ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Bookshops Archive



January 2018



The Riverside Bookshop

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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.



January 2018



Clapham Books

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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.



January 2018



Brick Lane Book Shop

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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.