London Book Shop Crawl 3: Part 3 – Soho and London Pride!

Part three: in which we take part in London Pride, realise the time, buy too many comic books.

The bus we hopped on from Sloane Square terminated at Green Park, meaning we had a long, slow walk through the wealthy areas of Savile Row, past shops with their own security guard. I feel very small-town when I see those.

As we neared Soho, we heard the wonderful sounds of celebration. We stood by and enjoyed the Pride parade – my first in fact. My queerness is something I’ve come to understand over the last few years, so I’ve never really taken part in a Pride, so it was nice to witness it and feel like I’d been part of something wonderful. We wandered through Soho, smiling at the rainbow covered tottering tipsy attendees, as we made our way to one of my favourite book shops in London.

However, this also seemed to be the point that we got distracted about taking photos and so there are NO MORE PHOTOS from this point, gaahh.

Book Shop 5: Gosh! Comics

Gosh! Comics is an absolutely lovely shop situated just off Wardour Street, amidst Soho, and minutes walking distance from China Town, Oxford Street, Carnaby Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. Basically, so conveniently situated that you have no excuse to not go.

They have a great selection of graphic novels, both independent and more mainstream. Downstairs the basement is filled with the latest single issues, Marvel graphic novels (i.e. collections of single issues into handy books for those who don’t know) and lots of manga – Tim found a bunch of Blade the Immortal for £5, a series that lines a whole shelf in our house. I have promised to go back and buy the rest of them later this week for him.

Upstairs is dominated by a central table, with a number of novels and comics on display. I have, a number of times, picked rather randomly from this selection and it has never done me wrong. I selected Skim by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Kamaki as the book I was going get, having absolutely loved their touching collaboration novel about teenagers on holiday, This One Summer and Jillian Tamaki’s absolutely hilarious webcomic (which I recommend you buy) Super Mutant Magic Academy.

But then we got a little carried away when we were looking on the shelves and ended up also buying the latest volume of Alex and Ada (a great comic about owned androids and what it means for them to be conscious), plus two volumes of Hawkeye and another comic that Tim chose that I must admit I have forgotten. It was naughty! But in our defence, while there, we did realise that it was 4.30pm and that we hadn’t had lunch, so CLEARLY we were delirious with hunger.

IMG_20150628_175942We were also gifted a copy of the Pride Zine that had been put together by Gosh! featuring awesome comics, including one by my friend Akbar Ali on cool queer people he knows. You should go listen to ALL the bands he name-checks as they are all awesome – they are Colour Me Wednesday, Ay! Carmela, Daniel Versus the World and Blockfort. Not just only about books over here.

Steven the sales assistant is always very helpful, and Gosh runs a number of workshops and book clubs to take part in. While I’ve never made it to the book club as yet, I’ve found the comics they choose tend to be really interesting so I recommend if you go in there, ask what they’ve been reading recently for that.

I am liable to witter on about comics, so I’ll save up the rest for another “what I’ve been reading” but you can catch up on my last note about girls in comic books here. 

Book Shop 6: London Review Bookshop

After spending too much in Gosh! we headed over to the British Museum area, where London Review Bookshop is, and hurriedly stuffed ourselves with pizza (gluten free for me, hurrah!) before heading over there. LRB is another of my faves in London though I had only been once before, and Tim never. They have a great selection of nature writing downstairs where I tend to stand, Tim found another architecture section, though after Gosh! decided to save his pennies.

LRB hosts a lot of events, including shopping evenings where you can pop in after work and a 10% discount applies on all their books. The upstairs is brightly lit and shelves to the ceiling display fiction all around the back of the shop. I have been reliably informed that the cakes they sell are delicious, especially the date cake according to Ella of Eating With My Fingers, who I trust completely on food choices, as I’ve told you before.

I felt that ending on something naturey would be the right way to end the crawl (having finally accepted that by 6pm I wasn’t going to finish the job), so I settled on Fox by Martin Wallen, part of the Reaktion series. The week before I’d been curled up on my friend Nell’s bed staving off a seizure, so she lay down next to me and grabbed her copies of Snail and Fox from the Reaktion series and read me a timeline of the snail. I instantly felt calmer and it helped me stay in the moment enough to get a cab home and not seizure (huzzah!). Foxes have long been my favourite animal and I get an absolute thrill when I see one, which we did as I came out of the anxious wobbly fog, peeping its head down from under a tree that covered a roof.

