Sunday 29 January 2017

Hidden paradise

Cast your minds back to last summer and you may remember I took my then unsuspecting new boyfriend on his first ever bookshop crawl.

It was a brilliant – if exhausting – day that saw us go home with a mountain of books, three of which were purchased at this week's bookshop: Daunt in Marylebone.

As a way of easing him into the bookshop crawling madness, I'd given my boyfriend a certain amount of control over the route, letting him name bookshops or areas he knew and would like to visit and this was one of the places he named. In all my bookshop blogging days the Daunt flagship shop has been a place I knew I needed to visit so I eagerly accepted his suggestion.

Photos of the main room look like somewhere from another time and the hushed tones in which this hallowed bookshop is talked about make it seem like the indie royalty of London's bookshop community. Which made me a little surprised when I was led to a busy street and an unassuming shop front. As much as I trust my boyfriend, I couldn't help wondering if the lack of flags and fanfare meant he'd got his bookshops muddled up. Even so it was still a bookshop – and one I'd not been to before – we went inside.

First impressions were of a smart, modern room with a heck of a lot of customers. Pale walls and dark wooden shelves lend the entrance an air of sophistication while all those bookshoppers provided a welcoming buzz. Which was all very well, but where was the huge, two storey room I'd seen in all the photographs? Just as I was about to get huffy, stamp my foot and say we were in the wrong (admittedly lovely) bookshop, the crowds parted and I was given a view of how far back the bookshop stretches.

 Daunt is massive, and that wonderful old-fashioned room with its great big window draws browsers back, taking you away from the crowds and into the world of (and in) books.

True to Daunt style as a travel bookshop, fiction and non-fiction are arranged by country, with the ground floor of the striking, famous room the main event for Europe. We made our way around the continent, enjoying the surprise of geographical affiliations and suddenly back tracking when we remembered an author from X or Y and wanting to find out more. It's not your traditional bookshop format but does succeed in forcing you out of your comfort zone, making you pay more attention to the countries you read.

Of course, it's also a stunning room to be in. In some ways it made me think of the traditional gentleman's study from history with the dark wood, scattered chairs and green light fittings, but the large skylight above and the bright colours of the books bring the period features into the modern world and make me want the room for my own personal library. The size of the room also meant it felt much less crowded than what I came to think of as the foyer, meaning browsing was calmer and more relaxed.

I particularly enjoyed climbing the stairs to one side and exploring the second floor balcony. Arching around three sides of the room, this helps with the illusion of tall bookcases and further scatters browsers. In all, it's a wonderful space. And that's before you even go downstairs to the continents beginning with A.

Daunt is a massive world tour and somewhere I could happily lose myself in for hours, however if time is short you could still simply pop into the front of the bookshop, where the children's section and some standard fiction and non-fiction areas can be found. Admittedly, these are small in comparison to the rest of the bookshop but they are still very well stocked and varied enough to appeal to most reading tastes.

Having spent a while exploring, our purchases came from Europe. My boyfriend found himself in Germany – buying Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann – while I made a beeline for Portugal and the works of Jose Saramago*, where I picked up Skylight. I then also spotted the London Bookshop Book** and had no choice but to break my one book per shop rule.

From its ordinary shop front I can easily believe many would arrive at Daunt without realising the size and beauty of what's to be found inside – I certainly never suspected and I'd seen the photos – but don't be deceived, paradise awaits.

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

*If you've not encountered him before then I urge you to go and buy Blindness at the first opportunity.
**I'm still working my way through this book to see how many of these I've visited. It's a great inspiration but also occasionally quite sad to see how the landscape has changed in the few years since it was published.

Sunday 22 January 2017

Second time lucky

Many, many years ago, I went on a day trip to Hay-on-Wye. For reasons that no longer matter, it was an awful day of rain and disappointments and left me with no interest in ever returning. And yes, I am aware of what a shock confession that must be coming from someone like me.

However despite all the doom and gloom of the trip, there was one redeeming thing about the day in the shape of a last-minute stop in a random bookshop. My travelling companion had spent many years searching for a particular book on mysticism but – knowing only that its cover was blue and somewhere within its pages was a reference to a person whose name they couldn't remember – they'd unsurprisingly not had much luck in finding it. Then we walked into the bookshop to avoid the rain and there the book was. I could no longer be grumpy with the person for being so clueless about books and their joy at finding the book made everything else okay.

This one moment of success is pretty much all I've kept with me of that first visit to Hay-on-Wye, and even then I had no idea of the name or location of the bookshop, all I could remember was a remarkable blue front room.

Which meant it was quite a surprise to recognise Addyman Books the moment I stepped inside when I finally agreed to return to the town a few weeks ago.

The visit was spur of the moment when I discovered the Welsh bookshop I'd planned to go to was closed for the day, which is probably a good thing because it meant there was no time to let my previous unhappy memories cloud my excitement at visiting the town of books.

So we (my boyfriend and I, not the travelling companion of yesteryear) arrived in Hay and began to wander. The unplanned nature of our visit meant we had no real idea of where we would go, with a guest blog post about the town the closest I'd got to any proper research.*

The wandering was fun, and introduced us to *lots* of lovely bookshops for me to tell you about in time, but that moment of recognition inside the blue room at Addyman Books really was quite a surprise.

A bad memory and a lot of time means I can't tell you if the bookshop is any different now to in years gone by, but the striking blue front room is certainly still the same. There's also much more to the bookshop than I remember, as it stretches back and up into a maze of rooms filled with everything from general fiction to sci-fi, women's books, old Penguins, a cubby dedicated to vampires and even that section on mysticism.

There are also all manner of details and nooks and crannies, as well as a selection of comfy chairs. Visitors could easily lose an afternoon to this bookshop, and that's before they remember all the other gems to be found in Hay – not forgetting a second branch of Addyman's a short walk away.

This second outlet, the Addyman Annexe on Castle Street, is smaller and more tidily organised but still occupies a ginormous space when compared to other independent bookshops. While stock in the two outlets is occasionally similar, there was definitely a difference as the brighter, larger rooms and what looked to be mostly new stock. We also loved the warmth in the voice of the gentleman bookseller who welcomed us in and politely answered my questions about the two branches.

Whatever your taste in bookshop both are worth a visit.

Our purchase came from the annexe: Mars, a new view of the red planet by Giles Sparrow. It's a massive picture book packed with information and at less than half price I felt it was particularly good value.

Our visit to Hay-on-Wye was only meant to be for an hour or so, but the excitement of this and other finds meant it was dark by the time we'd reached the annexe, and closing time before we escaped the town. More importantly, this visit reminded me how one bad incident should not be held against anyone or thing. I'm all about second chances and Hay-on-Wye has definitely won me round.

Addyman Books
39 Lion Street, Hay-on-Wye,
Powys, HR3 5AA, Wales
Tel: 01497 821136
Addyman Annexe,
27 Castle Street, Hay-on-Wye,
Powys, HR3 5DF, Wales
Tel: 01497 821600

* Yes, I am aware letting someone else write a guest post hardly counts as a lot of research on my part but the blog is very good and it was very helpful in giving us somewhere to aim for.