Next time before you ‘add to cart’ remember it is so much more fun to buy books from a bookshop; where you will stumble across titles and subjects of which you were unaware, or your interest in which was waiting to be awakened.
More importantly buying books locally is so much better for the local economy and a bookshop is a vital part and the creative centre of the community on which we all depend. Bookshop owners pay their taxes too, so it really is better for everyone. Plus that amazing bookshop smell cannot be beaten!
We are lucky enough to have some of London’s best independent bookshops right on our doorsteps, suitably listed below in alphabetical order, so go and buy a book from a bookshop this weekend!
99.9% of the time if the bookshop does not have the title in stock, it can order it in for next day delivery.
The Bookseller Crow, Westow Street, SE19 3AF
Jonathan at the Bookseller Crow believes in the power of surprise, with that in mind the shop showcases the odd, the quirky and the adventurous; be they cutting-edge modern novels, bold graphic novels, unusual cookbooks or illustrated children’s books. Currently the shop’s window is full of cartoon dinosaurs in celebration of Gary Northfield’s wonderful graphic novel for children Teenytinysaurs! Bringing the subject closer to home, The Extraordinary Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, by Barbara Kerely and Brian Selznick is about the Crystal Palace dinosaurs.
The novel the shop has recommended most in the last year is Stoner by John Williams, an American novel from the 60s about the life of an English literature teacher, which was the ‘hit’ of the shop’s monthly book group. The publisher counts the Bookseller Crow’s enthusiasm for this book as a significant factor in the title’s cult status.
Chener Books, Lordship Lane, SE22 8HN
Chener Books is a shop in which I have enjoyed browsing and buying for 35 years (!) the store’s huge section of fiction is fantastic, both comprehensive & eclectic, I always come out with some unexpected delight. The shop has an intriguing travel section.
Chener Book’s centre counter display is a showcase for new & forgotten titles & the shop has a wonderful, & renowned, selection of local history books; I revel in finding out more about our strange and fascinating part of London. Owner John is on hand with sagacious advice & it is exactly this engagement that is missing from the passive buying online experience.
Dulwich Books, Croxted Road, SE21 8SW
Dulwich Books owner Sheila O’Reilly tells me that the discoverability factor is an important part of the Dulwich Books experience, customers tell her they will find a book that they did not know about when they came in. Dulwich Books has a large and very popular ‘Staff Recommends Section’; besides well written fiction of broad appeal, staff are keen to recommend non-fiction titles in history, politics and economics. Dulwich Books stocks titles that book lovers might not find easily elsewhere, such as the translated fiction section and customers say they have the best poetry section in South London.
The children’s area is a warm and welcoming, you will often find younger readers lying on the bean bag or rug engrossed in a book. The shop has free storytelling twice a week which is extremely popular and always followed by activities so there is a lot going on to keep the younger readers busy.
A Tale for the Time Being is a new novel by New Yorker Ruth Ozeki. As Dulwich Books veteran Philip Pullman tells me; “the novel explains our relationship to the universe and each other through Japanese teenager Nao’s moving diary which is washed up on writer Ruth’s North American Pacific beach. Nao, who is a self-declared ‘Time Being’, tells the story of the difficult challenges in her life and her relationship with her 104 year old great-grandmother, a Zen Nun. Ruth Ozeki’s poetic prose, and search for the identity of Nao, mixes fact and fiction, helping both our understanding of ourselves and, oddly enough, our understanding of Quantum Mechanics.”
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers won the Guardian First Novel Award in 2012 and is now out in paperback. Sheila explains: “this powerful and sometimes disturbing debut novel by Iraq war veteran Kevin Powers is an unforgettable depiction of the psychological impact of war. The novel is also about friendship, love and keeping promises, as John comes to terms trying to uphold the promise he made to Murph’s mum that he would bring him home safely. If you needed any convincing of the wastes of war then read this novel. It is not an easy read but beautifully written and deeply compelling; be prepared to shed a tear.”
Herne Hill Books, Railton Road, SE26 0LY
This small but perfectly formed store is literally a little gem, a jewel in the crown of Herne Hill’s eclectic mix of independent shops, Positioned where it is by the train station and open until 7pm Mondays to Fridays (10 -6 on Saturdays) the shop is perfect to pop into on your way back from work or to pick up a last minute gift on your way home. Herne Hill Books is currently recommending May We Be Forgiven, a comically dark tale of the modern family by A M Homes, and the stunning The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness, which I cannot wait to read.
Kirkdale Bookshop, Kirkdale, SE26 4RS
Kirkdale Bookshop is now in its 47th year, the reason for this enduring success, as Manager Geraldine Cox explains to me, is that the shop prides itself on its old-fashioned customer service; delivered by experienced staff who love to read books. Many of the shop’s customers have been regulars for decades, and new visitors are always made welcome. The shop doesn’t just sell new books, it also has a very extensive selection of second-hand titles, spanning such diverse areas as military history, showbiz, and even occasionally you might spot the odd UFO title.
