London is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to book buying. While the last few years haven’t been kind to independent bookshops, the best of the bunch deserve your folding money because they provide what their online discount equivalents don’t: the joy of discovery, an eye for the underappreciated and a chance to breathe in the past. Let’s take a look at where this most literary of cities is making its purchases…
Lutyens and Rubinstein
Tucked off to the side of Portobello Road, Lutyens and Rubinstein grew from one of London’s best literary agencies (you can hear their agents battling it out over serial rights through the paper-thin basement walls). The size of the shop, which has clutter and order in good measure, means that being comprehensive was never a possibility. Instead, you’ll stand a chance of finding something worthwhile within their well-chosen selection: beautiful repackages, top-quality children’s books and everything else you might have pored over on the literary pages of your broadsheet of choice. Also worth investigating for those with the highest of brows is the London Review Bookshop.
The South London Gallery Bookshop
One of the few dedicated art book shops south of the river, the SLG Bookshop has more than being a rarity in its favour. Managing to be eclectic whilst also carefully curated, the modest space packs everything from histories of krautrock to Captain Slaughterboard.
For art books, also consider: X Marks the Bökship, Donlon Books (both cutting-edge and rare/out of print), Marcus Campbell (a comprehensive selection within walking distance of Tate Modern if you’ve got hungry for culture) and Koenig Books (cut price photography, monographs and more). Also, almost every major gallery has figured out the synergy between art on walls and art in books (and money over the till) so check out the great shops at Tate Modern and Camden Arts Centre.
Any Amount of Books
Although their spirits are often damped by being asked if they were the site of 84 Charing Cross Road, Any Amount of Books is one of the remaining shops in the dwindling Charing Cross second hand books hub. The staff are the collection of overly-educated kind souls that populate the best booksellers and their selection is well-pruned (and well-thumbed) enough to make browsing a treat. Visit the basement and outdoor stacks to get the cheapest finds, as well as Charing Cross and Cecil Court’s many other excellent second-hand bookshops.
Also worth flipping through…
For the arcane and occult, visit Treadwells or Watkins; gay and lesbian bibliophiles and all people of good taste frequent Gay’s the Word; Gosh! Comics (indie and graphic novels slant) and the basement of Forbidden Planet (superheroes et al) serve your need for words and pictures; Books for Cooks (you’ll never guess); Daunt and Persephone for a place to flounce your floppy hair; and Foyle’s when you need everything in one place and want staff who are a delight. My deepest recommendation goes to the London Bookshop Map, which is a comprehensive guide to the Smoke’s best independent booksellers. Get one in any of the featured outlets or go interactive here.
Guest post by Duncan Carson. Take a look at his blog Pangolin Blues.Google+