If I could move one thing from Paris to London…

Most of what’s in Paris belongs in Paris, and needs to stay there in order for it to be the wonderful city that it is, but there is one thing I’d like to steal for London – or, at the very least copy. (Though in a vastly superior way to the way in which Blackpool emulated the Eiffel Tower.) Shakespeare and Company is possibly one of the most delightful bookshops I have ever experienced and I simply do not understand why London doesn’t have anything remotely as good.

I’ve been aware of it for some time, but didn’t manage to step inside during last year’s weekend en Paris. Then it was featured in the 20 most beautiful bookshops list, and I knew that it had to be a component of my three hours of solo Paris time on this visit. After leaving my luggage at Gare du Nord, I made straight for St Michel Notre Dame station and emerged across from the cathedral, feeling every bit as touristy as my Texan friends probably had two days previously when I’d showed them London. Shakespeare & Co. is literally just across the road, and was flanked by pink cherry blossom. Quintessenttial springtime in Paris, no?

The beauty of this bookshop is threefold:
(i) It’s an English language bookshop, therefore is a haven for ex-pats.
(ii) It’s a beautiful building (rather like Daunts, but less ordered).
(iii) Its upstairs is a library in which you could read for hours at a time.

It’s this third element that makes me so desperate for a London version. Next to a window overlooking Notre Dame is a desk with a typewriter; another can be found in a hidden alcove. There are couches and sofas scattered about, plus a nook for children – one room even featured a piano. If I hadn’t had such a short time in the city, I would have tarried longer, but my feet were itching to explore more.

But please, booksellers/librarians of London, please could we have something akin to this wonder? I, and many, many others would be eternally grateful.

Merci beaucoup!

Bookish Friday Fun

The bibliophilic fun continues…

First up, a semi-practical piece of fun for those of a travelling nature. Many of you may have seen the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world when it did the Twitter/Facebook rounds a month or so ago, but it’s something that’s worth coming back to – after all, you never know when you might need to know where the most beautiful bookshops are in China…

That’s the Bookworm bookshop in Beijing.

I was actually disappointed at how few of the 20 I’d been to (one – the British and fabulous Barter Books in Alnwick), but it gives me a good bucket list, which can now be added to thanks to this week’s publication of a further 20 recommendations. Happily, this one includes one of Hay on Wye’s gems and my personal favourite – Daunt’s Books in Marylebone (home to many a lunchtime stroking of pretty books). It also, fascinatingly, includes a branch of Waterstones, a chain of which I do not approve – but from the photographic evidence it seems that their store in Bradford’s Wool Exchange is rather delightful. The Guardian also did a response to the original 20, in which readers could suggest their favourites, which is well worth a browse.
One of my favourite secondhand bookshops in London (ok, possibly the country, perhaps the world…) is Ripping Yarns in Highgate. A member of staff there is the author of oft-mentioned Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (soon to be published as an actual book) and has recently begun a series on her blog of interviews with owners of bookshops about their origins. It begins, predictably, with the owner of Ripping Yarns which will definitely be of interest to the three people I know read this who have been there, but I promise it’s a diverting read for all.
In second hand bookshops you can find many a comic gem – like this book, a photo of which was texted to me the other day with the words: “Now you’re not a nerd but for some reason I thought you’d appreciate this. If nothing else it should really make you laugh!!” Laugh I did – and God bless Katie for saying that I’m not a nerd. 
On reflection, that doesn’t look second-hand! Go out and buy it now! 

That book reminded me of a blog I shared here ages and ages ago that’s probably worth a re-share. Awful Library Books does exactly what the title suggests – it shares awful books still found on library shelves. As you might expect they’re varied and ridiculous, from out of date health manuals, to truly special children’s books. The author has a justified sense of outrage with some of them – those that are held at multiple libraries across the US (the librarians can check these things), despite being woefully outdated. It’s well worth a trip into its archives if your Friday’s shaping up to be dull and dismal… 

And with that, I’d love to say that I’m off to spend my day off curled up with a good book, but no. It’s me and The Art of Biblical Narrative again. Fun times.

