Lutyens & Rubenstein: with the secret office

Book birds! All over the window and the ceiling. That was my first impression of this great store, and what a first impression to get. Another interesting feature: no categories, strict alphabetical order; mixing fiction and non-fiction, crime and love stories. Sort of the opposite to the bookshop in The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. It must be a great way to get people to try books they might not otherwise have come across, and there’s a certain appealing simplicity in having just great books and great authors, with no categories superimposed by us.

Most interesting feature: sliding bookshelf-doors! Louise and I stood there for quite some time, trying to decide if they were doors. We knew that there was a literary agency somewhere downstairs, since we had been warned not to worry if we started hearing voices. Did the literary agency have an office with bookshelves-doors?

They did indeed. Unfortunately, the space and oxygen was not big enough to also take in a Swedish author, otherwise it would have been the perfect office. Even if I would have played with the doors a little bit too much (not to mention suddenly sticking out my head everytime I heard customers. Perhaps just as well they didn’t have room for me. How do the agents resist the temptation?)

Their recommendation: Ferrante, one of Louise’s personal favourite that she would have urged me to buy a long time ago if it were not for her respect of the one-book-rule.

Daunt Books: “Oh, I’ve seen that as a movie!”

Daunt Books, at 83 Marylebone High Street, London, is a beautiful bookshop, complete with long oak galleries and grey skylight. This is the kind of bookshop that makes we want to stand up straighter and mind my manners; something about the timeless feeling from all that oak and light, I think, making me suddenly aware of how sloppy modern times would have seemed.

They sell general fiction as well as having a great focus on travel, which means they have a Scandinavian shelf with translated Scandinavian literature. The woman we talked to had unfortunately just read an Hjalmar Söderberg and looked expectantly at me, while wondering out loud what the title was and describing certain parts of the characters and plot. “Err, yes, that one, of course”, I said. Being a self-proclaimed book nerd is very hard work; sooner or later they’ll all realize there’s an enormous amount of Swedish classics I haven’t read. And English or American ones.

As for book recommendations, she started out with what seemed to be a very interesting book on the Irish famine – “but it’s not terribly uplifting, I’m afraid’ – and then changed her mind and settled on An Enchanted April. “Oh, is that a book?” I said happily. “I’ve only seen the movie.”

Not one of my best visits, as booknerd image goes. But a stunning bookshop!

Newham Bookshop: chaos and community

“Oh, sorry. Excuse me. Let me just … yes, I’ll move this way. Oh, my bad, sorry, I’m in the way again.”

Newham Bookshop is one of those charmed stores that combines an incredible amount of books with many people visiting the store; sometimes to buy books, sometimes to chat, sometimes for a cup of tea or to show a new-born child (the baby stroller was perhaps wisely left outside the store, so that we all in stead crowded the door to be able to look into it, while Vivian and the mother chatted about the difficulties of reading while pregnant).

Newham Bookshop has been serving their community for 37 years. “We’ve got quite a lot immigrants from Eastern Europe at the moment, so the classics are going very well. Many have read Dostoyevski in Russian and are now determined to do it in English” (note: I have to get going on the Dostoyevski-project again). “You need to be open and friendly when people come to the store, making them feel at home, but we also take our books out to different events.”

What’s the best part?
“Oh, the people. Definitely the people. I could retire, you know, but I like meeting people. Hello there, yes, we have it [West ham book]. It’s right in front of you. No, little to the right. A bit more to the right. There you have it.” To us: “West Ham is big around here, of course. And now they’re moving.”
Woman: “Such a shame.”
Me: “Oh, excuse me, sorry, let me just move this way … no, maybe here .. yes, sorry again.”
Woman: “It’s for my husband. Thanks.”
Me: “Sorry. Yes. I’m in the way again.”

The reason I was in the way was, of course, because most of the available space was taken up with books. Piles and piles of them. “Yes, we have it … John, do you know where it is? Didn’t we see it just the other day?” She apologized for the mess of course, and recommended us to take a photo in front of one of the more organized shelves, and even then she commented on the piles of books in front of it.

