ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Bookshops Archive

Friday

16

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

16 03 2018 Waterstones

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

I’ve been avoiding Waterstones, mostly because I feel like its basically the Barnes and Noble of the UK, and while I love any and all bookshops, this project is mostly about the independent ones. That said, today I find myself with a bit of time to spend prior to attending a lecture at my old university, and within close walking distance of a Waterstones – the one in Covent Garden, to be specific.

The shop is as lovely as I’ve come to expect from bookshops here; other than Foyles and possibly Clapham Books, most shops have a very old feel to them, in a good way. They have gorgeous bookcases and even when the shops are large they feel quite cozy.

This particular shop has three entrances and two levels (ground and basement), and I explore most of it. Of course I seek out the non-fiction book sections, and find that the philosophy section is named something like “critical thinking” or “smart writing.” Something lofty but also a bit clever. I’m tempted but know that I have many, many non-fiction books at home on my to be read pile.

Instead, I find today’s purchase on a display table. I’ve seen it in multiple places, and finally decide to pick it up. I mean, Reese Witherspoon has purchased the rights to turn it into a film, so why not. It looks like it’ll be a fun read when I’ve decided to take a break from some of the more career- and life-focused non-fiction books that are in my queue.

I love books, and it seems silly to avoid the chains if they might have some good options. That said, I do find the customer service here to be a bit lacking. I’m still on the hunt for Ijeoma Oluo’s book, but when I bring my purchase up to pay for it, the man working the cash register is so surly that I don’t want the interaction to last any longer than absolutely necessary. Perhaps that’s the difference – perhaps the smaller shops are more likely to have friendly book lovers working them.

Or perhaps this guy is just having a bad day.

Sunday

4

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

04 02 2018 Daunt Books

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

It’s sunny but freezing out. Jason and Kelly have found a Sunday farmer’s market that they want to check out, in the neighborhood of Marylebone (which, incidentally, I’m not entirely sure I know how to pronounce). The market is small but filled with many stalls of fresh baked goods and prepared foods; a culinary school sets up shop and sells their products, which seems to me a pretty ingenious idea. After grabbing some hot drinks, we decide to wander up the high street.

Unexpectedly, we come across Daunt Books. Jason enjoys bookstore browsing as well, so Kelly suggests we go in and take our time.

It is apparently primarily a travel bookshop, with three levels of books devoted not just to your Frommer’s / Fodor’s / Lonely Planet guides, but also history and fiction set in specific nations and regions. What a fantastic idea! Instead of just going to the traditional travel section before a trip, buying a glossy guide and reading the perfunctory five pages of ‘history’ of the locale up front, this encourages the purchaser to consider learning more about the place they plan to visit. What better way to prepare for a trip to Berlin than to read about the thriving artist communities, or perhaps pick up a novel written by a resident of the town.

Despite the main focus of the shop, I end up picking up two books that aren’t necessarily travel-related: one on the beauty of silence and one on using my phone less. Can you sense a theme?

We’ve been here for nearly four weeks. I’ve come down with a cold that has (as usual) led to a nasty cough, and I’m having trouble just accepting that I need to be still. I don’t need to always be occupying my time or mind, always running around or doing something. But that can be hard with so many readily available distractions. Hopefully these books will help with that.

I can see returning to this shop prior to us starting on our travels. I know that Belgium is high on the list (Beer! Fries! Chocolate!), but I know nothing about the country and figure it would be good to get a sense before we visit. I have no doubt this shop will help with that.

Friday

2

February 2018

0

COMMENTS

02 02 2018 Foyles (Again!)

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

I’m back again. But this time, I’ve brought Austin, because he needs to see this place. We’ve just had dinner with our friends Jason and Kelly, who had already had a trip to London scheduled before we decided to move here, so this has been a delight. Tonight they’ve got tickets to Harry Potter, so after a decent pub dinner we part ways.

Austin is as in awe as I am, and takes the same photo of the message on the wall as I did two days ago. It’s 7:30 on a Friday evening but the place is pretty full.

We make our way up to the top, winding through each section. We marvel at the detail of some of the sections. I think my favorite may just be “Contemporary Writing.” Basically it’s just a lot of non-fiction and essays that I would seek out on my own. Fantastic!

Even though I’ve literally just been here, I still manage to pick up two books: one on the politics of geography (I hope to finally figure out why Russia is interested in the Ukraine), and one on living my life as I want.