Over the years Kirkdale Bookshop has come to be seen as a focal point for community activities: the shop frequently hosts exhibitions of work by local artists in its gallery, as well as a regular book group and authors’ reading and signing events.
Kirkdale Bookshop is particularly interested in encouraging a new generation of readers into the shop, and that’s why for several years the shop has been holding a weekly story-time session for children aged three and above.
At the moment, like many other bookshops, the shop is in the throes of “Mantel Mania” with the second of the Cromwell trilogy flying off the shelves. Kirkdale Bookshop booksellers each have their own favourites which they love to share with customers; recent successes include short stories by Tove Jansson and Teju Cole’s Open City.
Review Bookshop, Bellenden Road, SE21 4QY
Owner of one of my favourite shops, Roz Simpson, buys out of the box and her book choices beg to be bought. Expect the unexpected and leave enchanted, clutching a small bundle of hitherto unknown wonders. Roz’s selection is eclectic and electric, I find her choices endlessly exciting, intelligent and off-beat. Besides the literary offer there is a lovely selection of literary and typographical gifts.
Rye Books, Upland Road, SE22 9EF
I watched Alastair Kenward beavering away for weeks building Rye Books every morning and evening when I walked by on my way to and from work. I never imagined it would be a book shop and I was so delighted and thrilled when I realised, but I had no idea what a remarkable little shop it would be.
The shop has become so indispensable to me now that I cannot think how I managed without it. Passing by in the early morning if I see a book in the window that takes my fancy, and I invariably do, I drop the shop an email when I get to the office and ask them to hold it for me. Similarly, if I read about a book and they don’t have it, it is there waiting for me the next day on my way home.
Alastair organises lots of one off readings and regular events including children’s story time on Tuesdays & Fridays at 11am for babies to 4 year olds and every Monday at 10.30am at there is Tingalingo Learning French for babies up to pre-school age. Thursday’s at 10.30am it is Bea’s Baby Bop.
Fun is a big factor at Rye Books, with regular film nights, I recall a cinematic screenings in the snow on a screen suspended from the side of a truck. There have been performances by the Dulwich Ukulele Club and there are bands outside in the summer, but if you want a moment’s quiet reflection the shop has a cosy chair in the corner where you can pause and enjoy a coffee and cake served with a smile and a chat.
Not one to rest on their laurels either Rye Books’ mobile pop-up bookshop pops up everywhere from shop fronts to school playgrounds! Next day, free hand delivered home delivery
Village Books, Calton Avenuse, SE21 7DE
Hazel Broadfoot tells me that everybody who works in Village Books loves books. As their tastes are very varied they have knowledge of a huge number of titles and because they are all different ages their experience goes from the sixties up to the most modern. The shop itself has a huge amount of character, it’s been a bookshop for over 70 years. It featured in the best-selling children’s novel No Trouble For Susan, by one time local author Jane Shaw, that Hazel read growing up as a child in Scotland, now she owns the very same shop.
Customers regularly join in the ‘booky’ conversations that are going on, they love impromptu discussions and debates. If it’s a good book you can bet that they will be talking about it in Village Books.
All the stock is hand-picked – and they are rarely caught out by an important new book that they don’t have, but they have a very impressive mixture of eclectic and unexpected titles too. Last year, before it was published, they read and loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. They invited the author to come for a coffee morning; everyone who came loved the book and started buying copies to give to friends. Word spread and by Christmas the shop had sold 200 copies of a hard-back first novel. Currently in the Sunday Times bestseller list, Rachel Joyce was so delighted she is coming back in July when her new novel is published.
Village Books likes getting customers and writers together and runs lots of events – especially for children’s books. Hazel read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when it was not much known, she loved the book and started telling her customers about it, they soon had a Harry Potter fan club going in the shop, subsequently there were huge advance orders of the second book in hardback – so a lot of Village Books customers have first editions that worth a pretty penny! Because of their enthusiasm Village Books was paid a visit by JK Rowling – and somewhere between scheduling and the actual visit the world went Harry Potter mad – on the day they had 700 people queueing outside!
Hazel is currently recommending the Cazalet novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard; which are enjoying a revival because they’ve been on Radio 4 but there has been a buzz about them in Village Books for years.
Little Miss Muffet Counts to Ten by Emma Chichester Clark is Hazel’s favourite picture book and the perfect birthday present for a two-year old girl, she helped to persuade the publisher to re-issue it. And little girls everywhere are glad of it as are customers’ dogs as the shop always has dog biscuits on hand.