Me, I prefer the piles. Oh, there is a definite charm in the large, organized bookshop as well, but chaos! Chaos, too, created by books and people, surely that is even more charming? Anyone can handle order, but it takes a real booklover to handle piles of books.

“This is exactly what I want my living room to look like!” I told Louise.
“You might want to run that by your sister”, she said.

I think a better plan is to just simply not tell her. The books from my epic UK-bookshop-tour will arrive eventually, and she’ll come home from work one day to find our apartment looking like this:

Exactly what a bookshop or living room should look like!

Foyles: Welcome booklove, you are among friends!

When I was here last summer, Foyles were still working on their new Flagship Store, so I visited their old one instead, which has now already been turned into a shoe-shop.

“At least they’ve just moved voluntarily”, I said to Louise when we passed it. “There is something very sad with bookshops being turned into something else.”

At Foyles, we talked to Jonathan Ruppin on topics ranging from 84, Charing Cross Road (“The location is currently under reconstruction, which is probably better than the Pizza Hut that used to be there”), translated literature (“I think readers are more curious than they are often given credit for. If you have a table with translated books, often considered more difficult to sell,but  with three or four books they have already read, they will be happy to try other ones as well, as long as they can point to a few books and say, ‘Yes, I liked that one’”) and, of course, Jim Crace and his novel The Harvest. “He really should have won the Man Booker. I think he’s just like Mantel; he’s been writing great books for years, and he only needs one big award to get his major breakthrough.”

Jim Crace’s The Harvest was of course his book recommendation, and I’m happy to say that I only bought one book. And a bag. But bags don’t count, do they? Besides, Foyles have the best book bags – the white one, with separate pockets, and strong enough to handle all the books you might want to carry. Can’t go to Foyles and not buy one.

Indeed I am!

Goldsboro Books or 84, Charing Cross Road

84, Charing Cross Road was where my love for the English bookshop began.It was a major cult novel that Helen Hanff claimed never made her much money, but apparently made her many strange friends instead.

And her readers were certainly devoted. At a time when long distance calls, and international calls, were much more expensive, a woman rang her up out of the blue from Alaska or Canada or some other remote point because this telephone call to Helen Hanff was her husbands birthday present for her. People kept sending her books to sign and then send on for gifts, and she grumbled that she actually lost money on it: the money she got from royalties were less than what she paid on postage to send it along.

If you haven’t read it, I can warmly recommend her subsequent, perhaps less known, book The Duchess of Bloomesbury Street – it’s about her visit to London, when it did take place, and very much about how much warmth and strange friendship a good book can bring about. When the shop on 84, Charing Cross Road closed, a fan had the sign from the store shipped to her. It hanged for many years in her living room.

Why am I telling you all this when I’m supposed to write about Goldboro Books? Well, I’m trying to explain to you how it was that when, having joked with Louise about buying a first edition, and asked what the first edition Harry Potter costs (they sold it as a set, so more than one book, otherwise I’d spent the 4000 pounds needed to get it, etc. etc.) and then, noticing 84, Charing Cross Road in a humble, almost hidden spot on a shelf, I immediately froze.

“It’s 84, Charing Cross Road!” I said to Louise, and reverently picked it up after a tentative – “May I?” – do the woman who worked there.
“You should take a photo with it”, said Louise, bless her innocent heart.
“Photo! I think I’ll have to buy it.” I think Louise was a little bit afraid that all the bookshops had gone to my head, and even the shopkeeper seemed a little hesitant about the quickness of my decision. “Are you sure?” she said.
“What would your sister say?” was Louise attempt at reason. She knows me too well already.
“My sister would approve”, I said with great dignity.
Which she will, especially if I don’t tell her how much it was. Besides, my sister is an artist. She understands obsessions very well. It’s only when my obsessions lead to buying so many books that we have to move to a bigger apartment that she is a little bit less supportive. At least right now, since we moved to a bigger apartment just one year ago.
“Besides, it is only one book”, I said to Louise. “The rule didn’t say anything about a price limit.”

AND IT IS BEAUTIFUL (just like the Goldsboro Bookshop).

One day I’ll finish the collection with a signed copy. But let’s not tell Louise or my sister.

Isn't she a beauty?