Bibliophiles will delight in London's assortment of bookstores
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The first time I went to London, I asked a friend who lived there for bookstore recommendations. "Well," he said with a pause, "that depends. What kind?" I was too embarrassed to admit I didn't realize I had to specify. But given that I was in the center of the English-speaking literary world, it was an entirely reasonable question.
That sense of overload returned immediately on a recent trip back to the city, but this time I was better prepared for the depth and breadth of London's literary marketplace. Looking for a first edition of "Brideshead Revisited"? No problem. How about a medieval map?
No matter your interests, or your budget, London has a bookshop for you.
Located a short walk from the Baker Street tube station, the original branch of this travel-focused chain greets you with an impeccably chosen selection of new fiction and nonfiction (including the most recent offerings from its publishing arm, Daunt Books Publishing). But the real allure is at the back.
83 Marylebone High St.
Any Amount of Books
If I had to name a used bookstore that would appeal to anyone, the first place that comes to mind is Any Amount of Books. This shop is one of the few remaining on the booksellers' row immortalized in Helene Hanff's 1970 novel "84, Charing Cross Road" (that address is now a McDonald's), and it's a winning jumble of genres, formats and price points.
56 Charing Cross Rd.
Tables and bookcases at Gosh! Comics in Soho are piled with all types of titles. Picture: Mauricio Molizane de Souza/Gosh! Comics
This London institution, once infamous for its maddeningly archaic business practices (titles were barely organized and there were no cash registers), has in recent years reinvented itself as a thoroughly modern bookselling chain. Nowhere is that newfound sleekness more on display than the five-story flagship shop on Charing Cross Road. It's thoroughly stocked, clearly and intuitively organised.
107 Charing Cross Rd.
Peter Ellis Bookseller
Did you know that in the Harry Potterverse, the magical Diagon Alley is accessed via an abandoned-looking pub just off Charing Cross Road? The booksellers of the real-life Cecil Court do, if only because the alleyway in front of their shops is frequently clogged with tour groups learning that fact via megaphone. Once you weave your way through, however, an excellent assortment of cozy, higher-end bookshops awaits.
18 Cecil Court
It's fitting that there's a Bat-Signal in front of Gosh!, as comics fans from all over the city will find themselves drawn to a graphic-novel selection that shows off just about everything the medium has to offer. The shop's aesthetic is spare and understated, but the stock is not: Each table and bookcase is piled with titles of all sizes, formats and colours.
1 Berwick St.
This shop does double duty not only as a charming retail outlet, but also as the office space for the publisher of the same name, which has been bringing neglected titles from mostly mid-century female authors back into print since 1999. At this point, Persephone's backlist runs to more than 130 titles, each of which is available at the store on Lamb's Conduit Street - and each arranged, to my delight, in numerical order.
59 Lamb's Conduit St.
Gay's the Word is in another book-rich neighborhood - Bloomsbury. Picture: Gay's the Word
Gay's the Word
While North Americans are often familiar with Charing Cross Road's literary reputation, the nearby districts of Bloomsbury and Saint Pancras are home to their own excellent cluster of bookshops. Start your visit here, at Britain's oldest LGBT+ bookstore.
66 Marchmont St.
Just around the corner from Gay's the Word is the staircase down to Skoob Books (get it?), an underground treasure trove of more than 50,000 secondhand titles at hard-to-beat prices. At Skoob, the element of surprise is key, which is why the store is full of nooks and crannies to scour and get lost browsing in.
66 the Brunswick (off Marchmont Street)
Word on the Water
It might sound like a gimmick - and the ambiance of Regent's Canal certainly doesn't hurt - but this floating, century-old Dutch barge is a legitimate secondhand bookshop. Its stock ranges from classics to photography to contemporary fiction, and the farther inside you venture, the snugger it gets.
Regent's Canal at York Way