What a cultural weekend I’ve had, friends. I was up in London, and managed to do three-count-em-three cultural things. That includes seeing a brilliant exhibition of Tove Jansson’s paintings in Dulwich and going to the play adaptation of The Slaves of Solitude at Hampstead Theatre. The novel is absolutely brilliant, and I did enjoy the play a lot, but had to think of it as a separate entity. It didn’t get across the ogreishness of Mr Thwaites, or the dark humour of the novel. And it changed details that didn’t need changing. Maybe it’s just interior a novel, with too distinct a narrative voice, to translate properly to the stage?
But I didn’t really want to talk about them today – I was going to write a little bit about the Bluestocking Books bookshop tour that I went on. Lauren had kindly asked if I’d like to join them, and I wanted to spread the word a bit. There are quite a few different themed tours (see the link above) but Saturday’s tour was more broad – an introduction to different types of shops across London. I was hoping that my friend would be able to join me, but it didn’t work out – but I joined four other people who were being guided by Lauren.
I won’t write exactly which bookshops we went to on the tour, because part of the business model is Lauren’s expertise in the bookshops of London and a curated experience of them, and I’d be giving away her talents for free – but I’ll talk you through where we went in more general terms.
The first stop was a bookshop for ‘esoterica’ and spirituality and what I’d call the occult, but I suspect isn’t called that anymore. There was a Christian corner, and I rather dashed for that. To be honest, a lot of this makes me feel uncomfortable (I didn’t relish being around a tarot reading) but I was intrigued by some books on conspiracy theories – not least because ‘conspiracy theories’ was an unexpected bookcase to have in this context. Anyway, that was that, and we were on to the next…
The second was a tiny antiquarian bookshop with a charming, knowledgeable owner who specialised in modern first editions, maps, and classics (in the Greek/Latin sense). He airily said that some of the books were “only £30”, but the ones I picked up were a little too much for my wallet. But it was fascinating seeing the collection, including a copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out that had been owned by Vanessa Bell – and had her inscription. It was wildly more than I could afford, but it was a delight to see it.
The third shop was one of the popular Charing Cross Road shops, and there’s where I did all my buying – I got 6 books, though 4 of them were for Secret Santas. I shan’t say which, in case the recipients see the books! But two of them were for me – being numbers 22 and 23 of Project 24. Only one book left to buy for the rest of the year! I could hardly leave a bookshop tour empty handed, could I? I came away with an E.F. Benson novel and a book about E.M. Forster by Rose Macaulay (published by the Hogarth Press).
The fourth shop was a graphic novel shop that I have been to before – and if I weren’t in Project 24, I’d probably have taken a gamble on one of them. But it was great to have a flick through.
And the fifth and final shop was extremely glamorous – mostly selling enormous art and style books – the sort of thing I’d call a coffee table book if they wouldn’t have necessitated getting a new coffee table. The lady who showed us around was lovely, but I was always treasure a line she said with no irony at all: “I’ve been off champagne for a week and it’s been tough.” Same, friend, same.
All in all, it was an amazing tour – such a great range of bookshops, some of which were great for buying and some were more for the experience. Throughout, Lauren had interesting facts and stories to share, and was a witty, friendly, and enthusiastic tour guide. All of us really enjoyed it, and most of us bought at least one book – and it’s certainly opened my eyes to bookshops I didn’t know existed, despite going around those areas often. To take me to three bookshops I’d not visited before, out of five, is pretty impressive! I had such a fun morning – despite the inevitable London rain.
Lauren doesn’t run Saturday tours all that often, but if you’re available during a weekday (especially if you’re a tourist) then I think you’d love this. Keep an eye out for which tours are coming up!