Thursday, 6 August 2009

Bookshops I


In addition to my Book-centric Memories and my technicolour bookshelves posts, I also plan to periodically post about bookshops that I visit or have in the past visited that have made a profound (or at the very least, extremely pleasurable) impression. Now, to be fair, I am a bibliophile and a fold-down table with a handful of secondhand books at the end of the street is bound to excite me but you know the bookshops I mean... the ones where you could happily lose myself for hours.

Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London (not at number 84 but at 113-119) is one such bookshop and I actually did manage to become lost when I first visited (you will find the memory of what I bought on that visit in the penultimate paragraph of this post). Foyles is spread over four floors and has nooks and crannies aplenty; walking through it you have the sense that you wandering from room to room in a rather large library.

Foyles is a family-owned bookshop that has retained its private independence since 1903 (the store has survived in its location from 1906) and has only recently branched across central London; Charing Cross Road remains its flagship store and is the one with extensive character. To mark its centenary this Foyles was extensively refurbished, although it is still renowned for its legendary chit system; the neon red signs gracing the building are gaudy but fitting with its Soho locale.

My bookgroup meets here, which is only apt, but then we move on to somewhere that serves dinner. Many a book has been bought there; when I have house-guests I take them to Foyles; I even worked there temporarily last Christmas (a bookselling experience was a dream come true and it did not deter me from frequenting the shop afterwards). If you are ever in London then please take the time to visit and peruse all of the lovely books and unique shelf and table displays. I judge the quality of their displays on how many books I notice and want to buy whilst I am there. Foyles is supportive of the small, independent publisher and there are often displays of beautiful books that you may not have come across before; it is definitely a book lover's paradise.

Do you have a favourite bookshop to while away the time in? What do you love about it that makes you go back time after time?


31 comments:

verity said...

I have never been to Foyles, shockingly, but would really really love to visit it. So exciting that you have a bookgroup that meets there!

I love the idea of a series on bookshops. Blackwells Oxford is a bit of a rabbit warren, and has gone downhill in recent years but I still love it. I love the Oxfam bookshop in Thame. And the bookshop/newsagent in Polzeath where I spent a lot of time on family holidays choosing things to read.

Sophie said...

I haven't been to Foyles either, which is something I can't quite believe. I second Verity's point about Blackwells in Oxford - I love having a browse round and then sitting in the cafe there with a cup of tea and a good book. I also really liked the QI bookshop in Oxford, which was attached to the QI club that opened (though you didn't need to be a member to use the cafe or bookshop). It was arranged in a 'quite interesting' way, only taking books they personally liked, or had had recommended, and arranged by themes such as 'happy endings', 'brothers and sisters', 'weather' etc., which was rather fun! I also found it was a great place to get hold of a book you needed at v short notice - orders arrived much faster than any of the big bookshops in Ox, or even Amazon. Sadly the QI club didn't take off and when it went, the bookshop went too. Shame to lose the cafe as well - they did great cream teas!

This is my first comment here, btw - I love the blog! Posts on bookshops is such a great idea.

Kals said...

This is such a great idea! Wow!

It's good to know I'm not the only one with a fascination for bookshops :) I love the quaint, cozy bookshops( helps me feel closer to the books, the environment) more than the large ones though.

verity said...

Oh yes Sophie, the QI bookshop was fantastic! Wasn't so keen on the cafe/bar after a waiter spilt red wine all over me...

Paperback Reader said...

I am glad the first in my bookshop series has met with enthusiastic response!

Verity, perhaps we should visit later this month?

Sophie, thank you for commenting! The QI bookshop sounds divine and it is tragic that it is no longer there.

Kals, I also love quaint, cosy bookshops but sometimes being lost in a rabbit warren of books is like being Alice in Wonderland! I also love curling up (when I can) with a warm drink and a book surrounded by other book lovers.

Tony said...

Unfortunately, books here in Australia are rather expensive (and, living in the outer suburbs of Melbourne - in another county by English standards - means that there are no second-hand bookshops nearby). I find nowadays that while I may while away time in a bookshop, I'm more likely to actually buy the books online. Sad, but that's the way it is.

Paperback Reader said...

Tony, you have my sympathies :(. Being in the middle of a recession here has affected my full-price bookshop buying too; I feel guilty but I cannot justify paying full-price for a book that I can buy discounted online. I still like to while away time in the actual bookshops too, even if I'm not purchasing anything.

