Reading is one of the simplest but most loved pastimes, especially in our busy world where we just need an escape, a detox from our digital lives. From rare and first editions to book prescriptions and author events, these are eleven of the best bookshops in London, all without a Kindle in sight. It’s a fitting read given it is World Book Day today!
Ready to Recommend
Not sure what to read? Then you need to check out the Reading Clinic at Fulham’s independent book shop, Nomad. Whether you want to be challenged, stick to what you know or try something completely different, their reading advisors will create a ‘prescription’ for you, so you’ll receive six books a year based on your results. It’s the sort of prescription we can get on board with. They’ll also help advise which books you need to take with you if your off travelling and can make book bundles to give to as gifts for avid readers.
Curating Libraries and Famous Staff
The Heywood Hill in Mayfair is not just famous for it’s love of books and the fact they curate libraries, but they also had a rather famous member of staff during the second half of World War Two, the novelist Nancy Mitford. Not only is it said that she could have been influenced by her time in the shop when it came to writing her own books, but she also helped to bring the bookshop to the forefront of the English social and literary circle in the 1940s.
Cecil Court isn’t a bookshop per say, but it is a curious alley that conjures up thoughts of Diagon Alley, hidden in the city. The alleyway, nicknamed Bookseller’s Row, is home to twenty-odd secondhand bookshops and antiquarian booksellers – wow! All of the shop fronts have remained the same for centuries giving it rather an eerie yet an alluring feel to it. You’ll find all sorts of paraphernalia, from maps to books to posters and banknotes. What are you waiting for?
Tote Bags and Travel
Chances are you’ve seen someone carrying a Daunt Books canvas tote bag, I feel like I should get one, it would make me look learned, not like a burger addict as I currently use a freebie from the launch of a well-known joint starting with Shake and ending in Shack. Besides the tote bags, Daunt Books are known for the travel aspect, with books being arranged by country, wherever its fiction or non-fiction. There are several shops now including the latest addition on Cheapside, but the original is Marylebone, set in a beautiful Edwardian building complete with stained glass and a gallery.
Lost and Forgotten Books
Just like all the books stocked at Persephone Books, the shop itself has a tale to tell. Founder Nicola Beauman started Persephone Books in a room above a pub back in 1998 publishing forgotten and out of print books primarily written by women. Following the publication of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson which was so successful it became a film starring Amy Adams and Frances McDormand, they moved to Bloomsbury and opened their shop. Now they sell 128 books, a mix of non-fiction and fiction by mid-twentieth century writers. They publish everything from cookbooks to diaries, but you’ll find that all the books are grey. 1) They just really like grey and 2) You can’t judge a book by its cover, because the outside might be neutral but inside they know there’s a great world to discover.
Rare and Valuable Books
If it’s rare books that you’re after, then you need to make a trip to Peter Harrington on Fulham Road or Dover Street. They stock books from the fifteenth to twentieth centuries, including, in the last few years, Shakespeare’s first folio 1623, Virginia Woolf’s pocket engagement diaries for eight years, including the last year of her life and the publisher’s copy of Huckleberry Finn. Currently you’ll find a first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; a first edition of The Hound of the Baskervilles and a first edition of Card on the Table by Agatha Christie, which, if I had a spare £3000 I’d buy straight away. As you can imagine, these books are expensive. Very expensive.
Libreria want you to find books that you might not come across, they want to move away from the ‘Like This? People Also Bought XYZ’ that you find online. They want to nurture creativity and get us thinking more, they want us thinking outside the box and to encourage us to be knowledgeable about more than one area. Guilty as charged seeing as I almost only read classic detective stories. Books are arranged into broad themes like ‘The City’ and ‘Wanderlust’ so you’re always finding something new to read.
London's Only Floating Bookshop
The much loved, Word on the Water (not surprisingly London’s only floating bookshop) is so loved that it was saved from permanent closure in 2015 by thousands of Londoner’s signing a petition. Now, with a permanent stop in Granary Square, this quirky, independent secondhand bookshop can continue to sell, as they say ‘interesting’ books and host meet the author events and jazz and poetry nights.
Books and Other Necessities
When literary agents Sarah Lutyens and Felicity Rubinstein first founded their bookshops they asked hundreds of readers the sorts of books that they would love to find in a bookshop and they used the answers to stock their shop, so you know that every book is in there because someone loves it. They also sell other little bits including stationery and cards, paperweights, pictures by Hugo Guinness and Serge Seidlitz and slightly differently, homemade preserves.
Award-Winning Children's Bookshop
In a world full of smart phones and children growing up using tech before they can talk, there’s an innocence and simplicity to reading that all children needs. Tales on Moon Lane is an enchanting, award-winning children’s bookshop set up by a local teacher. Since opening in 2003 it has won many awards, including the Children’s Bookseller of the Year at the Bookseller’s Association Awards twice. They also host free literary festivals, weekly story times and pop-up events.
London's Oldest Bookshop
Having opened over two centuries ago, Piccadilly’s Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop. Since it opened in 1797, it has seen eight generations of customers and has forged relations with the royal family, holding three royal warrants. They currently have 100,000 books in store, but if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, they can order anything in, even those difficult out of print or first editions you’ve been trying to find.
Talking about all things magical, see 10 places Harry Potter fans won’t want to miss here