I had the amazing opportunity to travel down to London for five days this month, and spent the majority of it haunting some highly recommended indie bookshops. After spending a genuinely ridiculous amount of money on books (although not as much as it could have been – student discount and second hand shops go a long way for saving the wallet) I ended up bringing home 9 books squashed between my Converse in my suitcase.
Note: these are not all of the bookshops I visited during my trip, just the ones where I purchased something. If anyone is interested in hearing about the other places I visited in London, let me know!
Foyles, ft. an inexplicable Red Bandit.
On my first day travelling into London, I knew Foyles was the first place I wanted to hit; I’ve been every time I’ve visited the city, and love getting lost in the four floors of books and stationary. The YA section is particularly vast – I’ve honestly never seen so much space dedicated to children’s and teenage literature. After viewing several of their recommended books, however, I did ultimately decide on a new release I’ve been desperate to read for months: Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler, a modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew, part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. The cover is completely stunning, and I’m so excited to eventually pick up the other novels in this series, too.
Any Amount of Books
This was the second bookshop I browsed, only about a minutes walk from Foyles. Specialising in rare and first edition books, this incredible used bookshop had a literal bargain basement. Although even the rare volumes they stock are competitively priced, the basement had books at scandalously low prices. Here, I found Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence, deciding to buy it after accidentally opening it on a passage about the value of an education in art. I also picked up a non-fiction book, The Fall of the Roman Empire by Michael Grant. These books were only £3 each, which made me feel a lot less guilty about buying two books in one place.
Just as I was about to pay, I saw the corner of a book sticking out of a huge stack by the staircase, getting ready to be moved downstairs. After (very carefully) extracting it from the pile, I realised it was the same book I’d coveted at the V&A book sale years before – only this time, it was also £3. Not only did I manage to grab a complete steal of a deal, but this book covers most of the history that is essential to my undergrad dissertation research! So, with an extremely heavy bag and aching shoulder, I ended up leaving with three books.
This was a bookshop I’d intended to visit many times, but had never quite managed to make it out towards Bloomsbury: a bookshop that publishes their own books, the titles all from out of print or underappreciated female authors. All of their main titles all have the same beautiful grey covers, with the end papers chosen from patterns (from knitting, to fabric, to wallpaper) from a time period relevant to the novel itself. What’s more is each title also comes with a free matching bookmark, making this a haven for obsessive book collectors like myself who are determined for everything to match.
Due to the nature of the shop it meant that I found so many titles that sounded incredible that I otherwise would never have heard of, and managed to pick up a catalogue and order form so that I could buy more at a later date without ever leaving the North East. Persephone was by far my favourite shop that I visited during this trip, and it was made all the more special by the lovely conversation about female authors I had with the girl who worked there. I ended up weakening and purchasing two books; one I found myself, The Far Cry by Emma Smith, and one under the strong recommendation of the two women from behind their desks as I browsed, Mariana by Monica Dickens.
Gay’s the Word
About a ten minute walk (if you don’t get lost, like I did) away from Persephone Books is the LGBT bookshop Gay’s the Word. Although small in size this bookshop packs in a huge number of books, organised by age range, and then by the sexuality it follows the most closely. I especially loved the children’s and YA sections near the front of the store, as it was so lovely to see the number of novels aimed at young people that demonstrated support and acceptance. They even have a small secondhand section, meaning that there’s something for all ages and budgets within the store. I ended up buying The Baby by Lisa Drakeford, which I then proceeded to read in one sitting in the nearby Brunswick Square Gardens. I also bought a postcard with the store’s logo on, which I’m planning to save in some scrapbook pages dedicated to this trip.
After reading about this bookshop in Jen Campbell’s The Bookshop Book, I ended up dragging a friend of mine through the pouring rain and a half mile walk to find it. Daunt has three branches across London – I visited the one near Notting Hill Gate – and although stocks a huge range of books, it specialises mainly in travel writing. What I really loved was that the travel writing was organised by country rather than writer, meaning I could really take the time to not only choose which countries I wanted to read about, but the specific angle or time period too. Picked from the India and Japan sections respectively, I bought Slowly Down the Ganges by Eric Newby, and The Japanese Chronicles by Nicolas Bouvier. I also decided to splurge and buy one of their iconic green canvas bags, which I cannot wait to start using when I go back to university this autumn – most probably for transporting library books.
What are some of your favourite independent bookshops? Let me know down in the comments!