In the grand tradition of May’s post on Boston by the Books and last summer’s post on my equally bookish expedition to New York, here’s a recap of my book buying adventures in London. First of all, as I have mentioned here a few times, the London Review Bookshop was my top destination for the trip. It was everything I’d imagined. It proves that, when it comes to bookstores anyway, size really doesn’t matter: it’s far from the largest bookstore I’ve ever been in, but every shelf is packed with interesting titles, with no space wasted on the mass-market blockbusters of the mostly disposable kind that fill huge display racks at so many other stores. I could have spent hours more exploring and learning. I didn’t even really go downstairs, except to grab the one Mr. Gum title missing from our collection from their children’s section–this series, much beloved of both my children, is very hard to get on this side of the pond. I was especially looking for a couple of books I hadn’t found locally, John Williams’s Stoner and Alaa Al-Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building, and sure enough, they were both in stock. I couldn’t resist Judith Flanders’s The Invention of Murder, which has not been released here yet in paperback, and having just helped edit Michael Adams’s lovely piece on Barbara Pym for this month’s Open Letters Monthly, I leapt on Jane and Prudence when I spotted it. I could easily have bought another dozen titles, but I had to respect not only my budget but also the impracticality of adding too much more weight to my suitcase when I knew I still had to lug it to Birmingham and back. So I made it out of there with only five additions to my library–restrained indeed!
I enjoyed browsing in a number of other bookstores, including Blackwell’s on Charing Cross Road and two Waterstone’s locations, the one on Gower Street (just up from my little hotel) and the giant one at Piccadilly Circus. There, after much
dithering deliberation I picked out another couple of books that have proved elusive locally, Susan Hill’s thriller The Woman in Black and Salley Vickers’s Miss Garnet’s Angel. Again, there were many other tempting choices (including Elizabeth von Armin’s Elizabeth and Her German Garden, which I am still rather regretting having put back on the shelf, and Sebastian Faulks’s One Day in December–though deciding against that one, I think, was probably the right call). But I had already added Avrom Fleishman’s George Eliot’s Intellectual Life to my stash from the Cambridge University Press table at BAVS, and while roaming Waterstone’s Piccadilly I was actually carrying with me, in my trusty Lug shoulder bag, the beautiful book on the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries that I treated myself to at the Victoria and Albert Museum Bookshop, so I was keenly aware of the increasing weight of my luggage! My final book purchase in London was a tiny one, the British Museum’s Little Book of Mummies. Then, having arrived virtuously early at Heathrow for my flight home and checked my heavy bag, I felt at liberty to explore WHSmith, where seeing Mary Stewart’s Stormy Petrel brought to mind a recent chat with a former student and fellow avid reader about her novels and how much I had once enjoyed them. And now here they all are, just waiting for me!
Both the tapestry book and the mummies book are part reading material, part souvenir: they will remind me of and teach me more about some of the museum exhibits that moved and interested me the most on this visit. In the same spirit, here are two related pictures from those exhibits for you to enjoy!