London for Book Lovers

Nov 8th, 2010, 10:20 AM
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London for Book Lovers

What are the top sites in London for lovers of English literature?

I've been to London three times, but always for just a day or two before leap-frogging elsewhere. Taking advantage of the city's spectacular free museums, I've enjoyed the Bristish Museum's circular Reading Room and of course the spectacular British Library (blog post with pics here:

What are some other LITERARY highlights you've uncovered in the city??

JenniFTF is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 10:24 AM
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You might want to look at I think they have several literary walks.
goddesstogo is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 10:30 AM
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Depending on your tastes, Dr Johnson's House and the Dicken House.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 11:01 AM
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There are so many possibilities; have a look here:
Underhill is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 11:05 AM
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\Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (Wine Office Court, 145 Fleet St.) was established in 1667, but a tavern stood on this site as early as 1590. The earlier tavern burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 and was quickly rebuilt — in fact, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese was the first pub to reopen after the fire. Downstairs, you can see charred wooden beams bearing witness to the massive fire that destroyed a large portion of London. This pub was one of Charles Dickens's favorite hangouts, and he usually sat at a table to the right of the fireplace on the first floor.

Read more:
Underhill is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 12:55 PM
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Hey booklover, what about Charing Cross Road, home to almost every major bookshop in London... used books, new books, all kindsa books. Did you read "84 Charing Cross Road" or the movie/TV show made from it?? I suffer from book addiction, so on a trip to CC Road I took along a "12-step" friend. Her job was to watch me, and when I had piled up 5 books, she was charged with taking my arm firmly and saying "Time to go Janet."
travelerjan is online now  
Nov 8th, 2010, 01:39 PM
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In addition to the booksellers of Charing Cross Road, check out nearby Cecil Court

I love Daunt's, especially in Marlyebone

On a nice day, you might enjoy Keats House in Hampstead village, adjacent to Hampstead Heath.

For a rainy day drink, try Bleeding Heart Yard, near Holborn.
zeppole is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 01:43 PM
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Great tips, everyone! I especially like the specific recommendations of visiting Charing Cross Road's plethora of bookstores and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. I wasn't aware fo Keats House in Hampstead village and will have to file that one away for future use!
JenniFTF is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 02:32 PM
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Read Anna Quindlen's Imagined London for a thousand and one ideas.
StCirq is online now  
Nov 8th, 2010, 02:40 PM
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If you want to buy a lot of quality books at a very reasonable price, then head out to the more affluent suburbs (Wimbledon, Barnes, Hampstead etc) and you'll find loads of charity shops selling excellent quality books at very reasonable prices - and the money you pay goes to a good cause. Just look out for the weight limits of your luggage!
JeremyinFrance is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 02:54 PM
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Also the libraries in the UK often have book sales where they are trying to get rid of old stock. We've wandered into libraries in places like Windsor and Kingston and picked up paperbacks for 20p each - bargain! You don't have to be a member to go in and check if there is a stand marked For Sale. Sometimes it's worth asking, one London library had a room at the rear of the library full of books they were selling.

KayF is offline  
Nov 8th, 2010, 11:43 PM
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I'm afraid a couple of the suggestions you've been given aren't quite in touch with today's London.

- Charing Cross Rd/Cecil Court. Have been devastated by a combinaton of rising rents, the internet, cut price competition from supermarkets, the charity shop phenomenon (on some measures, Oxfam can claim to be Britain's biggest bookshop) and the spectacular improvement in small-town bookshops. The result, IMHO, is that the Powell's in Portand Oregon, by itself, now has more different books than the whole of the Cecil Court/Charing Cross complex. Still more interesting than anywhere else in Europe: but just a shadow of what it once was, and probably a serious disappointment to any Oregonian - or even to many New Yorkers.