Darlene said...

Great post! I keep a Foyle's bag from a book purchase made there while on holiday - two years ago. I'm laughing right now at the thought of it. It's tucked, along with a few others, in the bottom of my chest of drawers as a remembrance. My favourite bookshop here is Nicholas Hoare in Toronto. I stopped by last Monday but it was closed, no matter how many times I pulled on the door handle.

Paperback Reader said...

Darlene, I have done likewise in the past with certain bags! In fact, I am sure there is one that I can write about in a future Bookshops post.

One of these days I hope to visit Toronto and Nicholas Hoare (and Niagra Lake for snickerdoodle coffee). Last week I visited Persephone Books and was most distressed to find the door closed and locked but all was well - Lydia was in the shop alone and had popped to the loo! I forgave her that.

Nymeth said...

I love Foyles to pieces. That's so cool that you got to work there last Christmas! I worked at a bookshop too during the summer a few years ago, but sadly it wasn't too good an experience...mostly because both my co-workers and the manager weren't very nice. Also, they didn't particularly care about books.

All my favourite bookshops are either virtual or abroad, as sadly there aren't any large ones in my small town.

Paperback Reader said...

Ana, I'm glad that you love Foyles too! What an awful bookselling experience you had :(. I think that the only people that should work with books are the ones who love them. I worked in Customer Services in the basement and ordered books directly from suppliers and publishers, which was interesting and exciting, as well as handling the books themselves!

Your town needs a bookshop! Maybe you should open one...

farmlanebooks said...

I haven't been to Foyles either. I love charity shops though. I prefer hunting through a few shelves of bargains each week than being overwhelmed by big bookshops. I'd like to visit one day though - just to see what it is like.

m said...

I have a loyalty card at my local Oxfam bookshop!

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, I can understand that - especially as that's your career! I love charity shops and great finds but I adore the sheer magnitude of being surrounded by so many new books and their possibilities.

I intend to post about one of my favourite second-hand stores as soon as I've managed home for a visit so I can take a photograph! It's a book lover's paradise with teetering, toppling stacks of books everywhere.

Hi m, thanks for commenting. To have a loyalty card for you local Oxfam is impressive!

verity said...

Which Oxfam shop does a loyalty card?! Mine doesn't!

Absolutely Claire, if Persephone are shut, then we should go to Foyles. Although I am tempted by that shop which you said was selling half price VMCs... I'll only have an hour or so as I purposely booked a late-ish train so's not to wear myself out...

I do like new books but agree about needing to save money and order them online where it is cheaper most of the time...

Book Psmith said...

You had me at four floors. Well actually at the fold-down table:) If I ever do get to England (beyond Heathrow that is), this will definitely be on my list. My favorite bookstore is Powells in Portland OR. I have only been there a handful of times. It is called the City of Books for good reason. It would take me a few days to thoroughly go through their stacks. As it is I always come away with my shopping bags a lot heavier and my pocketbook a lot lighter.

Carl V. said...

That looks and sounds like a magical place. My only complaint is that I want more pictures!!! I'd love to see some of the nooks and crannies. :)

My first thought when pulling up your site was of Foyle's War, simply because I'm in the midst of watching that excellent series.

I'm thrilled for you that you have a great, family-owned bookstore like this to go to. They are becoming more rare and are a thing to be treasured.

Naomi Saffery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bloomsbury Bell said...

I do love Foyles but my favourite bookshop is Persephone Books on Lambs Conduit Street in London. It's the ultimate literary haven and the decor of soft furnishings, lamps and books piled high is just what a bookshop should be. And the books are wonderful too!

Thomas said...

Eek. I might have to add a bookstore series to my blog. So many tales to tell about this side of the Atlantic. For instance I live within a shortish drive of Daedalus Books--they sell wholesale lots of unsold (and highly discounted) books to most bookstores in the English speaking world. And the best part is they have a warehouse shop open to the public. Plenty of British copies of the "unsold" end up at the warehouse shop.

In 1992, I lived a very short walk from Charing Cross Road and spent much time browsing, what was then a much more diverse set of bookshops than what is there today. I was dirt poor at the time and could never afford to buy anything, but I must say I had a Camden public library card that I was very proud of.

As for Foyles, there was something very confusing about the organization of the place that put me off. I don't remember what the issue was but I ended up never going back there.

