Let loose in a bookstore

I discovered today that Waterstone’s has started a loyalty card scheme. Obviously I signed up immediately. My book habit has to be worth something!

Today I have been enjoying the first day off in my holiday year that has nothing to do with hospitals. It’s been absolutely wonderful. Tomorrow I also intend to not go to a hospital. Yummy.

I had been thinking of going into London tomorrow and spending today doing some college work, doing a bit of writing and generally relaxing. My neighbour had other ideas, though, and his builders turned up to do some work on his house not long after 8am. So I toddled off to London today and tomorrow will be my college/writing/relaxing day.

The wonderful thing about London is all the beautiful bookshops. It’s like a bookworm paradise.

First stop was Waterstones in Picadilly. It used to be a department store called Simpson’s, so it’s a massive place. Eight floors, of which six are filled with books and two have cafes and coffee shops. It’s airy, spacious and has an excellent sci-fi and fantasy section. I spent a happy hour their acquiring four new books. The Court of Air is one that I’ve had my eye on since spotting it in hardcover in March. It’s a debut novel, though, and with the price of hardcovers I’m always a little wary of buying them unless they’re buy and author that I already know and adore. Terry Pratchett, Mercedes Lackey, Lois McMaster Bujold, Naomi Novik and JK Rowling are all authors where I’m impatient enough for to be unable to wait for the paperback. I need to have read at least one or two books by an author before I determine whether they’re in the same league.

Never the Bride is a book that I picked up because the cover looked intriguing. There seems to be a fashion at the moment for covers with pen and ink-style drawings (The Court of Air also caught my eye this way and Naomi Novik’s books are currently being re-done with this style of cover) and I can’t resist them. They stand out from other books and I end up checking the jacket blurb just in case. Anyway, it looks interesting and a little different so it followed me home.

The other two were trusty old Mercedes Lackey books. The Fire Rose is another of her fairy tale re-imaginings that I haven’t read before. Magic’s Price is my favourite of her books and my copy has mysteriously gone missing. I’m sure that it’s somewhere around the house but I’ve been searching for months and it hasn’t appeared. So I’ve been forced to replace it 🙂

By the time I left Waterstones, after poking around in the other departments for fun and birthday ideas (Peter Ackroyd has a book out about the history of the Thames) I was rather hungry, so I stopped in Itsu for sushi. It was absolutely packed but I still managed to get some great food and a seat so I’m definitely not complaining.

After this, I decided to pop into Foyle’s. It’s the biggest independent bookshop in Europe and the perfect counter-point to the commercialism of Waterstones.  It’s sci-fi section isn’t as big, but it makes up for that by having books that Waterstones would never stock and an absolutely excellent children’s department. It’s history department is also great and it’s computer section is second to none. On top of this, it has a cafe that sells fabulous cakes (including a vegan chocolate cake that has stolen my father’s heart) and plays brilliant jazz music.

One thing that it has acquired since I was last there was a large section of Enid Blyton. I have to admit that I was sure nobody was publishing her books now or, if they were, it was only Famous Five and the like. So I was very pleased to find that the entire Malory Towers series has been re-printed and I treated myself to Upper Fourth at Malory Towers. They also have an entire section of Girls Gone By, the publisher who has been re-printing lots of old girl’s school books including Chalet School books. Sadly, they did not have a copy of Tom Tackles the Chalet School so my quest for this one must go on. The woman looking after the children’s section was incredibly knowledgeable, though, and gave me a couple of ideas for where else to look. She was also able to immediately find a copy of The Little White Horse even though I couldn’t remember the author’s name. This was a book that I must have borrowed ten times from the school library as a kid and I’ve never seen it since. A discussion on LibraryThing a couple of weeks ago reminded me of it so it’s great to find a copy.

One of the reasons that places like WH Smiths and even, on occasions, Waterstones annoy me is because the people serving in there simply don’t know books. To my mind, if you’re working with books on a daily basis then you should know a fair bit about them, preferably be a voracious reader and know your stock. Foyles is great for knowledgeable staff.

One of my dreams for a far-off time when I have lots of money is to open my own bookshop. I have a suspicion that one of the major requirements for my staff will be knowledge and enthusiasm for books.  If you can say “There’s this book, I think it’s called xxx but I can’t quite remember and I’m almost sure that the author’s name begins with a B” and the staff member can take you straight to it then I’m going to adore that bookshop forever more.

My worst encounter was about the last time I used WH Smith for book buying (please, resist the temptation to buy me Smith’s vouchers, people!). I was trying to spend some birthday vouchers on the new Anne McCaffrey book. It wasn’t in usual sci-fi places so I asked one of the people working there if they had it. The woman looked it up and announced that it didn’t exist and certainly hadn’t been published.

I bought it down the road at Ottakers ten minutes later. That’s the kind of thing that really annoys me.

I am now home and, after updating my Amazon wish list, I plan to spend the evening eating snacks and watching Battlestar Galactica on DVD (season 2, not season 3 yet). Altogether, it’s been a great day.

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