Last summer I was determined to spend a whole day in London bookshop hopping. That’s a big ordeal for someone like me who doesn’t read maps properly. So I charged up my phone and with GPS I was set to go. Before I left my hotel, I received a pre-walk strategy talk with the concierge who was kind enough to give me a map marked with play .
My first stop of the day from Marble Arch to Marlborough St. was at Daunts Books, which I’ve posted about recently. Next, I crossed Soho into Piccadilly Circus passing by the showing of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child and into Charring Cross Road.
I’ve been reading about book towns lately and although Charring Cross Road isn’t really a book town but it was the closest that I could get to what I had in mind. I envisioned an exciting long lane overflowing with perky bookshops inhabited by a whole colony of book worms, bibliophiles, book collectors & book mongers. Kind of like the wizarding cobblestoned Diagon Alley WHICH I might add coincidentally and in fact DOES exist right behind Charring Cross Road (although I didn’t know at the time).
All my illusions came shattering down as I finally reached my fantastic Diagon Alley though. The place was practically dead. There weren’t many independent bookshops as I assumed. I walked into Foyles to ask the guard where were all the antiquarian, rare & second-hand bookshops and was told because of the high rent many independent shops are not in business anymore. Instead pubs, restaurants and flavorless shops are thriving.
According to an article at The Guardian, bookshops don’t make much money anymore due to loss of local amenities and online competition. What once used to be a place where people could go to explore “ideas, find stories & share opinions” is no longer there. The only bookshops that survive today are the ones backed up by their community- who have enough sales skills to convince their customers to keep them alive instead of buying online. The article mentions one woman saying “the familiar smell of old books is what she remembers most from her childhood”… “Saturdays involve egg and chips and then a visit to the shop to browse… It’s a safe place… like being in a bubble”.
I couldn’t agree more. I relate to that a lot. My fondest childhood memories were of me visiting the little Family Bookshop in old Salmiya. I couldn’t wait for the weekend to finally arrive so my parents could take me there. I spent hours there browsing and chatting with the bookshop salesperson who saved new copies for me.
After my disappointment I made my way to Shaftesbury road to visit Forbidden Planet. It was a last minute call since I was getting tired at that point but I’m glad I did. The place raised my faith in bookshops again. I took down the stairs to the basement and was totally blown away by heaps of sci-fi, comics, mystery books and superhero figurines.
Lots of people with blue and pink hair walking around. It’s like a secret society of nerds & Otakus. I felt so out of place but it was really fun. I spoke to a purple head that suggested reading Metro 2033 and another orange head that gave me a few comics to read.
I finally made my way back to Marble Arch completely exhausted but slept a happy girl with two full bags of books & fond memories to scrapbook about.