I arrived at Daunt Books 20 minutes early before opening time and sat across the street from the bookshop watching as Londoners began their day. The woman at the bakery close by took out an oven tray filled with French bread and stacked them in a basket by the window. A bored looking guy parked his truck then removed a stack of crisp and freshly printed newspapers, ripped a string and tossed a couple of newspapers into a shop’s mail slot. A busy woman talking on her mobile mentioning something about a party next Friday; the sound of her heels click-clacking behind her. Finally, the lights turned on behind the display window under the sign “Daunt Books” and someone changed the Open sign at the door.
As soon as I stepped in I was greeted by the musky smell of an old bookshop. I couldn’t help beaming with joy inside. The heart of the bookstore came in sight with a long oak gallery stretched all the way to the far back. A magnificent skylight allowed natural light creeping in and in at the back stood a huge arched window and stained glass. The sight was breathtaking!
Daunt Books was founded by a Banker named James Daunt in 1990; however, the construction of Marleybone’s Daunt Books was actually an Edwardian antiquarian bookstore by the name of Francis Edwards that was built in 1912, which kind of makes this building the first custom-built bookstore in the world.
What makes this bookshop unique is that it specializes in travel books which are arranged and categorized geographically. When I asked the people at Daunt Books what they consider makes them special compared to other bookstores they said the intention is to create a ‘browsing experience’. Whether it’s fiction, nonfiction, phrasal books, travel writing, historical or a guidebook- it’s all thematically arranged by country. The salesperson told me there are many instances when people are curious about a particular region or location; perhaps they’re planning a trip in the near future or they’ve read about a destination and would like to know more, it makes browsing within that designated location worthwhile. In fact, it even inspires accidental browsing. You could be browsing titles about Hamburg when you stumble on a Schnitzel recipe book. I find this interesting because it negates the notion that accidental browsing is only something that can be perfected digitally.
Aside from that, the salesperson also emphasized the importance of interacting with bookstore staff. Throughout his years of experience working in Daunt Books, he told me the thing he values most is talking to customers, sharing information and learning from experience. Many customers eventually value their bookstore staff’s opinions far more than reading a comment/review online.
Another thing that proved highly popular in Daunt Books is the bookstore’s canvas/tote bags which can be seen carried throughout London. They’ve become a fashion statement to the point where people from around the world would stop buy to buy one.
The bookshop runs a lot of events and talks by authors and organizes an annual Daunt Book Festival in March. The company began publishing in 2010 and has now opened many branches. In total they are:
- 2 branches in North London
- Haverstock Hill (Belsize Park)
- South End Road (Hampstead)
- Leafy Holland Park
- Fulham Road (Chelsea)
- The Owl Bookshop (owned by Daunt Books)
- Outside London
- Saffron Walden, Essex, named “Hart’s Books”.
- Marlow, Buckinghamshire, named “The Marlow Bookshop”
As always, I end my bookshop tours by asking the bookstore to suggest a book for me and I was given A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I also left with my new wonderful original Daunt Book canvas bag.
Link: Bookshop site