So I went on a little trip, not nearly long enough to once again excuse my absence from the internet, but more than sufficient to go on an extended bookshop crawl. As the cool kids do.
I was planning on just doing a bookhaul to ease myself back, but I ended up digressing into bookshop gushing just too much to not rename the entire project. So here goes nothing: all of the beautiful bookshops I always come back to when going to London, plus the (very few) books I acquired.
Just going to squeeze these in at the beginning: While I really try to be a good human and buy my books at indie shops, sometimes I’m a chain bookshop-special offer-victim and so it happened with the first few on my list…
1984 / Animal Farm / Down and Out in Paris and London; all by George Orwell
So this is neither original nor news, but I do love me some Orwell. I’ve read both 1984 (review!) and Animal Farm, but didn’t own either and could not resist these completely gorgeous editions. Down and Out in Paris and London is apparently an autobiographical piece about Orwell living on the streets of – now, you’ll never guess which cities. Don’t let me spoil it for you.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
So this one’s gotten a spot of hype? Famously including our bookseller at Waterstone’s who couldn’t contain her excitement over my buying it. It’s a historical fiction set in Victorian Essex featuring, as far as I can gather, atmosphere and myth and feminism, so I’m sold.
The London Review Bookshop
The London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury might just be my favourite physical space in the universe. It’s two levels of extremely well-chosen and sorted books of all varieties, a little cafe to get your obligatory cake intake and some of the most competent booksellers I know. They’re lovely as well, and whenever I’m in London, I try to get a few books there to let them know how much I appreciate their existence. These ones for example.
Bodies of Light and Signs for Lost Children; both by Sarah Moss
I’ll confess myself obsessed. Sarah Moss is magically talented, mindblowingly clever and quite possibly one of my favourite writers. So I had to get my hands on more, obviously.
These two seem to follow the same cast of characters, are set in Victorian England with a detour to Japan and loosely connected to her fabolous novel Night Waking which I’ve just read and lost my heart and ability to love other books to, but let’s be real, Moss could write about microbiology or ancient sculptural art and I would be the first to pay good money.
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Seeing this book in other people’s hands online I’d always assumed it to be a deliciously rubbery-matte paperback when it is, physical contact revealed, a gorgeous little hardback. That aside, I’m overly excited about the content as well.
You’re looking at a fictionalized version of the life of Margaret Cavendish, a 17th-century British duchess who wrote and published fiction, poetry and philosophy books at a time when women were supposed to, well, not write. From what I’ve seen of it, it appears to be written deliciously beautiful, almost bordering the prose poetry and it just appealed to me in a way that made it jump up my wishlist without much further research. Very excited for it.
So, the people at Housmans near King’s Cross blurb themselves Radical booksellers, which is something I can get behind… They have a massive non-fiction section sorted into areas of left-wing politics such as feminism, race relations, peace, anarchism, marxism, socialism and global relations. They also have lots of pamphlets, magazines and random little publications from smaller presses, as well as – and I appreciate this a lot – zines! The basement is split into a bargain room of £1 second hand books as well as a small, but select choice of fiction, poetry and art books. I’m rambling now, suffice to say, it’s literal paradise, you’ll come across books you never knew you needed and you’ll want them right there.
begat by Felix Culpepper
So here we have another thing about Housmans I love: they had a table of indie-published fiction, and on there was this, an uncorrected proof copy of a novella, free to take and have a look at. Which, being a wannabe book reviewer and always trying to challenge myself, I decided to do. I have already read it and written an in-depth review on goodreads in case you care, but let’s just say I didn’t love it.
The Rise of the Right by Simon Winlow, Steve Hall and James Treadwell
Finally, a piece of non-fiction and one I really wanted to look out for while in London, as it comes highly recommended by Sophie and just sounded SO good. It’s very niche, I suppose, and something I’ll have to concentrate on as I don’t know too much about British politics, and I might end up trying to pair it with Owen Jones’ The Establishment as that sounds like a lovely intense combination, dunnit?
Yet more non-fiction: Things that can and cannot be said by John Cusack and Arundhati Roy, who apparently put it together from interviews and essays, all prompted by a conversation with Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg, looking at society and power structures and big stuff like that? It sounds exceedingly interesting…
Any Amount of Books
So this one gets talked about a lot, but I’ll join the party. Any Amount of Books is a fucking magnificent second hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road who sell books in great condition for really fair prices. Especially since they’ll always give you spontaneous discount if you buy several books. They also have a shelf of recent hardback releases for second hand prices, which is particularly exciting.
Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss
So I’ve been trying to ease myself into reading essays this year and find myself massively enjoying them (other than last year – but we don’t talk about that…), specifically if I concentrate on social justice issues. Also, this is so embarassingly shallow, but I’m head over heels in love with the Fitzcarraldo editions and got to the point where I just couldn’t justify not buying one anymore.
Enter Notes from No Man’s Land, from what I can gather, essays focusing on race relations – a one-line blurb that will forever sell me.
In the Castle of My Skin by George Lamming is one I probably wouldn’t have picked up if I hadn’t stumbled across it in prostine condition here, but I quite like the sound of it. I’m really into Latinamerican and Caribbean literature right now, and this one’s set on Barbados, following a young boy on the brink of adulthood, the island around him shaped by crumbling colonialism, and it seems to be semi-autobiographical as well, so that sounds brilliant.
Foyles, also on Charing Cross Road, isn’t a well-kept secret either, but it’s such a wonderful place to be. Several storeys of literally every book ever (not true), shelves you can get lost in and once again, a place to rest with some coffee and cake. Good stuff.
Things we lost in the fire by Mariana Enriquez is a translated short story collection from Argentina, set in the murky backstreets of Buenos Aires and apparently playing with classic ghost story tropes, turning them around on their heads, adding a seasoning of magical realism with eerie Shirley Jackson vibes, so that’s that.
Last one, guys, last one. This is, funnily enough, also my currently reading, and I’m completely in love… The Secret History by Donna Tartt has been on my mental wishlist forever, and would probably have remained a someday, maybe if I hadn’t spotted this breathtaking edition well-concealed amidst all the classic black ones. Well, now I’ve got it and was so excited I couldn’t wait a day to start it. I probably should listen to my mental wishlist more.
So there we are. A modest little selection *cough* which I’ve been saving up for, just to clarify, so that’ll last me a while as far as book buying goes. Onto the fun part, I say.