visual stylings, but the detail of the books stocked. I'd have happily transferred the entire contents of Books Iconica to my personal bookshelves, from the varied standard fiction shelves to the collection of blue Pelicans, attractive hardback Penguins and even a well curated science fiction shelf. The bookseller who stocks these shelves has excellent taste. Luckily for them that person had the day off so they didn't get to suffer my enthusiastic praise in person. Not during this visit anyway.

The thing is, I'm happy to recommend every bookshop I write about, they all have something special about them, but with Books Iconica the special thing is in the pretty much guaranteed happiness that awaits on the shelves. Because whether you're a long term classics fan or new to the genre, I reckon you could easily go and pick up any book from the limited but carefully selected stock and be happy.

Which is good news for all those people standing in the queue for the ATM, because once they've collected their cash they'll have somewhere to spend it wisely.

Books Iconica
Unit L3 Camden Lock Place, London, NW1 8AL
Tel: 07951 318402


  1. Thank you, if I'm ever passing that way I'll look in.

    (There used to be a similar shop in the Covered Market in Oxford but it's long gone I'm afraid).

    1. Your brackets are a story I'm sadly hearing a lot. They make me want to cherish the bookshops we have even more, which makes me pleased to hear you'll look in on Books Iconica when you get the chance!


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