Friday 1 July 2016

Two go on a bookshop crawl

***This is a brief overview of my Independent Bookshops Week bookshop crawl, to find out more about the individual destinations come back in future weeks.***

Last week was Independent Bookshops Week, which meant seven days of bookshop-related fun, culminating in a day of bookshop crawls. For me it also meant one of the biggest tests I could put my new man through: Would he be able to keep up with my dedication to bookshop crawling?

The event is a brilliant celebration of the variety of independent bookshops and he certainly embraced the moment, joining me on the IBW website as we planned a route of around 15 bookshops.

First stop was The Riverside Bookshop in Hay's Galleria, near London Bridge Station. I say in but technically it's on the outside, which explains why I've not previously spotted this really lovely bookshop. If you're planning to visit (you should) I recommend consulting the map outside, it saved us a lot of time. The bookshop's on two floors and contained so many good titles we ended up spending much longer than planned here. With the help of my personalised book token I picked up The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell, while he chose Svetlana Alexievich's Chernobyl Prayer. At this point I quietly hoped he wouldn't buy any more books and show me up for being so much less intelligent in my reading choices.*

Leaving one railway station behind, our next destination was near Waterloo, on Lower Marsh. Travelling Through... is a small but perfectly formed travel bookshop, with a cafe downstairs. Fiction is arranged geographically along one wall of the main shop, with a few other treats and a secondhand section downstairs. I enjoyed chatting to the bookseller and asking for a recommendation. After some discussion he helped me choose Anne Enright's The Green Road.

By this time we'd spent far more time browsing than we'd allowed for – bookshops are great on your own, but when there's someone with you to share the joy they're even more fun – and so it was time to revise our list of destinations down (apologies to those bookshops we didn't visit this time).

Heading off to the South Bank, he took us to a new-to-me Foyles. Given its location I'd always assumed this would be a small outlet. I was wrong. We briefly lost each other among the shelves of this bright and airy bookshop by the river, which was filled with browsing passers-by. Here I made the mistake of picking up a heavy doorstop, but I'm very much looking forward to reading Neal Stephenson's Seveneves.

Stop four was only a flying visit because we were short on time but I needed to introduce him to the wonder of London Review Bookshop and its accompanying cake shop. I allowed him long enough to be impressed before insisting we keep going. As I've previously visited this bookshop many times I hope they'll forgive me my lack of purchase this time.

Leaving my comfort zone behind, it was time to head to Bloomsbury, and the atmospheric (and esoteric) Treadwell's Books. I have to admit when I first walked in my thought was to run away, but a friend of his recommends the bookshop so I was determined to stay and find my comfort zone in very unfamiliar territory. Patience pays off and I'll look forward to telling you more about this one and the interesting selection of books and friendly welcome I discovered. For now I'll simply say I bought A More Perfect Heaven by Dava Sobel.

A mere ten-minute walk away, our next stop was French's Theatre Bookshop. Packed with scripts, acting tips, theatre biographies and more, it even includes a section for plays currently being performed. Surely a great place to visit if you're unsure what to see at the theatre? I was thrilled to find several different publications of my favourite play and a very patient bookseller to talk me through them. I'm now looking forward to reading Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest.

For number seven I was the one being introduced to another new-to-me place, as he took me to a bookshop he knows and loves: Daunt on Marylebone High Street. When we were outside I confess to being a bit disappointed by its small shop front, but we all know appearances can be deceiving and I'm still in shock over the beauty and space hidden behind that tiny front. As this is a travel bookshop we bought from different areas of the globe, with him selecting Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks and me Jose Saramago's Skylight. I also picked up Book Lovers' London by Andrew Kershman, which should become a handy travel companion.

Finally, we headed off to our eighth and last bookshop: Alef Bookstore on Baker Street. I have to be honest, at the time of visiting I didn't realise this one was part of a chain, but as I believe it to be the only outlet in Britain and it was included on the IBW events page I still think this friendly Egyptian bookshop counts for the day.

Carefully balancing a mix of English and Arabic language shelves, Alef is a friendly, welcoming place of multiculturalism. I wanted to embrace my surroundings but faced with a broad selection of fiction by authors I don't know – and tired after walking across half of London – I decided the best way to get the most from the bookshop was to ask for advice. The bookseller suggested one of his favourites and so I bought Beer in the Snooker Club by Waguih Ghali.

At this point it was almost closing time so we retired to a nearby pub to recover. If I'm honest, I was the one suffering the most. I may have been the one who's used to travelling across London visiting bookshops, but he was the one more able to keep going at the end.

Which came in handy for him having the strength to carry all our shopping.

The Riverside Bookshop
Unit 15, Hay's Galleria, Tooley Street,
London, SE1 2QN
Tel: 020 7378 1824

Travelling Through…
131 Lower Marsh, Waterloo,
London, SE1 7AE
Tel: 020 7633 9279 @Trvllng_Thrgh

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX
Tel: 020 7440 3212 @Foyles

London Review Bookshop
14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL
Tel: 020 7269 9030 @LRBbookshop

Treadwell's Books
33 Store Street, Bloomsbury, London, WC1E 7BS
Tel: 020 7419 8507 @treadwells

French's Theatre Bookshop
52 Fitzroy Street, Bloomsbury, London, W1T 5JR
Tel: 020 7255 4300 @SamuelFrenchLtd

83-84 Marylebone High Street, Marylebone, London, W1U 4QW
Tel: 020 7224 2295 @Dauntbooks

Alef Bookstore
219 Baker Street, London, NW1 6XE
Tel: 020 7935 4311 @Alef_UK

*I'm joking of course. We read the first few pages of Chernobyl Prayer on the train home and I reckon it was the purchase of the day. He needs to hurry up and finish reading so I can borrow it.

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