Now when I visit London I go into any Oxfam I see, I make a trip over to Daunt Books on Marleybone High Street and I love the tiny Primrose Hill Books. And I always take along my Booklovers Guide to London.

Here is a question for folks: Is a pilgrimage to Hay-on-Wye worth it? Not necessarily during the festival but any old time of year? Or is it overrated?

Also, here is a tip for Tony from Australia: There is a book called "Trafficking in Old Books" by a Melbourne bookseller called Anthony Marshall. It was a great read. I bought it at a lovely bookstore in South Yarra I think.

Paperback Reader said...

Verity, I think we should head for Lamb's Counduit Street in the hope that Persephone is open and visit the other bookshop either way. If we have time, and depending how you feel, we could still make it to Foyles as it isn't too far. Saying that, there is a Waterstone's nearby that supposedly has a secondhand books floor to it...

BookPsmith, a friend who lives in Seattle has told me about Powells and I am determined to visit one day. I have no qualms about visiting a city solely for a bookstore! Although Portland is supposed to be amazing anyway.

Carl, I'll take photographs of the inside on one of my jaunts there for you!

Bloomsbury Bell, Persephone is by far my favourite bookshop -actually make that shop- anywhere. I adore it. I'll be posting about it during the last week of August (also known as Persephone Reading Week).

Thomas, I'd be very interested to read your series if you do post one!

Foyles is confusing in its layout but I personally love being able to lose myself amongst books. Not great for a quick execution-only find and buy mission though!

I have yet to visit Daunt but it is on my list of places to go and now I also have to check out Primrose Hill Books. Don't you just love the Booklovers Guide to London? Such a gem of a book.

I haven't visited Hay-on-Wye so I can't offer my opinion, I'm afraid, but I do intend to visit at some point to see if the hype is lived up to.

Green Road said...

I've never been to Foyles though I've heard of it. I hardly get into London once a year, and that's usually work-related, so I never get to make any bookish detours.
One day perhaps.

There is a gem of a shop in Cardiff opposite the Castle that is my absolute favourite. It's a second-hand shop so the selection isn't exhaustive, but it is quite varied and very eclectic. And it's spread over two floors.

coops456 said...

I miss Silver Moon Women's Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, 1984-2001. It was always more than a bookshop; it was a lifeline for me as a 16 year-old baby dyke from the suburbs, nervously browsing the lesbian section in the basement!

I agree that Foyles is lovely when you have hours to browse, although I went off them when they took over the Silver Moon name only to let it rot away in a corner.

Paperback Reader said...

Swati, I recommend a visit at some point.

The Cardiff shop sounds lovely :).

Hi coops456, thanks for commenting. I have heard such good things about Silver Moon and to lose such an invaluable resource is tragic.

Merenia said...

Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street was my favourite bookshop when we were living in London. I walked past it/into it on my home from work every day, practically haunted the place. It is a beautiful old Edwardian shopand has divine forest green hessian type carry bags now as well which make a fantastic library bag. Here is a link:
http://www.dauntbooks.co.uk

I took CASES (hundreds and hundreds) of books home after living in the UK and many of them came from Daunts...

Tony said...

@Thomas

From my house to South Yarra is roughly equivalent to Coventry to Oxford - Melbourne is a big, big place!

Paperback Reader said...

Hi Merenia, thanks for commenting. I am leaving Daunt Books for a little while as I have a feeling that I am going to love it and that won't be good for my bank balance! It is very much on my radar though. I suspect that once I have visited, and fallen in love with it, I shall probably post about it.

Carl V. said...

That is awesome, I cannot wait to see them...and I suspect many other voyeuristic bloggers will feel the same way!

Paperback Reader said...

Us voyeuristic bloggers do love our bookshops, don't we?! I look forward to giving you all a virtual tour, Carl!

Rachel said...

My favourite is Any Amount of Books, which is right next to Leicester Sq tube on Charing Cross Road. Two floors of second hand books which are very nicely priced and I always find something lovely.

Foyle's is brilliant, as is Waterstones on Piccadilly. I also enjoy the new little Foyle's on Southbank.

Paperback Reader said...

Rachel, Any Amount of Books has not been visited yet but it has made it onto my radar often recently and I am remedying at some point this week. I dread finding lots of Viragoes that i can't afford to buy currently!

I too love Waterstone's in Piccadilly and the Foyles on the Southbank.