I won’t document every time I revisit a bookshop, but returning so soon and bringing Austin strikes me as worth mentioning. We sign up for the loyalty program, because of course. We will be back.

Wednesday

31

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

31 01 2018 Foyles

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

Foyles. Ah, Foyles. I’ve heard of this shop, but never actually been, at least not that I can recall. How I’ve never been here is a bit of a mystery. I guess because I hadn’t jumped back into my love of books last time I lived here, but damn. I’ve been missing out.

Although it is not nearly as large, something about this shop reminds me of Powell’s in Portland, Oregon. Maybe it’s how bright it is, or how it feels labyrinthine (even though the layout is pretty straightforward). Or perhaps its because I know I could spend days in this shop and leave with my arms full of all the books.

I mean, how perfect is this?

*sigh*

I need to get back home relatively quickly, so I don’t spent as much time here as I want. As is usually the case, I spend most of my time in the non-fiction section and finally pick up a book that’s been catching my eye for a year or so.

Who knows if this will be helpful. But I’m here in London, with no job, and the opportunity to figure out what it is I actually want to do with my professional life. Do I want to write? What does that look like? Or do I need a job in an office with a regular schedule? Is there something that involves both?

Maybe I can find a job that will allow me to prevent people from loudly speaking on mobile phones in cafes and buses (PLEASE SHUT UP, LADY SITTING NEXT TO ME IN THE CAFE).

I doubt this book is going to be what makes me finally figure it all out, but who knows. It might help.

Wednesday

31

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

31 01 2018 Watkins Books and Others

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

There is a street called Cecil Court, near Charing Cross, just a short walk from the National Portrait gallery, where you can find some interesting books. It’s a street you can’t drive down, at least I don’t think you can, so it’s perfect for window shopping. I count about five bookshops, although there could be more, and I only end up visiting one.

Most of the bookshops seem focused on rare and antique books. One specifically specializes in children’s books, and has some original e.e. milne drawings of Winnie the Pooh available for purchase.

While I love books, I’m not much of a collector (although I should check to see if they have any old etiquette books), so I always feel a bit odd going into these rare book shops. I don’t want to be in the way, I’m probably not going to buy anything, and I fear I’ll manage to knock over a stack or two.

Instead, I visit Watkins. Watkins bills itself as an “esoteric” bookshop. I assume that means it will have a lot of philosophy and other high-minded books. Clearly I don’t know what words mean, because in reality this is essentially a spirituality and occult books shop.

You may or may not be shocked to learn that during and just after college I went through a pagan phase. I was looking for some spirituality and a way to connect to nature, and that seemed to work for me. In the end I ended up back in my atheist / agnostic space, venturing occasionally into the Buddhist realm with my readings.

This shop would have been 21-year-old me’s favorite place to go. It features a man in the corner doing tarot readings. It has many different sections, some obviously targeting people who are easily led astray (ahem The Secret ahem), but I think if I were to return and visit the downstairs area I might be able to find something related to meditation that could be of interest.

In the end, I won’t be likely to return, but it’s cool that this bookshop is here for folks who might benefit from it.

Monday

29

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

Hatchards

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

There are bookshops everywhere here. Or at least, it feels like it. And I am definitely okay with it. For example, I stumble across one today on my way to a museum. (That’s right, I’m taking full advantage of not having a job right now while living in a city full of free museums.)

If Hatchards were a person, I think it would be a very traditional, older, white man. Perhaps it’s the age (it’s over 200 years old), or the decor (plush carpet in need of a good cleaning, bookcases that appear to have layers of paint on them), or the staff (all middle-aged white men), but I can’t imagine people having conversations above a whisper in here. It feels more library than bookstore.

That said, there are FIVE FLOORS OF BOOKS. Five. Floors. I mean, come on.

I go all the way up and all the way down, doing a very quick scan. I don’t notice specific cultural studies, women’s studies, or LGBTQ studies section, which is a drawback in such a large space (it’s also possible I just don’t notice them). At the same time I love how large the shop is, and love that it has an entire bookcase devoted to Agatha Christie books. Yet something about it seems just a little too serious for me.

Which I guess makes sense, since it’s surrounded by fancy stores and is just a few doors down from Fortnam and Mason.

I still bought a book, and it’s one written by a white male, because that seems on brand:

Thursday

25

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

bookmongers

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

Secondhand bookshops haven’t always been my thing. I mean, I like them in theory. I love the idea of books getting a new home when their owner doesn’t want them anymore. And I love the idea of not spending $25 on a new book.

