Sunday 11 March 2018

London Bookshop Crawl 2018 – Waterloo and Southwark branch

I'm a bit late in sharing my latest London Bookshop Crawl exploits with you, mainly because the books have been distracting me from blogging, but finally – better late than never – here are the highlights of my participation in the day...

Most of my bookshop crawls have been solitary affairs, walking from bookshop to bookshop, meeting booksellers and occasionally saying hello to another bookshopper as our paths cross. I have now acquired myself a partner in crime to explore with, but before he entered the scene my only crawl in company had been the London Bookshop Crawl.

This year I was able to return to the organised event, accompanied by my boyfriend and also in the company of some of those other bookshoppers who I've met in the past. We didn't cover as much ground as I'd've done solo, but the company and conversation more than made up for that.

As a late-comer to signing up for the bookshop crawl, I was very grateful to be able to get two last-minute spaces on the Waterloo and Southwark guided tour led by Twitter's BookingAround.

Our first stop was Somerset House Bookshop, sometimes known as the Rizzoli Bookshop. It was my first visit to Somerset House, and I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have spotted the bookshop to the left side of the square if I'd not been told it was there. Yes, there is a sign above the door, but it's not particularly visible from a distance and easily lost in the grand surroundings.

Stock is narrowly selected, but interesting, focusing on art and design themes that stretch to include photography, crafts, interiors, food and drink and a good selection of children's books. There's an understated beauty to the three-room bookshop, with cards, stationery and other bits and bobs adding splashes of bright colour. It also has a mind-boggling selection of magazines, with us unable to leave without buying The Life Of Things: Cabinet, a striking publication dedicated to the art and history of, you guessed it, cabinets. Bizzarre, beautiful and unexpectedly engrossing. With our purchase we also received a freebie goody bag, made up for the crawl.

Our next stop was the National Theatre Bookshop. I've passed by or briefly paused at this bookshop many times, but this was the first time I'd properly stopped and looked around. As someone with minimal experience of reading plays, I found it a relief to be eased into this bookshop with a few tables of fiction. There was a good mix of genres and it would've been easy to stay here to find my purchase.

Instead I explored properly, wandering the long wall of plays at the back of the bookshop. My boyfriend and I were determined to resist the urge to stay within our comfort zone of familiar drama, so we loitered by an area of new, recommends and currently showing plays, eventually selecting Sweat by Lynn Nottage.

Continuing with the dramatic, we moved on to The Calder Bookshop & Theatre. Part drama, part philosophy, this is a new and secondhand bookshop with a large selection of cheap secondhand titles out the front and a performance space hidden at the back. It was a busy bookshop and I enjoyed the randomness of browsing the books, occasionally hearing a dramatic outburst from behind the curtain, where a rehearsal must have been taking place. In an attempt to educate myself, here I bought Yuval Noah Harari's Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow. I really need to start working my way through all the non-fiction I've started buying.

Next up was somewhere I already know and love: Travelling Through... Still as diverse and welcoming as I knew it would be, this bookshop is organised by location and encourages readers to look beyond the comfortable boundaries of their daily worlds. With that thought in mind, I travelled to Canada (one day I'll get there in reality) with my purchase of The peculiar life of a lonely postman, by Denis Thériault, while my boyfriend headed to the Caribbean, with V S Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas. I'm pretty certain both purchases were unlikely to have crossed our paths had we been looking at regularly organised bookshelves.

Our guided tour ended with a visit to somewhere I'm ashamed to say I'd never have found (possibly heard of) if it hadn't been on the list: The Feminist Library. Not a bookshop, although it does have a small selection of titles for sale, this important collection of books is hidden away in a very unassuming building near the London South Bank University. It's so well hidden that at first when we stopped to press the buzzer I'd been certain we must be at the wrong place. We didn't buy anything here, but it was a remarkable experience to wander its two rooms, appreciating the many decades of literature that have been collected together. It was a fascinating end to the day.

The London Bookshop Crawl took place across the city at the beginning of February, with a selection of guided walks in different areas, or the option to simply set out on your own and see what you might find. In our case the discovery was a small selection of bookshops I've long meant to visit and a varied group of men and women who had individually paid the nominal fee to take part in the tour.

It was a lovely day of books, conversation and exploration and I can't wait until next year, when I'll get to explore another area of London bookshops (that I may or may not know) with strangers who I'm sure will become friends.

Somerset House Bookshop/The Rizzoli Bookshop
East Wing, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 1LA
Tel: 020 7845 4600 @SomersetHouse

National Theatre Bookshop
National Theatre, Lambeth, London SE1 9PX
Tel: 020 74523456 @NTBookshop

The Calder Bookshop & Theatre
51 The Cut, South Bank, London SE1 8LF
Tel: 020 7620 2900 @CalderBookshop

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

The Feminist Library
5 Westminster Bridge Road, South Bank, London SE1 7XW
Tel: 020 7261 0879 @feministlibrary

A few of us from the bookshop crawl posed for a selfie outside Travelling Through...


  1. What a great day this sounds! Lucky you. I am fascinated by the Somerset House bookshop - I have often been to that set of buildings, for various different reasons, but never noticed the bookshop. I will be heading there soon.

    1. It's one of those bookshops that is blatantly obvious once you've spotted it, but absolutely impossible to see when you're wandering around the square, searching every doorway for it! Good luck finding it (I hope my photo helps).


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