On Saturday I went on a bookshop tour in Central London after being invited by the brilliant Lauren at Bluestocking Books. There are rarely tours on weekends, instead the tours are mostly during the week – as that’s when bookstores really need people coming into them – so this was a bit special as it featured five very different bookshops.
We started off in Cecil Court – home to many unique bookshops with rare and antiquarian books, maps, prints, and lots of other book/printing related items. I’ve been to Cecil Court before, but I’ve always been intimidated by the shops. The antique ones look super expensive and I always felt there’d be a Pretty Woman moment, with shopkeepers thinking I didn’t fit in – but I was pleasantly surprised that that was not the case. Lauren had arranged for us to have a talk with Tim Bryars at Bryars & Bryars and it was great to hear the history of both the shop and Cecil Court. He also talked about antique books, how they’re valued and how there are books that are hundreds of years old for sale for £30 so antique books don’t have to be as intimidating as we (or I) might think. There was a book of Persian poetry that looked gorgeous and I was tempted by it, but its price was closer to £350 which was just a bit out of my price range but it showed there’s definitely a wide range of books and prices to be found.
Also in Cecil Court we visited Watkins Books, a shop that focuses on the mind, body and soul with books on religion, spirituality and the occult. I had my Tarot read which was different. A friend of mine has done Tarot readings before but (no offence to her) the guy in the shop seemed much more knowledgeable about the whole thing. I’m not sure if I believe in Tarot readings and that sort of thing, though some of the cards I picked definitely had relevance to my life right now, but it was an interesting experience and I like to keep an open mind.
After Cecil Court we went across to the few bookshops still on Charring Cross into Any Amount of Books, a brilliant second-hand bookshop that I’d been to before. This is a really great value shop. All the books are in really good condition, and there’s such a wide range of genres and release dates. I went in the basement for the first time and this was the one and only place I bought a book – I was very restrained. The book I bought was Augustown by Kei Miller which will be my Jamaica read for my Read the World Project.
Then we had a short walk to Soho and to Gosh Comics. Now my personal favourite comic shop in London is Orbital Comics (because the staff are super friendly, and it feels like what you think a comic shop should be like in terms of its layout and atmosphere) but Gosh is a great shop. It’s much brighter with a more open-plan layout so it’s easy to find different comics and graphic novels with the single issues and all the Marvel and DC comics in the basement, and the staff are still awesome and friendly. I enjoyed talking to other people on the tour about comics and giving recommendations and finding new comics that I want to check out in the future.
The final stop on this tour was the most glamourous bookshop I have ever been to – Masion Assouline. It’s a bookshop with a bar and its focus is bespoke coffee table books (some of which are huge and all of them are beautiful) and vintage books and objects. There we had a tour from a woman who works there as she took around the three floors of the store, and explained what Maison Assouline was all about and showed us the different collections and what they print. It was a shop that I’d never normally go into, but I’m really pleased I did. I like the idea of a book being a focal point in a room so if I ever have the money I will one day buy a bookstand and a huge beautiful book from Maison Assouline and put it pride of place in my future house!
The best thing about this Bluestocking Books Tour was Lauren. She was really well-informed about the bookshops and the areas of London we were in and had clearly put in the time in to make connections with booksellers so both they and those of us on the tour got the most out of the experience.
The tour lasted about two and a half hours and that time flew by thanks to the company, interesting bookshops and a great tour guide. I’d recommend wearing trainers, or at least comfy shoes, as you’re on your feet for the whole tour, and maybe an umbrella because this is London and I was the one person on the tour who forgot you could never trust British weather! Still, a little rain never hurt anyone. It was a fun and informative few hours, visiting an eclectic mix of bookshops with a wonderful and friendly guide. I love going into bookshops but there’s something more special about visiting them with fellow booklovers, and going to bookshops I wouldn’t normally think of visiting. I will definitely be more confident and visit shops in Cecil Court more often.
I really do highly recommend Bluestocking Books and if I was free during the week I’d definitely be going on the themed tours – I really like the sound of the Comics and Illustrated Books tour. You can find out more about Bluestocking Books and book your place on tours here and you can follow Bluestocking Books on Twitter.