Bookshops are under threat as never before. To survive these days, a bookshop has to be excellent – a pleasure to browse in, with knowledgeable staff and a quirky, interesting selection. Now, when someone has gone to all that trouble to make a lovely shop for you, why would you (as I overheard someone say recently) ‘choose here then buy on Amazon’? Here are some of my favourites in Bloomsbury and beyond.
The London Review Bookshop on Bury Place, is particularly strong on literary biography and history, and signed first editions. The staff know their stuff. Annoyingly, stock levels can be an issue. But there’s the double delight of a civilised cup of tea and a cake in the delightful tea shop, where you may find yourself having enlightening conversations with perfect strangers.
There are stacks of second-hand bookshops in Bloomsbury. For those all-important second-hand academic moments, try Judd Books on Marchmont Street, full from roof to basement with top-notch knowledge. And who could resist a second-hand bookshop with a piano? Not me, which is just one reason to drop into the Brunswick Centre’s Skoob Books (another being the palindromic title). And for fans of the excellent, lamented TV comedy Black Books, find the original bookshop where the series was filmed on Leigh Street, thankfully under less fierce management. I used to live next door, and became used to excited fans taking photos outside the gloomy-looking shop.
A bookshop that makes my heart sing with joy is Persephone Books on Lamb’s Conduit Street. A street of many joys, but none greater than this bookshop-come-spiritual-home for Bloomsbury ladies. For the uninitiated, Persephone publishes books, mainly by women, that have fallen out of print. They are a treasure house of forgotten classics, taking in recipe books and household tips (the incomparable How to Run Your Home Without Help), poetry (It’s Hard to be Hip After 30) and heaving-bosom novels (I defy anyone not to enjoy The Making of a Marchioness). All most elegantly presented in dove-grey covers. It’s the sort of venture that really shouldn’t exist in the modern world. But oh, it does, it does.
The museums around Bloomsbury are another good source of bookshops. There’s Blackwells in the Wellcome Collection, which sells lots of quirky and interested science, medicine and London related books, as well as all the catalogues for the Wellcome exhibitions. The British Library, as one would hope, has an equally interesting selection in its bookshop.
St Pancras Station has an outpost of Foyle’s; excellent for a quick present if you’re off to visit someone. But if you just want a massive great selection of floor upon floor of books, may I direct you to Waterstones on Gower Street, where you will find all you need.
Further afield, I love Belgravia Books in Ebury Street, handy for Victoria Station, and not just because I can nip in for a chat with my old school chum, who works in the attached publishing house, Gallic Books. Belgravia Books has a well-edited selection of the sort of books that make you say ‘ooh, that looks interesting’, with emphasis on translated fiction and and well-bound, beautifully presented books.
South of the river, near my Dulwich home, we’re blessed with Dulwich Books in West Dulwich (great local bookshop, organiser of Dulwich Book Festival), the Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace (weird name, fantastic selection), and the friendly Village Books in Dulwich Village.
Now, I can’t keep them all in business myself (although goodness I try). So please, go forth and browse. Then, most importantly, buy. Let’s put Amazon out of business.