A season of beautiful books

There really is little I love more than an aesthetically pleasing book. [Those that feel that I ought to get a life should close this tab now.] Over the last couple of years I’ve waxed lyrical over Virago’s modern classics hardback collection, so it’s unsurprising that much rejoicing was had when I discovered (courtesy of the Observer magazine left on a coffee table at church) that five more were being published. Behold:

Virago Modern Classics Designer Collection – Take 2
It’s killing me that these currently have £2 off at Foyles as I cannot possibly justify buying them – but they were added to my Amazon wishlist within minutes of discovering them and Christmas isn’t that far off…
While in Foyles wrestling with book buying temptation, I stumbled upon another new collection, this time from Vintage and in paperback, but still impressive – especially if you bought all 21 of their special editions. In honour of Vintage’s 21st anniversary they’ve chosen 21 ‘iconic’ titles and re-published them in striking single colour editions. When observed en masse within a table display they’re positively scrummy and would look awesome shelved together. [Yes, I realise this would break my book organisation rules, but – shock horror – I’ve now broken it with the original Virago collection.] 
See, it’s like a rainbow of excellent literature! 

I can’t tell you how much it irrationally annoys me that many of the prettiest – e.g. the pink Time Traveller’s Wife; purple Possession; and turquoise Atonement – are books I already own. Also, how simply fantastic is it that Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit is orange and Woman in Black is black? 

If such discoveries weren’t enough to make my cup of bibliophile joy runneth over, today I made a truly fabulous discovery. It was my first day in my new ‘job’ (i.e. placement within training) and my supervising vicar took me out for lunch. We got to talking about what I did for fun and I mentioned reading and the fact that I’d noticed his book collection (observed during a staff meeting in his lounge that morning) was very much along the lines of my taste in literature. He asked if I’d come across Persephone Books – indeed I had, thanks to their publication of Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings which I’d bought earlier in the year. As a result, once we’d finished eating he took me over the road to their only shop…

Oh. My. Goodness. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! It turns out that other than their ‘classics’ collection (of which Saplings is one), all their books have the same silvery grey cover, but with utterly gorgeous patterns over the inside leaves – oh, and there are bookmarks to match! The shelves are full of piles of books, each with a little bit of blurb laid over the same patterned paper. They specialise in reprinting ‘neglected classics’, mostly by women and mostly from the first half of the 20th century. Alongside fiction are diaries and cookery books – pretty much every single one was enticing. The shop’s tiny, meaning you can see the staff of the publishing house hard at work right in front of you, alongside more piles of books and the WW2 posters that adorn the walls. I had to go back after I’d said goodbye to my vicar so that I could wallow in its beauty a little more.

The luscious shelving displays

Wouldn’t such a pile of beauties help make your life just a little bit better?

I’m really not sure that this shop being 5minutes from work (and on my route home) is a good thing. How many times do you think I can go in without buying anything and not be recognised? I highly recommend paying them a visit though – their catalogue and biannual are freely available and a short story in the latter kept me suitably entertained while locked out of the church office for nearly an hour this afternoon. (My initiation accidentally involved not being told the security code for the office door and I arrived back at the church from lunch to discover that everyone else had gone out…)

One question remains, with my life transforming itself into a manic whirlwind of non-stop activity, when will I ever get the time to read all the books I’m currently lusting after?

Further bookselling reveries

Ever since Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops took off, I seem to have been reminiscing more than usual about my bookselling days – days that ended over 7 years ago. Plus, thanks to a comment I left on one of the Weird Things… posts, more people have landed on my original bookselling reverie that contains possibly one of the most disturbing bookselling stories you’ll ever hear (which, fortunately, didn’t actually happen to me).

I’ve just discovered a blog that links to that post as well as a few others of a similar nature, which reminded me of a story I retold on Sunday, while waxing lyrical about the glory of bookselling and how great – and under appreciated – booksellers can be. This is the bottom line people – most booksellers are excellent. They know a lot about their stock, the subjects it covers, what’s good, what’s not… They’re underpaid and, even worse, if you work for a big chain (i.e. Waterstones) your expertise is increasingly regarded as irrelevant – you don’t get a say in what stock gets ordered and are more or less a till monkey. A small rant, but I urge you to appreciate your local bookseller – they will appreciate you for it.

