Visiting the bookshops of London (part 4 of 8)

Link to part 1
Link to part 2
Link to part 3


 

  1. Oxfam, Bloomsbury Street

This came as a recommendation to me from a friend. I hadn’t really considered a charity shop as one to visit, but having been to Bookmarks a few days earlier (see part 1) I knew exactly where it was. On walking in, one is struck by the slightly musty smell and the very hard floor which does rather put one off from spending too much time browsing.

The other offputting feature was one of the other people in the shop. He was a bizarrely dressed hipster who was seemingly trying to empty some of the shelves and put big a pile on top of one of the smaller bookcases. Every time he found something he wanted he would click his fingers, but he never looked remotely pleased. His offputting presence was only matched by the chap behind the till who, when I presented him with my purchase, seemed quite miffed that I had made him put his own book down.

As for the shop itself, it had an oppressively hard floor which rather put me off spending too much time there. However, it was very professionally laid out, with clear alphabetising of each section and with different topics clearly labelled. There were reasonable science and religion sections. I can’t say I fell in love with the place, even though they did have a section of reasonably priced rare books. If passing by, it’s worth popping in, but I wouldn’t say you need to go out of your way to visit.

Book purchased: The Poincare Conjecture by Donal O’Shea

  1. Skoob

Skoob is a real find. Not only in the metaphorical sense, but it also takes some searching to actually get to the front door. The address says it is in the Brunswick, a sort of shopping centre in Bloomsbury, flanked on either side by some gritty looking flats. As you come in, you can see a sign that clearly points towards Skoob. However, if you follow the arrow there is only a Waitrose. It puzzled me rather. I walked the pasta aisle and found a small back door to the supermarket. If you come out and turn left you can then see the entrance to Skoob. But that’s not all. Once you walk in the door, you immediately have to go down some steps and you are effectively in the basement of Waitrose.

There are warnings about low ceilings and in places the books are arranged so as to ensure that there is room for the pipes. Notably, the philosophy section had some kind of pipe immediately above it, though I couldn’t determine what flowed through the pipe. In fact, I’d rather not think about that too much.

What I do want to think about is the cave of wonders that is Skoob. The shelves are full to overflowing of a huge variety of books. As one might expect, there is plenty of regular fiction. There was also a large selection of science fiction. Yet this only accounts for maybe half of the stock, as there was a great selection of non-fiction. For some reason, there was a piano of the shop. Although there was no one playing it, it was a charming touch. Just beyond it was a shelf full of the Loeb Classical Library books which I haven’t got round to buying yet, but which, having flicked through, I am hugely impressed with.

Yet it was the religion section that I was largely drawn, with some intriguing works there, including one by Reinhold Niebuhr, another author who I have never read, but have read good things about (especially in the works of Stanley Hauerwas).

I’ll definitely come back here and if you need help in finding it, I’ll happily take you along.

Book purchased: Huldrych Zwingli: His Life and Work by Ulrich Gabler

  1. Judd Books

Judd was never on my radar to visit. I hadn’t seen it recommended nor was it on the map of independent bookshops. I only came across it by accident as I walked from Skoob (above) towards the Quaker Centre (below). Like many of the shops I had visited, it had a selection of books outside, underneath a canopy. I had a quick flick through, but nothing really grabbed me, so I headed inside.

Incidentally, roughly opposite (and a little bit south, down the road) I stumbled across an obelisk marking the final resting place of Charles Wesley.

As I entered, I immediately encountered a problem. The place was very poorly laid out, so even though there were only two other customers in a reasonably sized area, my way was blocked by both of them, so I had to negotiate my way round several tables in order to have a decent look around. The selection of fiction was comparatively small, but their range on literary criticism was as large as any I can recall seeing. So if that’s your thing, then this is your shop.

However, most of their non fiction seemed to be in a basement, which you could access via some stairs. At the top of the stairs one could see a most unfriendly sign telling people that all bags were banned from being taken downstairs. If you wanted to see what else the shop had to offer, you had to leave your bag with the front desk. There was no way I was going to consent to this, so the shop had an instant black mark in my book.

Being confined to the unnecessarily cramped space upstairs, I noticed that the prices were very good, so it’s not a bad place for a bargain. However, I tried to think what sort of book would help reflect what sort of shop would ban people from going downstairs if they already had an y shopping with them. As it happens, I did spot one book that had been on my wishlist for a few years. When I noted the title, it just seemed perfect to reflect a shop where there were areas customers were banned from going to.

Book purchased: Quarantine by Jim Crace

  1. The Quaker Centre

Situated just over the road from Euston station and one of my former offices (Grant Thornton house) is the HQ of Quakers in the UK. The bookshop is sort of scattered around within a communal area where you’ve got a cafe, some elderly folk asleep on some sofas and random study areas.

I had to browse around for a while as the till was unstaffed (in fairness, I was in there around lunchtime). The most offputting thing was there was a chap sat at a table who kept coughing quite markedly, as though he was trying to tell me something. I checked that my flies were done up correctly (which they were) and tried to check if anything else was out of order, but this chap wouldn’t make eye contact. He must just have a very unusual cough.

What’s there is both typically Quaker and so untypically anything else. There’s a wonderful mixture of books on ecology, pacifism, theology (christian and non-christian), some politics (mostly left-leaning) but also some quite anti-christian works. For example, I spotted a copy of a Sam Harris work which I thought stood out like an Alister McGrath work might in a humanist bookshop (if such a thing exists; I’ve not found one yet).

Given its location over the road from the station, if I’m stuck for a while at Euston, I’ll definitely come in again. After all, even for an introvert like me its good to be among Friends.

Book purchased: The War of the Lamb by John Howard Yoder.


Next time, I’ll have an interlude and look at the ones that got away.

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