EX­PLOR­ING LIT­ER­ARY LON­DON

Top-shelf shops for book lovers

Vancouver Sun - - TRAVEL - MICHAEL HINGSTON

The first time I went to Lon­don, I asked a friend who lived there for book­store rec­om­men­da­tions. “Well,” he said with a pause, “that de­pends. What kind?” I was too em­bar­rassed to ad­mit I didn’t re­al­ize I had to spec­ify. But given that I was in the cen­tre of the English-speak­ing lit­er­ary world, it was an en­tirely rea­son­able ques­tion.

That sense of over­load re­turned im­me­di­ately on a re­cent trip back to the city, but this time I was bet­ter pre­pared for the depth and breadth of Lon­don’s lit­er­ary mar­ket­place. Look­ing for a first edi­tion of Brideshead Re­vis­ited? No prob­lem. How about a me­dieval map? You can find that, too. Want to pick up a stack of re­cent paperbacks — from in­side a boat? Step right this way (and mind your head). No mat­ter your in­ter­ests, or your bud­get, Lon­don has a book­shop for you.

DAUNT BOOKS 83 MARYLE­BONE HIGH ST. daunt­books.co.uk

Lo­cated a short walk from the Baker Street tube sta­tion, the orig­i­nal branch of this travel-fo­cused chain greets you with an im­pec­ca­bly cho­sen se­lec­tion of new fic­tion and non­fic­tion (in­clud­ing the most re­cent of­fer­ings from its pub­lish­ing arm, Daunt Books Pub­lish­ing). But the real al­lure is at the back. That’s where the store opens up into three full storeys of books, or­ga­nized not by genre, but by coun­try — mean­ing Javier Marías’s novels sit un­usu­ally but com­fort­ably along­side Lonely Planet Spain. With wooden ban­is­ters, sky­lights and all-around Ed­war­dian charm, it’s also one of the most pho­to­genic book­shops in the city.

ANY AMOUNT OF BOOKS 56 CHAR­ING CROSS RD. anyamounto­f­books.com

If I had to name a used book­store that would ap­peal to any­one, the first place that comes to mind is Any Amount of Books. This shop is one of the few re­main­ing on the book­sell­ers’ row im­mor­tal­ized in He­lene Hanff’s best­selling 1970 novel 84, Char­ing Cross Road — that ad­dress is now a Mcdon­ald’s — and it’s a win­ning jumble of gen­res, for­mats and price points. Big-game hunters can browse the store’s an­ti­quar­ian ti­tles, while those look­ing for quan­tity will be drawn to the eclec­tic and con­stantly up­dated sales rack out front. Most shop­pers, how­ever, will be happy to browse the walls of gen­eral-in­ter­est ti­tles in­side — but if you have some­thing else to do that day, you might want to set a timer, lest you ac­ci­den­tally spend all day there.

FOYLES 107 CHAR­ING CROSS RD. foyles.co.uk/ book­store-char­ing-cross

This Lon­don in­sti­tu­tion, once in­fa­mous for its mad­den­ingly ar­chaic busi­ness prac­tices (ti­tles were barely or­ga­nized and there were no cash regis­ters), has in re­cent years rein­vented it­self as a thor­oughly mod­ern book­selling chain. Nowhere is that new­found sleek­ness more on dis­play than the five-storey flag­ship shop on Char­ing Cross Road. It’s thor­oughly stocked, clearly and in­tu­itively or­ga­nized, and even has a ded­i­cated cafe on the top floor, which is per­haps why the new in­car­na­tion also feels a bit lack­ing in per­son­al­ity. More ad­ven­tur­ous book lovers will want to get their kicks else­where, but if you need to grab a self-help book with an ex­ple­tive in the ti­tle, or a Good Gram­mar is Sexy tote bag, then Foyles is un­doubt­edly the place to go.

PETER EL­LIS BOOK­SELLER 18 CECIL COURT pe­terel­lis­books.com

Did you know that in the Harry Pot­ter­verse, the mag­i­cal Di­agon Al­ley is ac­cessed via an aban­doned-look­ing pub just off Char­ing Cross Road? The book­sell­ers of the real-life Cecil Court do, if only be­cause the al­ley­way in front of their shops is fre­quently clogged with tour groups learn­ing that fact via me­ga­phone. Once you weave your way through, how­ever, an ex­cel­lent as­sort­ment of cosy, higher-end book­shops awaits — in­clud­ing Peter El­lis, an old-school an­ti­quar­ian book­seller who spe­cial­izes in mod­ern first edi­tions. If your favourite book was pub­lished in the 20th cen­tury, here’s the place to treat your­self to that pris­tine copy you’ve al­ways dreamt of.

