Happy October, everyone! Time to kick off the month with tales of my latest literary travels.
A couple weeks ago, we found out Scott would have to go to England for work and that I would be able to join him for a long weekend in London. With most of Friday on my own, I decided to conduct my own London bookstore tour since Scott isn’t the bibliophile I am, and I wanted to save a lot of the touristy stuff for the two of us to do together.
During the layover before my London flight, I tore the paper map from my guidebook and identified the seven stores I really wanted to visit, allowing a general route to take shape [captured (partially) above]. Luckily, our hotel was a great starting point, and most of the stores followed a wobbly loop route. I dropped off my duffel bag and set out with my map, an already-full tote bag (oops), and a poor sense of direction.
Stanfords was my first stop, and what a way to kick off the tour! Stanfords is the largest travel bookstore in the world, and my quick peek inside revealed a huge selection of local travel interests and exploring. So many walking maps! Since I was there for the weekend and only brought my tote and carry-on duffel, I knew I couldn’t buy a book at every store (sigh), especially since I would have to carry all of them Friday in that full tote bag. I regrettably left without a purchase. Also, I learned the hard way to look down while you’re visiting bookshops – the buildings are older, and there’s gorgeous flooring. Stanfords featured a huge floor map that I totally missed! I’d recommend those on longer stays (especially outside of London) pop in to grab guides or maps for other parts of the country.
I knew I had to check out Persephone Books after spotting it on Kim’s Instagram feed. When I Googled it for more information, I found out that the store focuses on reprints of “neglected” twentieth century writers, mostly women. It’s a charming little shop that features stacks of soft, dove gray book covers and elegant endpaper designs. I knew I would have to get a book here, so I picked up a slim volume, The Woman Novelist and Other Stories by Diana Gardner. Those with interests in reading more female authors and frequenting independent bookstores and publishers must plan a visit.
Skoob Books is a secondhand bookstore that is everything it should be: stacks on stacks of soft paperbacks and worn hardbacks, sturdy bookshelves, and narrow, dead-ended aisles. . I could have cleared away a spot to sit and spent all day here. Every surface was covered. It reminded me of Bookman’s Alley, located in my college town and now, sadly, closed. I didn’t purchase anything here, but I remembered pleasant trips to Bookman’s and other used bookstores of my past. If you’re not going to sell or trade, I imagine you’ll still enjoy the experience. Skoob also features a great entrance, descending down the stairs and over a gorgeous tile mural, as well as a (spoiler alert?) palindromic name. After my visit, I grabbed a latte at a Starbucks I saw when I walked by (hey, I had no cash and was using my husband’s credit cards for book money; using my gift card seemed like a smart move).
London Review Bookshop
I found the London Review Bookshop on my way to Persephone, but it was twenty minutes before it opened. Since I’d have to head back in the same direction, I knew I’d be able to give it a proper tour. I’m so glad I did, because this was one of my favorite stores! There was a large selection and a lot of variety (especially non-fiction). I really wanted to get something here but excluded hardbacks, so I grabbed the UK vintage paperback version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. There’s also an attached cakeshop, just in case you get hungry during all your book-browsing.
Foyles is my dream bookstore. Seriously, this bookstore is everything I want. Having spent a lot of time in the suburban sprawl of the South, I have a fondness for multi-storied bookstores rather than the single-story expanse. The flagship location also has a cafe on the top level, along with a gallery featuring local artists. There’s a massive selection of books and an open, airy floor design. It’s bright and modern, different from many of the shops I visited in London. I wanted to buy quite a few books there, and intended to bring Scott back so he could check it out, but we never made it back during our visit – something I sorely regret, as I planned to purchase Be Awesome and grab something from the cafe.
I managed to visit two different Waterstones locations, back-to-back, both while soaking wet and escaping the rain. The first store was the Piccadilly shop, a planned visit and my last intended stop of the day. En route from Foyles, there was a short, rapid burst of rain and I was positively drenched. In true Phoenix resident fashion, I struggled with my umbrella and spent a good three minutes tucked away in the Waterstones entrance trying to re-fasten the strap and insert the umbrella back into its cover. Perhaps my frustration shaped my experience of the store, or perhaps it was such a far cry from Foyles, but I didn’t love the store. It felt dim and seemed very similar to Barnes & Noble, and not as unique as the other shops I visited. With the rain subsiding, I made my way back toward our hotel and stumbled upon the Trafalgar Square location. I didn’t see it in the morning because I’d walked and crossed away from it initially, so it was a pleasant surprise to happen upon it in the afternoon. With another downpour threatening, I escaped into the smaller store, after snapping a quick pic of the outside signage. To my surprise, I loved the Trafalgar Square location – it was much smaller, so it felt intimate. Most of the books were in the lower level. There was a cozy, personal feel to the location.
Daunt Books may be the most “British” bookstore of the lot. I went there with Scott on Saturday while we were sightseeing nearby (“So you just…like going to bookstores?”). An Edwardian bookstore, the Marleybone location (pictured) has logged over a hundred years in residence. This gorgeous gallery is the main event. It’s certainly a place you could lose an hour (or afternoon) in, and the perfect last stop in my London bookstore tour! I’d recommend stopping here before/after a trip to the British Natural History museum – it’s close by, and complements the rich history and experience of Daunt Books.
If you enjoyed this post, check out Kim’s London Bookstore Tour notes. I didn’t see/remember her post until after I got back, but we ended up having minimal overlap and she was able to see a lot of other bookstores! Just more proof that London is truly a literary city.
Thanks for reading! Which bookstore tickles your fancy?