In Praise Of Proper Book Shops

It is, as I’m sure you will all agree, a terrible thing for a book lover to live in a town where there is no Proper Book Shop. We do have The Works (which closed down some years back, then re-opened) but, without wishing to be rude, it is not what I would call a Proper Book Shop. Consequently, when I go anywhere that does possess one I’m like a child let loose in a sweet shop – and one of my favourite places is Ledbury, where my mother lives, which boasts two excellent independent stores, just a few yards away from each other, and they both seem to be thriving. I find it amazing that Tamworth, with a population of around 70,000, has no book shop, while Ledbury (population 9,636 in the 2011 Census) should have two.

Generally my book buying revolves around second-hand shops, but I like to support independent book stores when I can, and the years since my parents retired to Ledbury I’ve spent many happy hours browsing (and buying) in both shops, and when my daughters were young they would spend hours curled up on the floor in each shop, immersed in books they couldn’t put down.

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Ledbury Books and Maps: One of Ledbury’s two wonderful book shops.

First port of call as I turn into the High Street is always Ledbury Books and Maps which, as the name indicates, sells books and maps (all new). They stock a good selection of poetry, ‘literary’ fiction and classics, as well as a range of popular non-fiction, and they have a brilliant section for children. There is classical music playing gently in the background, and the staff are friendly, polite, very knowledgeable about books, and incredibly helpful – and books I’ve ordered from them have usually arrived at the shop the following day, or the day after that, which is pretty impressive. And, of course, they also sell maps, and a lot of books about this corner of Herefordshire, neighbouring Worcestershire and Gloucestershire, and the Welsh Marches, many of them written by local authors.

The Tree Counties Bookshop is good for books and art supplies.

A little further along the road is the Three Counties Book Shop, where the staff are equally pleasant and helpful. The stock is broadly similar, without the maps, but with a very nice area for children, and there is an excellent art department with paints, brushes, sketchbooks and so on (where my mother always used to get her supplies). At the rear (the shop goes back quite a way) are shelves stacked with ‘sale books’ on every subject imaginable – art, sewing, gardening, cookery, history. And if that makes it sound a bit like a discount store, be assured it isn’t, because most of these volumes are a step up from those on offer at ‘cheap’ book stores.

Does anyone else have a favourite book shop? And if so where? 


Books, Booze, and Gardens!

This is a Happy Post about the day in  London I enjoyed last week with my Younger Daughter (the Speech Therapist), because she thought I needed cheering up! On the train there I was fortunate to snap up what seemed to be the only spare seat (occupied by a pink suitcase which was bigger than me, but the owner was happy to move it). So I sat and read this ( please try to ignore blurriness of the photo!)

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It’s Jan Struther’s Try Everything Twice (Virago Number 361, published in 1990). Like her better known Mrs Minniver, it’s a collection of short essays reflecting on Life, the Universe and Everything, very light-hearted, very much of its time, but offering moments of deeper thought, and always beautifully written. It was just the thing for a journey, and I am enjoying it very much, so a proper review will follow in due course.

Our day began at the  Wellcome Collection, which is only a few minutes walk from Euston, and has interesting collections and exhibitions, as well as a lovely cafe, where we sat and chatted over a lengthy ‘breakfast’ of sandwiches, cake and tea! There’s also a brilliant bookshop, where I fell in love  with this:

Then on to Lambs Conduit Street and the wonderful Persephone Book Shop, where I bought RC Sherriff’s The Fortnight in September, which has been on my Wish List for ages, Making Conversation, by Christine Longford because it sounds as if I will like it, and Kay Smallshaw’s How to Run Your Home Without Help, because I gave my copy to my Elder Daughter (I wrote about it here way back in 2012).


We walked through Bloomsbury, looking for the the Oxfam Bloomsbury Bookshop, but didn’t find it (how can you possibly lose a bookshop?), so we headed for Oxford Street, which I usually avoid like the plague, but the Darling Daughter needed a dress, and I’d promised to fund it (belated Christmas present). Mission accomplished in a surprisingly short space of time,  we had a mooch around Soho, where we browsed in Gosh! Comics, which boasts an amazing array of comics, graphic novels and rather unconventional art books that make you look at the world in a different way. I was going to buy a graphic novel, because I’ve never read one, but but I didn’t know what to choose!

Then we popped into Gerry’s Wines and Spirits, in Old Compton Street, where I succumbed to a bottle of rhubarb and ginger gin, which is a little extravagant, but I thought I deserved a treat. I have to admit that in the past I’ve never been a fan of gin or vodka, but I recently discovered that when flavoured with fruits or flowers they are very nice indeed!


We had afternoon tea in the cafe at Foyles, in Charing Cross Road, where they played lovely, soothing classical music, and we sat for ages and ages, with a pot of tea apiece and the most delicious raspberry and polenta cake, adorned with fresh fruits and a generous coating of icing sugar. Obviously there are books galore here – it is much bigger than the Birmingham store – but I was very restrained and din’t buy anything.

It was a Walking Day, when we ignored buses and tubes and, according to Younger Daughter’s phone ‘app’, we notched up 10,200 steps, but I’ve no idea how accurate that is. As an added bonus we stumbled across Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop in Bloomsbury Street, which has the most eclectic collection of new and second hand books I’ve ever come across, and I thought how much my father would loved it. I didn’t buy anything but they gave me a bookmark promoting 1917: Russia’s Red Year, a graphic novel by Tim Sanders and John Newsinger, and I suddenly realised this year is the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and thought I really should read something about it. Does anyone have any recommendations?

Another bonus of walking is that we passed lots of little parks in the squares. Surrounded by railings, we thought they were for the benefit of residents, but they turned out to to be open to the public, so we walked around them, and although they were a little bleak at the moment (it is January, after all) we spotted bulbs pushing through the soil, and there were buds on the trees and shrubs, and a few plants were in flower, and we saw all kinds of birds, and lots of squirrels, including this little chap in Gordon Square Gardens:


On my London trips Younger Daughter and I often wander round the bigger parks, like Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park and St James Park, but we’ve never thought about these little gardens, which are beautiful, tranquil oases for people and wildlife, and we might never have seen them if we hadn’t been on foot.These cyclamen were in Gordon Square as well, and I love the bright pink flowers and colours and patterns on the leaves.


At one point I used to do a lot of cross stitch, so when I arrived home I searched out this embroidery of cyclamen and snowdrops, two flowers which always seem to be a sign that spring is on the way. Really, I should frame some of my needlework, instead of stuffing it in a box, but its the creative process I enjoy, rather than the finished product.


All in all it was such a pleasing sort of day, filled with small things that made me happy, and my luck held when I caught the train home and found an empty seat (there have been times when I’ve sat on the floor, Jeremy Corbyn style, there and back again). I was going to continue reading Jan Struther, but plumped for The Week in September (why stick to reading one book at a time, when you could read two, or even three… or more). This was every bit as delightful as I hoped, and turned out to be a perfect train read, since it features a train journey from London to Bognor, and made me think (among other things) about the changes in rail travel since the book was written, and the train journeys we made when I was young: holidays, day trips, shopping, visiting relatives in London, travelling across Ireland to see my grandparents, and the daily commute to and from school. As soon as I have finished it I will gather my thoughts together and put them down on paper. Meanwhile, here I am, outside Persephone Books.