GOSH! COMICS 1 BER­WICK ST. goshlon­don.com

It’s fit­ting that there’s a Bat Sig­nal in front of Gosh!, as comics fans from all over the city will find them­selves drawn to a graphic novel se­lec­tion that shows off just about ev­ery­thing the medium has to of­fer. The shop’s es­thetic is spare and un­der­stated, but the stock is not: Each ta­ble and book­case is piled with ti­tles of all sizes, for­mats and colours. You’ll find tra­di­tional su­per­hero fare here — in­clud­ing “key cre­ator” sec­tions for lu­mi­nar­ies such as Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman — but also a large se­lec­tion of chil­dren’s comics, an en­tire wall of indie and small-press ti­tles, and a gen­eral fic­tion sec­tion — the lat­ter yet an­other com­pelling ar­gu­ment that the genre has long since tran­scended the funny pages.

PERSE­PHONE BOOKS 59 LAMB’S CON­DUIT ST. perse­phone­books.co.uk

This shop does dou­ble duty not only as a charm­ing re­tail out­let, but also as the of­fice space for the pub­lisher of the same name, which has been bring­ing ne­glected ti­tles from mostly mid-cen­tury fe­male au­thors back into print since 1999. At this point, Perse­phone’s back­list runs to more than 130 ti­tles, each of which is avail­able at the store on Lamb’s Con­duit Street — and each ar­ranged, to my de­light, in numer­i­cal or­der. Staff mem­bers work both sides of the busi­ness, and their in­side knowl­edge of the stock means they are un­usu­ally skilled at hand­selling. I asked whether they had any good novels about Lon­don and was be­ing rung up for a copy of No­rah Hoult’s There Were No Win­dows, from 1944, in a mat­ter of sec­onds.

WORD ON THE WA­TER RE­GENT’SCANALATYO­RKWAY face­book.com/wor­don­the­wa­ter

It might sound like a gim­mick — and the am­bi­ence of Re­gent’s Canal cer­tainly doesn’t hurt — but this float­ing, cen­tury-old Dutch barge is a le­git­i­mate sec­ond-hand book­shop. Its stock ranges from clas­sics to pho­tog­ra­phy to con­tem­po­rary fic­tion, and the far­ther in­side you ven­ture, the snug­ger it gets; when you reach the chil­dren’s sec­tion on the low­est level, you’ll find the L-shaped couch that at­tracts pa­trons and the book­shop dog alike. In warmer weather, the shop hosts live mu­sic on its rooftop stage. When it gets chilly, there’s a wood-burn­ing stove to keep you warm as you browse.

GAY’S THE WORD 66 MARCHMONT ST. gaysthe­word.co.uk

While North Amer­i­cans are of­ten fa­mil­iar with Char­ing Cross Road’s lit­er­ary rep­u­ta­tion, the nearby dis­tricts of Blooms­bury and St Pan­cras are home to their own ex­cel­lent clus­ter of book­shops. Start your visit here, at Bri­tain’s old­est LGBT+ book­store, which has been around since 1979. Gay’s the Word has enough stock that you might mis­take it for a gen­eral-in­ter­est shop, and it has a par­tic­u­larly strong se­lec­tion of queer his­tory and pol­i­tics. (Though its fic­tion is noth­ing to sniff at, ei­ther: Au­thor Sarah Wa­ters has called Gay’s the Word “Bri­tain’s best out­let for les­bian, gay and trans-in­ter­est books.”) The shop has also long been a hub for Lon­don’s larger LGBT+ com­mu­nity, with a busy bul­letin board, a range of in-store events and dis­cus­sions, and even a mini-ex­hibit of queer pins from Paud He­garty, a for­mer store man­ager and gay ac­tivist who died in 2000.

SKOOB BOOKS 66, THE BRUNSWICK (OFF MARCHMONT STREET) skoob.com

Just around the corner from Gay’s the Word is the stair­case down to Skoob Books (get it?), an un­der­ground trea­sure trove of more than 50,000 sec­ond-hand ti­tles at hard-to-beat prices. At Skoob, the el­e­ment of sur­prise is key, which is why the store is full of nooks and cran­nies to scour and get lost brows­ing in. The store boasts a wide range of non­fic­tion, in­clud­ing phi­los­o­phy, his­tory, pol­i­tics and sci­ence, and its fic­tion se­lec­tion in­cludes the siren’s call that is en­tire book­cases of or­ange and black Pen­guin Clas­sics. The low-hang­ing pipes and heat­ing ducts only heighten the feel­ing that you’re about to un­earth some­thing spe­cial.

MAURI­CIO MOLIZANE DE SOUZA/GOSH! COMICS

Ta­bles and book­cases at Gosh! Comics in Soho are piled high with ti­tles and gen­res from tra­di­tional su­per­hero fare to chil­dren’s comics.

CARLY ADLING­TON/DAUNT BOOKS

With wooden ban­is­ters, sky­lights and Ed­war­dian charm, Daunt Books is one of the most pho­to­genic book­shops in Lon­don.

SKOOB BOOKS

If you don’t get the name at first, the store­front win­dow of Skoob pretty much spells it out. Now do you un­der­stand? The store fea­tures more than 50,000 sec­ond-hand ti­tles.

PETER EL­LIS BOOK­SELLER

Peter El­lis sits at his book-stacked desk in­side his epony­mous an­ti­quar­ian book­shop off Lon­don’s Char­ing Cross Road.

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