Not only that, but earlier that week I attended a talk by the lovely Helen MacDonald, author of H is for Hawk, at Foyles (therefore technically Book Shop -1?) who authored Falcon from the Reaktion series, which I picked up after the talk (if you haven’t read H is for Hawk you must, must, must. It really is as good as they say). It felt right to end on yet another nature book, so I sleepily looked up at Tim and asked him to go downstairs to get the plastic sealed copy for me.

Honourable Mentions

Book Shop 7 would have been the lovely Persephone Books, had it not shut before we even reached anywhere near Holborn. Persephone specialise in out-of-press books written by or about women, and all of them come in beautiful grey covers with brightly coloured insides and a bookmark to match. I have several books from their series, but I would have bought A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf if we had made it there. Their books also make lovely gifts.

Book Shop 8 would have been Gay’s the Word, which I’m super frustrated about missing out on, on PRIDE of all days. But I plan to go back in the near future, to find something new and exciting. Or at least Oranges are not the Only Fruit in this cover which I cannot find anywhere. I would have also tried to fit in a trip to Skoob, which I’ve heard good things about.

Book Shop 9 would have been Word on the Water, and while we still had time to get to the FLOATING BOOKSHOP I think we’d completely ran out of energy to get there. I had no plan of what to get there except a sense of sheer happiness at being on a boat that is also a bookshop. I recommend following them on Twitter to double check where they are moored and what their opening times are.

Book Shop 10 which I would have visited definitely the day after was Church Street Books in Stoke Newington which always has at least four things in it I want to buy at all times.

I curated a map filled with the bookshops I intended to visit, split into whether they sell new or used books (some both, I later discovered) and labelled red if I’d not been to them before. You can see it below – I will add to it over time, and may make it extend beyond London, so perhaps book mark it if that’s your thing.

The bookshop crawl was really a great way to value the differences in shops around us. Homogeny of the high street is a dreaded curse, and while I love the assurance of Waterstones’ stock, I love the excitement of the unknown in independent stores more. I got excellent service in all those I visited from staff who were genuinely eager to assist. I will definitely be re-visiting all of them in future, and may do a follow up mini crawl or series of blog posts where I try and make it to the other shops on my list. A good bookshop is never not worth exploring.

London Book Shop Crawl 2015: Part 2 – South Kensington & Sloane Square

Part two: in which we briefly forget how to use the tube

After our long wander through Notting Hill, we hopped on the circle line to Gloucester road to reach Book Shop 3.

IMG_20150627_134807Book Shop 3: Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road

Now I’m going to be honest with you all and say that the reason why this one made the final cut was partly to do with the fact that foxes are my favourite animals, but also due to their own printing press.

Slightly Foxed sell second hand and new books, which include those printed by themselves in a number of hardback and paperback collections. I was very tempted by Elspeth Huxley’s memoir on growing up in Africa, one of the hardback Slightly Foxed Editions, but couldn’t decide whether I should instead pick Dodie Smith or experience another author I hadn’t heard of or shared most of a name with. I feel like any of their own printed books would make excellent presents for bookworms looking for something new. Seeing them all lined up on the shelf is a thing of beauty.

Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 22.36.19All the new books are upstairs in a clean, cute book store decorated with fox drawings. On the day we went, there was a stack of shelves outside with very good relatively new fiction piled up for cheap (sadly I had all the ones I’d have wanted on there). Down the stairs is an immense grotto of second hand books – biographies, history, old penguin paperbacks galore. You are hit with a smell that is intensely “old words” and reminds me of adventures in the lesser visited sections of libraries. There is a couch that I was very tempted to curl up on, but I plan to leave that for another day. Down here, I found an almost new copy of the Accidental by Ali Smith which I decided to take with me and leave browsing every single book for another day.

We were helpfully assisted by co-manager Ben Scott who told me all about their book clubs and explained the Slightly Foxed Quarterly magazine to me, which is what I eventually purchased. He described it as “accessible literature critique, featuring essays on lesser known authors for you to discover”. That seemed to be what I was looking for, some guidance and direction through to a new world of books. I really enjoyed visiting this shop and I most definitely will be back there, hopefully for a book club.

