Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Courtesy of Booksellers, Barnes and Noble Redux, Books about Bookstores, and a Documentary about a Bookstore


Foyles in London

The cafe at Foyles, a stunning bookstore in London, was impossibly crowded, so I descended to a lower floor with my iced tea and asked a bookseller if there were any place to sit.  Rather apologetically, he indicated the benches by the elevators.  "Is there really no place upstairs?"  "No, there's nothing."  "The wrong time of day," he speculated.  "I don't know what the right time would be," I said, laughing.  "Not Saturday,"  he suggested.

It was a relief to sit and sip iced tea.   When you've been springing up and down for an hour - thank God I wore springy sneakers - so as to examine the shelves as thoroughly as possible,  you are grateful for a bench and the kindness of strangers, as Blanche Dubois said. 

The courteous booksellers at Foyles are like magical beings who will not disturb your biblio-trance but can summon up any book at will.

I would like to see a cozy chair or two.  Otherwise it's perfect.


Daunt Books, Marylebone High Street

 LONDON REGRETS.  I didn't make it to Daunt Books, an Edwardian bookshop founded by James Daunt, who is now CEO of Barnes and Noble in the U.S., which he has turned around financially, and CEO of Waterstones in the UK, a huge, wonderful chain bookstore which he also  saved. 

You can read more about Daunt in a fascinating article in The New York Times, "How Barnes & Noble Went From Villain to Hero." 

  I look forward to seeing Hello, Bookstore, a documentary about an independent bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts, called simply The Bookstore, owned by Matthew Tannenbaum, who saved it during the pandemic by a Go-Fund-Me drive. 

Michael Dirda at The Washington Post  reviewed Marius Kociejowski's  memoir, A Factotum in the Book Trade, as well as other new books about books.  

The TLS reviews Chronicles of a Cairo Bookseller by Nadia Wassef.  

Dear Readers, What are your favorite bookstores in the U.S.,  Canada, the UK, and other countries? 


  1. Somehow the atmosphere at the Strand in NYC is no longer what it used to be so it is no longer a favorite. The Argosy at 59th Street too has deteriorated - but in another direction, elitist. And it has far less books. I regret to say I no longer have a favorite bookstore since I can't get to the UK regularly -- I did love the Persephone shop in Bloomsbury and Foyle's too.

    The last times I was in the UK with Jim I saw that neighborhood long-time bookstores with owners who care about their stock still exist. We went to a few and years ago in Chichester I bought an 1805 5 volume set of British plays. I used that for scholarship, for research for years afterwards.

    1. Ellen, I wish the Persephone shop were still in London, but it has moved to Bath. I would love to go to the Strand, though I vaguely heard it was having financial troubles. So many have closed altogether. What a culture! Your volume of British plays sounds like a treasure.

  2. I much preferred the old Foyles, on the corner next to the current shop. It was impossible to find the book you were looking for, but you might well find one you didn't know you wanted. They also kept books for years. In the 1990s - more than twenty years after British money was decimalised - I found a book marked in pounds, shillings and pence. I ended up haggling whether to round the price up or down to the decimal equivalent.
    When the old one closed stock from the store was sold at a pound a volume. A friend used to buy all he could carry and catch a bus to the University Bookshop on Gower Street, which paid about £5 per volume.
    There used to be an enormous second-hand bookshop (Waterfields, I think it was called) in a warehouse in Oxford and another (Thorntons?) where the rooms and corridors were a Borgesian maze.

    1. Oh, dear, I did go to the old Foyles some years back, and perhaps they had Faber Finds books? It is such a glamorous bookstore, and I found more than I could buy this trip, but it is a shame they had to sell the old stock. A couple of bookstores here have radically downsized, and I don't know what happened to the old stock. In one case, a university bookstore turned into a sweatshirt store.

      Well, perhaps I'll get on the train and go to Oxford someday in the future if these second-hand bookshops are still there. I shall promptly add them to my list.

    2. The old Foyles had future Faber Finds from long before Faber found them!
      Both the Oxford shops are long gone. Next time you're in London. if you haven't already seen it, a shop worth looking at is Atlantis, the last bookshop in Museum Street. It's an occult bookshop with an exterior that hasn't changed since the 1930s - a centanerian old lady I knew told me that - and some odd and interesting bboks

    3. "occult bookshop" I mean it sells books about the occult. The bookshop itself and its owners seem perfectly down-to-earth and friendly, though I wouldn't try shoplifting from there.

    4. Yes, future Faber Finds! A pity about the Oxford shops. I can't think of any occult books I need, but if I'm on Museum Street - and bizarrely I'm not quite sure which museum this is near - perhaps I'll pop in.

    5. Atlantis has - rather eccentric, I suspect - books
      on classical literature and mythology, if you want an excuse to visit. has reopened.
      You might find it useful next time you're in Britain.

  3. Lovely post! Well I made several trips to Persephone Books when it was in London and I loved thar bookshop and just around the corner in Doughty Street is the flat which EM Delafield rented! Now that Persephone has moved to Bath I will miss my trips. I'm also rather fond of the 5 storey Waterstones in Brighton as you can see the sea from the cafe at the top. Heffers in Cambridge is a lovely store, too.