Anyway, back to random customer stories…

On Sunday, I was at a gathering that included several Gloucestrians and I got talking with one of them about my old bookshop and how much it’s changed since it got taken over by the big W. I shared a couple of Weird Things… gems and got the response “Oh, I bet there was never anything that weird in Gloucester!”. Oh really? I beg to differ – see previous post and below:

One of the jobs I did on a semi-regular basis was dealing with the daily delivery of customer orders. Really, this was a perfect job for me as not only did it require a high level of efficiency (ticking books of a list, lining them up & putting the right piece of paper in the right book), the alphabetisation of the customer orders bookcase (be still my beating heart), but also the chasing up of orders with the relevant distributors. I became so well known for my determined chasing that someone at our main distributors once said to a colleague “Ottakar’s in Gloucester? That’s where that really mouthy girl works, isn’t it?”. I was proud. The only thing I didn’t like about it was that it involved ringing up total strangers – something which to this day I loathe.

I digress. Anyway, one day an older gentleman arrived wanting to collect his order. I took his name and went over to the shelves to locate the books. As I took them down, I realised they were two volumes of an erotica series. Slightly surprised, I took them over and, as with all orders, checked that they were the right books. The gentleman replied, rather loudly that they were NOT the books he’d ordered and I began to feel rather horrified that we’d accidentally ordered erotica for some poor old man. However, when he finished his sentence with “I’ve already read those! I wanted these two…” and pointed to the list of books inside the front cover, I felt a lot less guilty and instead aimed to get away from him as quickly as possible.

Fairly icky, no? How about the day someone asked if we had the Karma Sutra and I asked if they were after a particular version, running through the variety we had in stock. [Did they want one illustrated with drawings or photos? Pocket sized or full sized?] Then I looked up and realised my Dad was stood in the queue behind them – I’m sure he was very proud of my bookselling knowledge at that moment. Or, the day a woman came to the counter with a teenage girl in tow, handed me a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting and turned to her daughter saying “now you’ll see what you’ve got yourself into”

Bookshops are truly special places. Treasure them and pray that they are never entirely replaced by one massive, anonymous Amazon.

Friday Fun for a day off

Apologies for the delay in posting this week’s Friday Fun. The problem with having a frenetic working week this week is that it left me very little time to explore random internet diversions – unless they had #methconf attached to it in some way. [Following that hashtag will go some way to explaining what I’ve been up to all week.]

First of all, I just want to boast that something I posted on my blog weeks ago has this week made it into The Hairpin. I think it’s the first time that’s actually happened and is a happy reversal of the usual pattern of events. They drew attention to the fabulous ‘Weird things customers say in bookshops’ strand of Jen Campbell’s blog, which incidentally, is still being updated – the 7th instalment has just appeared and keeps getting better and better. (I’m trying to think up something truly weird to say the next time I’m in Highgate and can pop into the shop, but I just don’t think I’m special enough.)

Secondly, there is a new tool by which you can gain answers to all life’s important questions – what to buy your recently acquired girlfriend for her birthday, where in the UK to go on holiday [Mansfield] and, fabulously, which is the coolest Christian denomination. Miss Information’s Booth will accept questions via Twitter or e-mail and will apparently be at this year’s Greenbelt. I’m super excited, but have yet to come up with a suitable question to ask her.

One of the reasons why I’ve delayed writing this post is because I had a house guest to entertain and we spent the morning walking to London Bridge and back in order to have coffee at Monmouth Coffee – one of London’s best independent coffee places, so I’m told. I would know little about such things as I don’t actually drink coffee, but this morning I had my first ever Flat White and the experience wasn’t an entirely unpleasant one. My companion is quite the coffee connoisseur having spent the last couple of months working at another highly recommended coffee venue – the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in Farringdon (visit it if you get the chance, they love their coffee) which has caused her to develop an addiction to the stuff – on our way home we had to stop at Starbucks too. Which needs me neatly to a nicely diverting little Tumblr of misspelled names on Starbucks’ take-out cups

So that’s meant to read ‘Claire’.

My first ever Flat White – some people are going to be SO proud of me! 

What else is fun at the moment? Well, if you’re really, really bored this afternoon, I can offer you the distraction of a 36 page research paper that came out this week. It’s basically what my life has revolved around for the last couple of years and could potentially be interesting if you fit into some or all of these categories:
(a) You’re Christian or went to church at some point in your life.
(b) Are aged 25ish to 40ish
(c) Have some connection to the Methodist Church
(d) Like reading very long research papers