Daybook · On Books · On Places & Travel

A London Pub Crawl for the Literate

I'm in London now, at the lovely club lounge at the InterContinental Park Lane, overlooking Hyde Park and admiring the view of Buckingham Palace, and the London Eye, all in lavender light.

It's been such a fun day all around, hanging out with my buddy Diana, and this afternoon we got to do one of my favorite things: a book crawl. This is my version of a "pub crawl" –you know, when a pack of people get together to go from bar to bar, getting drunker and drunker and drunker. A pub crawl is sometimes billed as a way to get to know a new city (and other people) with the help of the original social lubricant, booze. (The largest pub crawl was evidently held here in London with 2,278 participants.)

Well, my book crawls are much tamer. Whenever I'm in a new city, I like to look up local, independent and used bookstores –the quirkier, the better, and hop from store to store, getting totally bombed on books. (And then I like to repeat it when I'm visiting again.) It's not always a spending spree –I'll buy anywhere from 1 book to 20–but I always have a great time seeing what's featured, what's selling and just being around other book people. 

Surgeon General's Warning: "Book Crawls" can be hazardous to your back. Books are a stupid thing to buy while traveling because they're heavy and bulky. I don't really care, personally, but I thought I should warn you. 

So today started at Persephone, a shop where books are sold in the front of half, and books are designed and published in the back. They specialize in reprinting  "forgotten classics
by twentieth-century (mostly women) writers". The book jackets are all a soft gray, with cream "labels" for the titles, and the endpapers for each book are different –mostly taken from fabric design.  They are simply delicious.  I bought the Journal of Katherine Mansfield and An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum

Next, Notting Hill, where Blenheim Crescent street is an absolute book crawlers dream.  There's Books for Cooks, which has as comprehensive a collection of books about food that I've ever seen, and the cozy feel of a country kitchen. I immediately texted Phil to find out what he wanted, because anyone who knows me knows that the only thing I make well is reservations. He scored Secrets of the Turkish Kitchen by Angie Mitchell and I look forward to him using it!

Then, across the street to Blenheim Books, which bills itself as "Inspiration for Artists, Architects, Children, Gardeners, Designers and Photographers". It's a big mission, but a surprisingly scant supply of actual books. (Maybe this is minimalism.) I was tempted by a book about the history of our alphabet, why covered why each letter has the shape it has, and why that's never changed and never will. Fascinating, but hardcover and heavy, so I left it to find its destiny on someone else's bookshelf.

Then, the mother lode: The Travel Bookshop.  Obviously, travel bookstores are about as good as it gets for  me.  (The only thing better would be a used travel bookstore).  I feel a little disloyal, because I love Stanford's here in London, but I lost all sense of reason in this little shop. The store's excellent selection, organized by country, and further divided into guidebooks and literature, which is further divided into nonfiction and fiction.  Brilliant!

The front table had a couple of books about Obama. I asked the owner whether he found that more people were traveling to the United States because of Obama. He said, quite nicely, that he rather thought not.  I told him that people were traveling to Chicago and to Hawaii to learn about Obama, and he said he thought that would not be something that anyone but Americans would be interested in. And that the books about Obama were there as "blatant opportunism". Love that!

Anyway, much damage done here:

What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-33  by Joseph Roth
Paris Tales: Stories translated by Helen Constantine (Oxford U Press)
Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey, by Bruce Clark (Granta)
Country of My Skull Antjie Krog
A Carnival of Revolution, Central Europe 1989 by Padriac Kenney
Wild Europe The Balkans in the Gaze of Western Travellers by Bozidar Jezernik

All in all, quite a crawl!

One thought on “A London Pub Crawl for the Literate

  1. You mean a crawl for the literary not the literate. one means an ability to read and on suggests an enjoyment of reading.

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