Honourable Mention #1 – South Kensington Books

It was around this point, I realised I really wanted to get to John Sandoe books and get into town, so sadly South Kensington Books was missed off our itinerary this time around. I have definitely perused the shelves here previously, being drawn away on a walk to the museums by the cheap prices. It’s worth popping into if you are by the museums.

However my excitement to get to John Sandoe did mean that we got the tube the wrong way and ended back up in Notting Hill Gate where trains were running sporadically. However, we got there eventually!

Book Shop 4: John Sandoe Books

IMG_20150627_141547John Sandoe Books is just a few minutes walk away from Sloane Square and the Saatchi Gallery. The bookshop is on a small side street, somehow protecting you from the hectic hurriedness of the main street. It’s amazing how the character of individual streets in London is so often like that; you turn a corner and its a completely new atmosphere.

Tim was especially happy to be here as there is a good section on architecture. I plonked him in that corner and went exploring through the dark wood shelves. Downstairs I found a few graphic novels and poetry but most importantly a children’s section where I found The Wonderful Egg by Dahlov Ipcar which seemed like the perfect present for my 12 week old nephew. Being a child of a philosophising paleontology lover and the nephew of someone who spent their childhood parading herds of dinosaurs along the lounge carpets (which at one time were the perfect colour for sand blasted desert lands), little Dyl doesn’t really have a choice about loving dinosaurs I fear. He already has a number of dino onesies and this book explicitly gives you the full name of each dinosaur meaning its a good revision session for us. The art is so desperately beautiful in it that it makes me wish I bought a copy for myself!

IMG_20150627_142713Upstairs (yes Tim was still in architecture) are amazing sliding shelves that host the fiction. I tried to keep clear of these as I was determined to keep this my first #giveabook bookshop, and so apart from whizzing the shelves around a bit, I didn’t get to explore this as much as I wanted. However, I did sit on the window seat (pictured beneath the excellent dinosaur book) for a few moments of repose. I am a big fan of bookshops with cosy sitting areas. Another one to return to in the near future I feel. Tim joined me eventually clutching a copy of Why Cities Are Good For You which he had been pouring over, and we celebrated our purchases by heading out for a bus to Soho.

This, my lovely readers, is when it dawned on me that getting to bookshops 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 would take a relatively long time due to the Pride parade, but I cast off these concerns and decided to go for a long walk through central London to soak up the atmosphere.

Stay tuned for part 3 in which we wander through the Pride parade and celebrate and carry on our tour.

London Book Shop Crawl 2015: Part 1 – Kensington & Notting Hill

This year, I decided to take part in an independent book shop crawl in honour of Indie Book Shop Week 2015. My lovely, patient partner Tim even agreed to come with me and indulge my ridiculous attempt to visit approximately 15 book shops (we managed 6 ha!). The upside of my overly-excited plans, my readers, is that I’ve compiled a nice little dossier for you all on all the book shops SO HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS GUYS WE’RE GETTING WILD OVER HERE

Also I’m splitting this up into multiple blogs because otherwise this is HUGE.

IMG_20150627_110130In order to placate lovely Tim, I took him out for a substantial Bill’s brunch while I wittered with glee about which shops we were going to visit in order and why, with detailed Citymapper plans waved in his face – yes I had pre-added every single bookshop into my Citymapper before hand WHAT OF IT. Once caffeine-d (me) and lemonade-d (Tim) up, we hopped onto the Circle Line from Hammersmith and headed to Notting Hill for our first book shops.

Just as a note, the route we took also is a nice way to walk through bits of London, so if you have a bookish pal who also wants to see London, the three routes we managed were great.

IMG_20150627_114555Book Shop 1: Lutyers & Rubinstein

This was a previously known bookshop, but I wanted to visit it again because it’s such a lovely bit-of-everything shop, nestled off Portobello Road, with lovely staff (one of whom likes Sleater Kinney and had a spare ticket that helped me go to Sleater Kinney). That first time I visited, I picked up a copy of Walden in the MOST beautiful simple cover that has been waiting for summer to come around for me to read it. I’ve been reading a lot of non fiction about Britain’s wildlife and outdoor living, that coincided with returning to my homeland of North Wales and rediscovering some green places.

