Above Ground on the London Underground—Day 39: 5 Bloomsbury Book Shops
If it's Friday we must be back in London. Every Friday I take a virtual walking tour ‘above ground’ on the London Underground. Using my Tube guide & my fitbit® device, my goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day roughly following along the Underground route, reporting back here on Fridays with my findings. Here are the previous days. This week I'm following the Piccadilly Line. This is Day 39.
I'm sorry. What else can I say? I took off on an impromptu road trip with my hubby last week, abandoning my weekly London walk on Friday, ditching my commitment to Joy's British Isles Friday meme, and leaving you, gentle reader, in the lurch. Well, not in the lurch exactly, more like the environs of Bloomsbury where I was supposedly off in search of a bookstore to buy a novel by Virginia Woolf. In reality, I was off with my hubby on a trip up the coast of California and I forgot to pack a book altogether! Instead of reading in the evening in our motel room, I spent a lot of time going through my Instagram photos and playing brain games on Lumosity —keeping my fingers crossed that a brain game a day keeps the Alzheimers away.
So today it's back to Bloomsbury and my quest to find a good bookstore or two. From the Museum Tavern—where I killed a pint (just one, I'm a lightweight) it's a mini-stroll over to the home of the acclaimed literary journal the London Review of Books which is more than just a publishing house...it's a bookstore AND even better, a bookstore with a cake shop! Like the best book stores, the LRB hosts frequent writerly events—looking through their calendar the eclectic evenings range from the uber intellectual to the delicious—
What have the French ever done for us? (Gastronomically speaking) in which food critic and writer Dino Joannides chairs an evening of debate and dining.
Food will be provided by award-winning greengrocer Andreas of Chelsea, with charcuterie from The Ham & Cheese Company and cheese from Beillevaire; wine will be provided by Aubert & Mascoli.The events typically sell out quickly but the London Book Review posts past events online so that anyone can can check them out. As a 'memoirist'—although that is too high fallutin' sounding for my scribbles—I'm intrigued by the Alchemy event coming up on August 31:
Alchemy: The competing claims of fiction and reality have provided, of late, one of the most heated and productive literary debates. Where do the boundaries between them lie? And who has the right, the ability, even the desire, to draw them?
In the opposite direction is Arthur Probsthain's on Great Russell Street, a bookseller specializing in books from and about Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Not quite your cup of tea? They've got tea too, at their own little Tea & Tattle Cafe.
Tea & Tattle Cafe
You'll find books on Marxist Theory, British History, the Black Struggle, LGBT and even childrens books for your budding socialists. What you won't find is a tea room.
Foyles at 107 Charing Cross Road is the flagship of the Foyles chain of bookstores. More Barnes and Noble than your local indie bookstore (if you're lucky enough to have an indie bookstore in your town). But as Meg Ryan learned in You've Got Mail, that doesn't necessarily make it a bad thing; there are author events, storybook times for the kiddies, signed copies of best sellers and, yep, a cafe. The bookstore is hosting the prestigious sci fi book award, the Arthur C. Clarke award, this August.
Foyles ©Rob Grieg
Before we head off to St. Pancras, the next stop on the Picadilly line, we'll end our tour of Bloomsbury area bookshops with a visit to Gay's the Word which is, according to Wikipedia, the only specifically gay & lesbian bookstore in the U.K.
As you might expect, the store is not just about the books; right from the start Gay's the Word has been a information and resource center for the gay and lesbian community. Named after a musical of the same name, Gay's the Word has been in business since 1979 when gay themed books weren't readily available at all bookstores in the UK. Most of their stock had to be imported from the U.S. It hasn't always been easy. In 1984 the shop was raided by Customs who, labeling the bookstore a porn store, confiscated thousands of pounds of literature including work by Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and Christopher Isherwood. Thank goodness, times have changed. I wish my uncle, who lived his entire life as a closeted gay man in the suburbs of England, was still around to see the brave new world.
Bookshops in and around Bloomsbury
London Review of Books Shop
14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL
+44 (0) 20 7269 9030
Tea & Tattle Cafe
41 Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3PE
+44 20 7636 1096
1 Bloomsbury St, London WC1B 3QE
+44 20 7637 1848
07 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT
+44 (0) 20 7440 3265
(the store and selection are so mammoth, each department has its own phone extension. I've given you the number for bestsellers.)
Gay's the Word
66 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB London
+44 20 7278 7654
Counting the Fitbit steps
All images, except as noted, via the bookstore's web gallery