But I don’t so much love the reality of the stacks and stacks of books with not a lot of organization. It gets my anxiety up. And often I’m going to a bookstore with at least a general idea of what I want to read, but in a secondhand bookshop they’re probably not going to have it (unless “it” is a book someone was required to read in high school).

With all that in mind, I put aside what are ultimately fairly silly concerns to explore my local bookshop, bookmongers. It’s located in Brixton, just a block or so from the Market. It’s not big, and it’s certainly full of stacks of books that aren’t totally organized.

But.

I mean, come on. If you’re interested in moving beyond the same old books by the same old dead white guys, it’s pretty great to be able to go to a section that’s full of female authors. Now, if we could add in a nonbinary section I’d be even more excited.

I don’t make it out of there without buying a book (because that’s what I do), but in this case the purchases are so much cheaper, and the books are still in good shape. I pick up On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky, and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. I figure Mudbound is a good choice given that the film adaptation is up for a couple Academy Awards in March.

I’m not sure if this is going to be my go-to bookshop for all the things, but it’s definitely going to be where I head when I am looking for something to read but am not sure what I want. Because after this visit, I do see something else of value that was missing in my mind before: the fact that with a secondhand bookshop, it’s more likely that I’ll be open to the book choosing me and not the other way around.

Tuesday

23

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

The Riverside Bookshop

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

Today is clear and not too cold. Once again I spent part of the day waiting for a delivery. We’re in our new place, and it’s really coming together, save the unassembled Ikea bed that also doesn’t have a mattress yet. We’re sleeping in the guest room / office, which I’ve rearranged to feel less like a large open room and more like a cozy space.

Once the delivery arrived and I spent an embarrassingly long amount of time putting together what looked like a simple toilet paper holder, I went for a run. At like noon. I also found a great park that I know we’ll return to when the weather is better.

As has been happening lately, by around 3PM I start to get a bit antsy. I could read (and sometimes do). I could also write, but for the most part my brain just isn’t settled enough to do much writing beyond these little updates and my Cannonball Read reviews. So, as I sit in a cafe reading my Book Lovers’ London, I decide it is time to explore a bit. I only have about two hours before I have to figure out dinner, but I still want Ijeoma Oluo’s new book.

Off I go to The Riverside Bookshop. It’s right by the London Bridge rail station, tucked into a corner of a larger shopping area. I’m expecting something a bit bigger, but it is definitely a nice little place to browse.

I don’t see Ms. Oluo’s book out on display, but I see a similar one so figure I’ll ask the staff. Turns out, Ms. Oluo’s book won’t be available in the UK until February.

I don’t quite understand delayed releases of books (or films, for that matter – apparently neither Lady Bird nor I, Tonya are out in London cinemas yet) when the internet exists. I could order Ms. Oluo’s book from the US Amazon site and have it sent here; why not release it in London at the same time so I can give my business to the local shops?

Alas, I have to wait. But in the meantime I enjoy looking through the shelves. I nearly make the mistake of buying what looks to be a great book (A History of Britain in 21 Women), but I have the wherewithal to look up the author first. Turns out she holds some pretty unfortunate ideas about trans women. So back onto the shelf it goes.

Instead, I find The Good Immigrant, which is a collection of essays written by people of color who live in the UK. I figure I need to learn more about my new home, and this is another good place to look.

I probably won’t be coming back here often, but if I find myself in the area I’ll probably stop in.

Wednesday

17

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

Clapham Books

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

It is freezing in London. Or at least, I’m freezing. Alright, it’s in the high 30s but still. It’s cold. I tossed my knee-high boots when I moved here because they were falling apart (despite multiple resoles), and I figured that I’d purchase new ones when I got here.

Alas, it was not to be. The season for boots (in shops at least) is winding down, and someone as tall as I am has some particular needs when it comes to clothing in general, including shoes. Instead, I’ve chosen what appears to be a common fashion choice in London at the moment: tights and booties.

Both were procured from Marks & Spencer (they have clothes and household goods, but also the best gummy candy) yesterday, and in an attempt to break them in, I decide to walk to a new part of town today. We’ve gotten word that our application for an apartment nearby was accepted, so I can relax a bit while waiting for the lease and instructions on sending over an ungodly amount of money.

Ijeoma Oluo is a Seattle-area writer. She writes about many topics, but her focus is primarily centering Black women. Her interview with Rachel Dolezal received national attention, and was a masterful essay.

