In an age of sterile digital shopping, these palaces of reading encourage the romance of browsing and getting lost among the shelves. Booksellers offer proper old-school, thoughtful, human advice, comforting nooks – and, most importantly, titles that you would never have thought of yourself.
Lutyens & rubinstein
Friends sarah lutyens and felicity rubinstein run a shop that only sells the books that they rate, and it has proved to be a winning idea. L&r offers a curated collection of new titles, children’s books and illustrated books, with a permanent collection of their all-time favourites downstairs that make a welcome antedote to the cycle of hyped up new releases.
It is stylish all the way through – from the window with its flying paperback birds and origami mobiles, to the striped tote bags, and artfully positioned books. It’s richard curtis’ favourite bookshop, and if anyone knows the highlights of notting hill, it’s him.
This dainty georgian townhouse is home to a formidable selection of books, with a serene atmosphere, and sweet-natured, enthusiastic staff. Nancy mitford worked here during the second world war, establishing its reputation as a hub of london literary life.
Thoughtfully, they offer plenty of literary services including wedding lists, book subscriptions, and advice on building up your home library. Fans of heywood hill are extremely loyal and tend to shop there decade after decade – make the pilgrimage to curzon street to find out why.
Immerse yourself in the entirely stylish world of coffee table book publisher assouline, whose luxurious flagship shop is part parisian cafe, part library.
The former bank building designed by sir edwin lutyens in 1922 is a beguiling setting. In which to browse their exhibition catalogues, books, furniture, and prints. It’s also a handy place to know about for cool presents.
The most self-consiously modern and interior designed of these bookshops, libreria is carefully curated newcomer. What it lacks in heritage, it makes up with its soothing atmosphere, low lighting and mobile phone ban.
You might have to elbow past the other shoppers who are browsing slowly as it’s a narrow but popular space. It may be small, but packs in plenty of interesting stock. Their diary is full of in-depth seminars, workshops, and performances.
london review of books
An oasis off the thoroughfare off new oxford street, the lrb is the kind of shop where you can go in for a paperback and come out with bags full of stationary, presents, cards, food and art prints. The staff are an important part of the shop’s appeal with their intelligent but unpretentious advice.
The icing on top of the cake is the cafe, filled with light from big windows on the street and courtyard. If you needed any more prompting, they have an imaginative line-up of regular readings, events, and late night shopping with cocktails.
Not only is persephone books primly bijou and beautiful as a shop, it reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly female) writers in quaint grey jackets with patterned endpapers.
The shop is full of overlooked books that you are unlikely to see anywhere else, and they offer a book-a-month subscription service. If you live nearby you may want to join the persephone book group, on the first wednesday of the month, where they will feed you madeira, and bread and cheese.
A well-loved little shop full of rare books, limited editions, manuscripts and first editions. This is an easy place to accidentally spend a lot of money – some of the most expensive books sold in britain come through here. Peter harrington began selling rare editions from the chelsea antiques. Market on the king’s road in the 1960s and the bookshop is now run by his son, pom. It has fostered much affection with west londoners over the decades with its elegant displays, one-off rarities and calming atmosphere.
At the marvellous john sandoe in chelsea it is possible to hide out for hours in the stacks that somehow hold 30,000 titles within three eighteenth century shop fronts joined together.
The narrow staircases and discreet doorways add to the aladdin’s cave quality of the experience. As john cleese recently said of the shop, ‘you’ll find plentiful prize bats in this glorious belfry’.
The stock is mainly new. But staff will also seek out of print books for you if you set them in pursuit of something rare. Since it opened in 1957, its shop fronts just off the king’s road have been full of staff ‘s recent reading pleasures. Framed by well-tended window boxes. The windows are always worth a browse if you’re in the area, although be prepared to lose a few hours.
This haven on marylebone high street is the original daunt books, founded nearly thirty years ago by james daunt. The selection will keep you entertained for hours. And there is plenty of variety to pique your interest, especially among the secondhand and niche travel books.
The edwardian double-height room with its creaking wooden gallery and stained glass window is an uplifting surprise at the back. They get big name authors along to events and readings so look out on for those.
A magical gem in bloomsbury, this is one for fans of all things esoteric, and the occult in particular. Unusually for a bookshop it also sells rare herbs, ceremonial oils. And anything else that magicians might need, and offers tarot readings. Browsing the curiosities is a memorable experience. There are plenty of obscure titles that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
Word on the water
London’s only floating bookshop thankfully. Has been saved from closure with a new permanent home on the canal just behind king’s cross station. The clever owners of a 1920s dutch barge have transformed it into a palace of reading. With the bonus of a friendly dog, a wood-burning stove, and readings and live acoustic music on the roof.