When I travel, I pick up unique postcards and local produce (and sometimes a bottle of alcohol or two). There’s also the occasional book, though I usually end up with more than one the moment I ‘lapse’ into my book-browsing mode.
Put me in a bookshop and I’ll soon lose track of time. Hunger, fatigue and/or the need to go to the loo would magically disappear. I might leave the shop with a lighter wallet, but I consider this a small price to pay for hours of pleasure and/or contemplation.
I go to London every other month for work. Being on a work trip means that there’s limited time to explore the city at my own pace.
When I’m in London, I usually stay at Le Méridien Piccadilly . Which works out well as the hotel is across the road from Waterstones’ flagship store, which closes at 10pm on most days and happens to be the largest bookshop in Europe.
Waterstones is a good all-rounder bookstore chain, just like Japan’s Kinokuniya, Barnes & Noble from the US and Eslite in Taiwan. I like that the one at Piccadilly offers a good selection from independent publishers such as Persephone Books, Pushkin Press and Twisted Spoon Press.
However, it lacks personality and I find the ambiance rather insipid. Waterstones is like a pleasant and reliable man who is just a tad dull. Nothing wrong with being so. It’s just not my cup of tea.
I prefer Daunt Books @ 83-84 Marylebone High Street. It’s nowhere as big as Waterstones Piccadilly, but who cares, size isn’t everything.
Daunt Books is a beautiful place to while away the hours. Especially on sunny days with the light streaming through the lofty glass ceiling and bathing the shop in a diffused glow.
Offering an extensive selection of travel literature, Daunt Books is like a seasoned globetrotter who is always elegantly groomed and ready to indulge you with one of his adventures in a faraway land.
Then there is John Sandoe @ 10 Blacklands Terrace in Chelsea. Not quite as gorgeous as Daunt Books, but endearing in its own way. Much smaller in scale, John Sandoe is almost packed to the brim with interesting literature (fiction, non-fiction) yet so incredibly neat.
Modest yet generous with much to offer, it’s like another well-travelled explorer. John Sandoe reminds me of someone who is a willing companion for a long journey, quietly listening and always ready with practical advice or inspiring anecdotes.
During my recent trip to London, I also visited Skoob Books @ Brunswick Shopping Centre, 66 Marchmont Street and was swept off my feet.
Hidden away in the basement of the shopping centre, Skoob Books is a treasure trove of secondhand books. Only one copy of each book is displayed on the shelves as there isn’t enough space.
One of the highlights of visiting Skoob Books was finding Miss Pettigrew, an Englishman William and an Expendable Man waiting for me in their smart grey jackets in the ‘new arrivals’ section! Dare I ask for more?
Skoob Books is like the one who has been around and (almost) seen it all. Press him for world history, classic literature, psychobabble, or even music, and he’ll have an answer for everything. But remember to take your time or you’ll be overwhelmed by all that wealth of knowledge and wisdom.
Places like Skoob Books are meant to be enjoyed a little at a time. Be patient and you can be sure to discover bits of paradise in between worn, tattered covers or lightly worn jackets.
All photographs were taken with my phone and processed using VSCO Cam.
18 replies on “Exploring London, one bookshop at a time”
I feel the same about bookshops. I could take days and weeks to consider a bag or piece of clothing, but books never needed the same careful consideration.
p.s. I’ll have to bookmark this post for my future, yet-planned London trip 🙂
The only ‘care’ I apply when buying books is whether there’s enough space in my apartment (since the bookshelves have spilled over)! 😉
your photos are wonderful – they’ve somehow captured the glowing charm that bookshops have. I can almost smell the pages of the books!
Thank you! And I love the smell of bookshops (as long as they don’t smell too moldy)!
I loved your literary guided tour.While I enjoy small independent bookstores (Mc Nally Jackson here in Manhattan is a particular have) I love Waterstones and Barnes & Noble for their anonymity. You can sprawl across the floor with a stack of books and no one bats an eyelid. The intimacy of smaller bookstores requires a different kind of behavior. When I first arrived in US, I wasn’t sure if I’d get a job and was watching my pennies but I could read whole novels over a few visits to B & N
Glad you enjoyed it Jackie. You brought up a good point about major chain bookstores. I remember people used to spend hours reading in Borders Singapore as you can sit anywhere in the shop. I also read a novella or two at Kinokuniya 🙂
Oooooh, so that’s where that gorgeous book photo came from! Next time I’m in London (I say, as if I go there all the time) I will have to look for Daunt. I also love your shot of the “<– Shakespeare" sign + sheet music scraps at Skoob.
Berkeley, and also the part of Oakland where I live now, is rich with independent bookshops. Once we started traveling, I mostly gave up buying books, but I still love the stores so much that I have been into several of the ones on our local shopping street. There is one that carries odd antiques and has a fantastic back room with old maps spread out on a big table, and there is another with a couple of comfy armchairs tucked behind some shelves (I bought an afternoon-tea cookbook from that one).
You absolutely must go to Daunt if you are in London again. You’ll love it.
When your message popped up on my phone on Sunday, I was tidying a file that contains travel articles from magazines. Funny thing was that your message appeared right just as I was reading a story on Daunt that I had torn out from Monocle some years back!
I love how each independent bookshop has its own character / personality. The one with the old maps in the back room sounds lovely.
What a coincidence! 🙂 Speaking of which, we’re now looking at a possible (and unfortunately probably quite short) London visit in October. I suppose you usually stay in hotels as most of your visits there are for work, but if you know of any good AirBnBs there (or any hotels that are not too expensive), I’d love to hear any of your recommendations. 🙂
I’ve only been in London twice for leisure alone (I usually try to extend a day or two after a work trip to see a bit of London). I’ll send you some recommendations in an email as it would be a bit long here!
One more address on my “to go list from Angelina suggestions”. Great photos, I specially love the Shakespeare with music! When traveling specially on low cost flights one problem is the weight limits from air lines companies 😦 a couple of times I found cheaper to buy the books and ship them home instead to pay for overweight!
You’re most welcome Robert! Several years ago, I lugged back 20-odd books after 3 days of exploring bookshops in New York. These went back with me to Singapore as hand-carry luggage 😉 I still have yet to finish all of them…
I will definitely take my cousin there with a fresh roll of film 🙂 such an incredible place! You’ve captured it with such reverence. I love it
Hi Nadeem, glad you like the pictures and look forward to seeing your take on Daunt Books!
Yes these are beautiful! I will let you know when I update the blog