The London Review Bookshop 14 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JL
Tel: 020 7269 9030 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
When I moved to the capital, the London Review Bookshop was at the top of my list of places to visit. I can not claim to read the LRB from cover to cover each fortnight (my subscription belongs to Private Eye), however I do occasionally take the time to read an essay or two during a quiet afternoon and was intrigued and excited by how the magazine’s unashamedly high-minded approach would translate to a bookshop. I had an inkling that there would be lots of incredibly interesting books, but was slightly concerned that the place may feel very elitist; perhaps my occasional penchant for an episode of the X-factor would set off alarms at the door and I would be held to account for crimes against culture. Luckily my over active imagination couldn’t be farther from the truth: the London Review Bookshop feels inviting and eclectic, rather than stuffy and academic.
The shop has been trading in Bloomsbury for over eight years and its smart bottle green exterior and huge windows are like a siren’s call to a book lover; I find it impossible to pass by with out popping in for a browse. The sleek, modern design incorporates lots of pale wood and light greys and wouldn’t look out of place in an Ikea catalogue. There’s a calm atmosphere, akin to a long satisfied sigh, which is punctuated only by the unobtrusive hum of activity from the adjoining cake shop.
History and politics dominate the front of the ground floor, while fiction snakes quietly around a pillar towards the back. Downstairs are poetry, children’s books and various other non-fiction sections, including philosophy, psychology, religion and cultural studies. As someone who visits bookshops frequently, I often see the same titles on display in each shop, the London Review Bookshop stands out because they give prominence to books that I have never seen before; it makes each visit a genuinely exciting prospect.
The manager, John, says that he thinks that by carefully hand-selecting the stock, the shop is able to gain an advantage over the larger, high street bookshops that ‘stock everything’. The London Review Bookshop’s easily browsable size and literary reputation encourages customers to take a risk on a book they may not have even thought about searching for on Amazon. Although John does not feel that his shop is in direct competition with the supermarkets and Amazon, he highlights the trend for price reductions since the end of the Net Book Agreement as having had a huge impact on the bookselling industry as a whole:
“We are the only industry that for years has been promoting its premium product, which is getting all the publicity and all the attention, at a reduced price. For some reason the new Harry Potter, that the whole world was waiting for, was being sold at half price.”
I think he’s right, the heavy discounting of books creates a precedent, an expectation in the customer’s mind that a book should always be discounted. The British book industry is, whether intentionally or not, telling the world that its books are not worth the cover price. Perhaps as a reaction to this devaluation, the shop has noticed some publishers focusing more on high quality design and production, a tactic which has been welcomed by customers who want beautiful, physical books.
I thought it would be foolish to leave the home of the London Review of Books without a few suggestions about what to read. Unfortunately I am completely inept and accidentally deleted the recordings I had made of the original reviews, so the sections in italics have been borrowed from the shop’s website and the brackets are my own uninformed opinions.
Railtracks is a collaboration between two writers of remarkable achievement. A meditation on railways, love and loss, at once intimate and committed, it moves from the industrial to the metaphysical, from the tectonic shifts of globalisation to the internal pulses of memory, and from the present to a past that still exists in vivid, essential traces. (Also, Berger is a god and the book’s paper smells amazing.)
Spanning her last five collections and bringing together her finest work from the past fifteen years, this new selection of Alice Munro’s stories infuses everyday lives with a wealth of nuance and insight. Written with emotion and empathy, beautifully observed and remarkably crafted, these stories are nothing short of perfection. (David, who can be found behind the desk at the London Review Bookshop declared Alice Munro to be the greatest living short story and I’m inclined to agree.)
‘Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today. For thirty years we have made a virtue out of the pursuit of material self-interest: indeed, this very pursuit now constitutes whatever remains of our sense of shared purpose.’ In this exceptional short book, Tony Judt reveals how we have arrived at our present dangerously confused moment and masterfully crystallizes our great unease, showing how we might yet think ourselves out of it. (This is now on my ‘read next’ list)
If you want more astute book recommendations from the London Review Bookshop, I would suggest looking at the numerous reading guides on their website which feature books for any imaginable occasion, or pay them a visit in person where I am certain they will be more than happy to help.