Ms Oluo has just released a book: So You Want to Talk About Race. I’ve decided to find it. I check my new bookshop book, and decide to walk the mile or so over to Clapham Books.

It may be cold and windy, but it’s also sunny out, which makes London feel crisp and clean. There are no leaves left on any trees, and it hasn’t rained in a day or so, which means the ground is free of puddles and most debris. I decide on a route that will take me through a couple of neighborhoods, passing what I consider to be quintessential London: row houses made of brick with round smokestacks coming out the top. The roads aren’t really straight; everything seems to have a curve. And each time I want to cross, I have to double-check that I’m looking the right way.

Literally, the right way. Not left-right-left again, as those of us in the US were taught, but right-left-right again. Thirty-eight years of conditioning won’t be gone in a week, so thankfully the government has thought it a good idea to paint on the crosswalks “look left” or “look right” so that we don’t inadvertently turn into Regina George and get flattened by the 77 bus to Tooting.

When I arrive at Clapham Books I’m disappointed that they don’t have Ms. Oluo’s book in stock. It was a long shot, however, as this bookshop is also tiny (though probably a smidge larger than Brick Lane Books). They do have a few good choices, and a cute children’s section. I decide that for this visit, I should see if they have anything specific to learning more about London, or England.

And they do. They have a small shelf devoted to that topic, although I find my pick in the politics section. Watching the English claims to be an anthropological study of English behavior. I’m not entirely sure what that means, and who she means by “the English” given how many folks from all over the world call this nation home, but I’d imagine there are some tips to be gotten from this book. Yes, I’ve lived here before, and know not to refer to jeans as pants, for example, but beyond that there are some things I’m not entirely clear on.

So, while the visit to the bookshop was not successful in the way I’d planned, it certainly was a success. I’m not sure if I’ll find myself back at this bookshop very often given its size, but it will be close to my new apartment, so maybe it’ll become a favorite.

Sunday

14

January 2018

0

COMMENTS

Brick Lane Book Shop

Written by , Posted in Bookshops

Today I turned 38. We’ve only just arrived in London — our flight landed at 7:15 on the morning of the 10th — and we’re staying in temporary housing. One of our cats has caught a cold (we think, hoping the vet tomorrow will confirm it’s nothing worse) and is sneezing a bunch; the other is much chattier than normal. But today is my day, and Austin has booked us a tea. And not just any tea; a tea with cats.

People who know me know that if it involves cats, sweets, or books, then I’m all in. Afternoon tea with cats checks two of those boxes, so I know it is going to be good.

And it is. The food is tasty, but the decor is even better. The theme is Alice in Wonderland, although the names of the cats don’t seem to fully follow that convention. However, in the downstairs of the cafe, the space has been transformed into a little forest. There are trees with cats in them, red roses, playing cards, and twinkly lights. We aren’t to disturb the cats when they’re sleeping or eating, but otherwise we can play with them, snuggle them, let them crawl into our laps. We’re there during lunchtime, so all of the cats eventually make their way over to dishes of food.

After tea, Austin leaves it up to me as to where we go next. This is my old neighborhood; when I went to graduate school I lived just a few blocks from Brick Lane, and would traverse it in search of movies at Rich Mix  late night bagels, curries, or the occasional pub trivia (we came in second once!). It’s changed a bit over the past eight years, but it’s still familiar.

Then, we stumble upon Brick Lane Bookshop  It is tiny, but I can tell from the displays that it is my kind of shop. Up front, Austin and I stop to flip through some London-themed books. He chooses one on drinking in the UK (I know our friends who will visit over the next few years will be thankful of that purchase); I choose one on London bookshops. We also find a couple of cards to send to family back home.

Because it’s a Sunday (the big market day), the small shop is packed. I don’t want to take up loads of space when we’ve already found books to purchase, so we pay and hurry outside. I already know I’ll return sometime soon; this shop has a history of over 40 years, starting as the Tower Hamlets Art Project. I’m sad I didn’t know about it when I lived here in 2010, but I know about it now.

And, thanks to Brick Lane Bookshop, I’m also prepared to explore more of what London has to offer for those who love to read. I don’t have loads of disposable income, but I do have a lot of free time at the moment, so I’m going to make the most of it and see what other gems I can find.

When I had been living in New York for just a couple of months, my sister and her boyfriend came to visit. After I played tour guide for a weekend, this boyfriend commented that I seemed to really know my way around the desserts and sweets of NYC.

Perhaps the next time my sister visits, bringing her partner with her, he will comment that I really know my way around the bookshops of London.