IMG_20150627_163952With all these feelings in mind, a single white book on the corner of the display table named “The Homing Instinct” basically leapt out at me. The book has the subtitle “Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration”; it combines all the feelings I’ve had about nature being inextricably tied to a concept of home for me, and thus it became book purchase 1. Leviathan by Philip Hoare got a look in, as its a book I’ve been meaning to buy for years, but as this was the first time I’d ever seen this book and for it to appear RIGHT NOW felt really kind of right.

Tim poured over a few copies of books and the cute art on the walls. He somehow did not bash his head walking down the little staircase to the fiction basement, which feels like a cosy hideaway from Portobello, only one street away.

I love L&R bookshop and was really pleased to have made a 2nd trip there.

IMG_20150627_121010Book Shop 2: Books for Cooks

Round the corner from L&R is Books for Cooks. I wanted to try and include some explicitly themed bookshops in my crawl, as I was mildly concerned I’d come home with an armful of fiction to add to the rest of my house. I found Books is for Cooks on a few good independent bookshop lists and decided to give it a whirl. My friend Ella, of essential blog Eating With My Fingers, supported both my choices for 1&2 and as I trust her on all thinks cooking, I decided that I’d made a good choice. And boy had I!

The shop itself is wonderfully organised into cuisines or styles, with a cafe in the back where they use recipes from their cookbooks, with helpful staff wandering the shelves. I was welcomed and offered help by a member of staff once I arrived, and I said no to start with, not sure what I wanted.

For those who don’t know me personally, I’m a human who collects medical maladies with almost as much perseverance as books – that’s not to say I’m a hypochondriac, I’m just not blessed with good genes. After finally sorting out what was going on with my brain, I considered investigating my chronic issues with food that have plagued me since childhood. Nice GP suggested I had IBS and that I should investigate FODMAPs as a treatment choice. I’ve found so far that cutting out gluten and most dairy has helped a lot (though hardly a surprise as they were always top of my list of “things I feel sick after eating”). I leafed through a FODMAP cookbook and felt sad; everything was just so bland and rudimentary. Garlic and onions, a reliable duo in the kitchen, have remarkably unkind effects on me it turns out, but that doesn’t mean I have to throw the love of cooking out with the delicious garlic sent does it.Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 21.45.51

I scuttled up to the sales assistant and said “give me gluten free baking but gluttonous”. I’m not really one for moralising types of food and the words “detox” and “clean” in reference to food fill me with dread and boredom. So our sales assistant picked up the most ooey gooey cakey cookbook that contains gluten free recipes – Sweet Cravings by Kyra Bussanich. Turns out Kyra owns her own gluten free cupcakery as well which I’ve just been sitting staring at for the last five minutes. While yes this is yet another book for me and not really a give a book as the book shop crawl was intended to be, I feel that this book will yield the gift of cake to my gf pals, and really thats the best gift isn’t it. Give a man a fish and all that.

Speaking of fish, I then poked around in the fish cookbook section and found a book written by the owner of a really great sustainable canned fish brand called Fish Tales. I Screen Shot 2015-06-28 at 21.45.58love eating responsibly caught fish, and what easier way than a reliable can of pole-and-line tuna for days when things are too tiring. However, awkward as it may be, I don’t know any reliable recipes beyond a stonkingly good spaghetti puttanesca recipe that I overuse salty anchovies in. Tim and are going to be engaging in some thrifty living and lunch box life over the next few years, so I thought this will come in handy. The recipes have a good variety and are split up by types of canned fish you commonly find on shelves, and have some stories about the fishermen themselves in it. I recommend you checking out the book and Fish Tales themselves.

So all in all, a good haul from this shop too. Other books that caught my eye were Oranges by Clarissa Hyman, and some books on Jewish cooking that have resided in shared houses with me in the past. But these were the two that won out – so here’s to sustainable tuna and glutenless cakes!

After we left the book shops, we turned onto Portobello Road and walked up through the market (if you ever wanted to buy a fur coat, this seems to be the place!) and onto Notting Hill Gate area. The buildings here are that beautiful tall white cleanness that small-child-me thought was what all of London looked like. We even came across one quaint little garden that boasted home made jams for sale, atop a black framed chair.

Stay tuned for part 2, in which we get the train the wrong way and enjoy the Pride parade!

Escaping grief with words

All has been relatively quiet on here partly due to a busy work period, followed by the death of my wonderful uncle Quentin. He went peacefully, as an octogenarian, so I am thankful for that much. It has hit me very hard.