- Charity shops. Charity shops in affluent suburbs sell a random mix of fashionable vintage clothing, bought-in gift ideas made in politically correct third world factories, just-functioning secondhand household gadgets and some of the donated books local volunteers haven't sent off to the nearest recycling depot.
The likelihood of your getting any useful results by trekking out to Kingston or St Albans, then fighting your way through the three-year old Good Food Guides is pretty low. What IS worthwhile is to go to the Oxfam storefinder (, uncheck everything except books, then insert a location (like "London"). For Britain's more literate towns, this will generate the branches branded "Oxfam bookshops", which sell little other than books or music - and are where Oxfam sends donated books it thinks will appeal to bibliophiles . More in the parts of town with a large catchment of book readers than in the Zara-choked affluent suburbs: in London, they're in Bloomsbury, Victoria, Marylebone, Kentish Town, Herne Hill, Portobello Rd, Crouch End, Highgate Hill, Turnham Green and Muswell Hill.
Don't expect too much by way of bargains. Oxfam have learned how to price rare books, and rarely let real finds go on sale for much less than specialists.

Two other small points:
- Don't dismiss revisiting the British Library. Its permanent free exhibition is beong forever tweaked - and its substantial programme of (inexplicably and disgracefully free) mini blockbuster temporary exhibitions are always in some sense literary-related and the best free such shows in town
- If you might have plumbed London, Oxford's only an hour away, and its Tourist Information Centre has a range of walks and leaflets on literary Oxford. Its book retailers have also been savaged by the same influences as central London, but Oxbow Books in off-centre Park End St is, if you're happy to climb up the several flights of stairs in a lift-free building to its spacious though user-unfriendly store, a real find - and mercifully close to both the railway and the bus station.
flanneruk is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 01:06 AM
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I'm a bookseller and I wouldn't be able to improve on flanneruk's excellent analysis of the book trade in the UK.

There are two good new book shops close to each other on Piccadilly - the venerable Hatchard's and a giant Waterstone's in the old Simpson's building. And for original editions of authors like Dickens, a visit to Jarndyce on Great Russell Street near the British Museum entrance is fascinating.
tarquin is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 02:06 AM
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Yes, but if you're in London and not in Oregon, you can't go to Powell's and browse the books. And there was no way the tiny shops on the tiny street of Cecil Court were ever looking to be competitive when it comes to variety or warehousing a comprehensive selection.

It also sort of misses the point of what committed bookstore browsers get out of visiting any used bookseller. It's the odd tossed away book -- like "An Survey of the Chilean Economy from 1922 to 1942" which is uncovering a buried treasure for a unique reader. That book may be in Oregon but it might be on Charing Cross Road. It's highly unlikely to be in both places. It's also the sudden inspiration to read beyond one's usual interests that comes from eyes lighting on a specific title. Maybe Powell's does have more than one copy of a play by P.G. Wodehouse. But finding a marked up script at Jarndyce might have an added dimension of appeal.

I could be wrong, but I don't think the OP was looking for advice on book buys, The question was addressed to lovers of English literature. Charing Cross Road might be a tangential answer, but so is Powell's.
zeppole is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 03:13 AM
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Another recommendation for Daunt Books, excellent store.
Cathinjoetown is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 08:13 AM
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Wow, flanneruk, you're a fan of Powell's? Small world. I especially like the way Powell's shelves hardbacks, paperbacks, and used books together.

I saw a photo of Daunt's in Marylebone ( and made a pilgrimage there last time in London. Just what a bookstore should look like.
Mimar is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 09:01 AM
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Thank you, everyone, for your insights. As a native Oregonian, I am of course a big fan of Powells and feel somewhat spoiled by the abundance of books. But for an American lover of English literature, there is nothing quite like finding an old book in an English bookstore, whether it's in a quaint old shop on Charing Cross or an Oxfam bookstore, I suppose. So these tips on where to find good shops are very handy. But more than coming home with a case of books, I hope my next London visit can be underscored with memorable visits to significant literary sites. Since we only had two hours in the British Library to see the highlights last time, I'm quite certain that a return visit is in order.
Happy reading, everyone!
JenniFTF is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 10:34 AM
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Is Foyle's still around?

There are also the blue plaques on buildings associated with people famous in the arts.
Underhill is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 12:13 PM
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>>Is Foyle's still around?<<

Yes, but now it's customer-friendly. The Soviet-style purchasing arrangements are long gone.

Blue plaques: brilliant idea for tracking down literary associations:
PatrickLondon is offline  
Nov 9th, 2010, 12:34 PM
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I was just at Daunt's Marlybone store the other day and spent about an hour in the children's section along (buying for nieces and nephews). It's a lovely store and the Marlybone High Street is generally pretty charming.
goddesstogo is offline  

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