For those who know me in real life, or some other semblance of social media, you’ll know that I spent much of the last year in therapy to learn to cope with my mental health problems, and get myself back on track for being a functioning human. I’ve been doing relatively okay at this, with your usual ups and downs, thanks to skills from CBT, a heavy dosage of happy-making-medicine from my GP and a lot of love and patience from those around me.

One of my focusses was learning how to feel big emotions. I’m classically avoident when it comes to big emotions – something that surprised a lot of people and even myself because I’d gotten so good at kidding myself into thinking I’d ever processed anything in my life.

With my uncle’s passing, came the crushing wave of grief, something that I’d never let myself properly feel. This sounds ever so melodramatic, like I’m the only one whose lost someone, but stick with me, it ends up somewhere. Basically, I’m learning to grieve for the first time and to not dissociate away into my safe space of blurred non reality or bury my feelings. It’s been really hard, because my regimented care of my daily mental health has fallen a little by the wayside at the same time. I’ve basically been a bit of a blank, sad mess.

While not permitting myself to venture into a separate reality my brain escapes into when it gets a little freaked out, I permitted myself to escape into stories. Reading quietly, with a warm cup of tea, has always been a safe space for me. When things were hard when I was small, the library was my haven and my bunk bed. When I go home next week for the funeral, I promise to dig out some childhood photos of me with my nose in a book as proof of this.

So I suppose this blog was heading towards me telling you about the good things I’ve read, now that I’ve told you about the bad things that are around. While I usually read a lot, I’ve noticed my consumption has gone up a lot since the start of May. These books are some I finished and piled up in the same place in our house, so I could be sure they were read in May.


Bring Up the Bodies is the superb follow up to Wolf Hall, a book that starts out slow (partly because it turns out I know nothing about how Henry Tudor dismantled the churches) but gets you hooked into Cromwell’s snarking, calculating mind. Brilliant stuff. The Secret History followed this up with a on-the-edge-of-your-seat story of how obsession can lead to darkness in a group of proto-hipsters at a small university; don’t let my poor explanation of it put you off. The Awakening is just fantastic, and upsettingly short, but basically a story about a woman in the late 1800s saying “well sod it, my husband’s a bit shit, I’m off” which I appreciate.

From there came the comforting stories of Tove Jansson – her wistful words are always there when I need them most, having read the Summer Book at another time of need. Not pictured is Tales from Moomin Valley because I’ve been reading bites of it in bed, and only commit them to photograph when I’ve finished.

I was lucky enough to see Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House this month with some wonderful people – that’s right, a ballet based on Virginia Woolf. The Lighthouse was the next book of hers on my list, but not one of the books performed – I look forward to trying to understand how Orlando the book links to the spangly in-and-out-of-light whirring dance on the stage. I love delving into Virginia’s stylistic tones, committing a full day to indulge myself. It feels indulgent. It’s what I needed.

Easily the most whimsical book I’ve read was the Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher, which is a beautiful little fable by Korean poet Anh Do-Hyeon. It is literally the story of a salmon migrating upriver, but it is also more than that. He speaks to the river, he falls in love, he questions life’s purpose. There is something a little Jansson about it, but that may be just because I’ve been filling my mind with philosophical Moomin tales. I recommend it, wholeheartedly.

In fact I recommend all these books.

In the middle of these comforting words was “Feynman”,  the graphic novel biography of Dr. Richard Feynman, eminent physicist and astounding mind. While it challenged my knowledge of physics (which has always been astonishingly poor) but it made me want to understand everything, which I feel is a key part of the process. Feynman, like other popular scientists like Dr. Oliver Sachs, had a fascinating colourful life, and it is really worth a read.

As I began to come out of the lowest lows, I treated myself to Supermutant Magic Academy because it seemed like it was going to be the thing I really needed at that time, and it was. Jillian Tamaki’s one page comics about a group of mutant students is breathstealingly funny – especially if you’ve played D&D a few times though this only applies to a couple of the comics. It’s also really touching, with the rawness of first loves and heartbreak. I’m already considering reading it again.

These books kept me going – just keep reading. A few more sentences.

Honourable mention goes to The Shepherd’s Life which rescued me from having a panic attack or worse on the Strand last week – I ducked into Waterstones repeating “just get the Shepherd” under my breath, bought it, and sat quietly in the upstairs cafe looking longingly at the hills of the Lake District that exist in my fondest childhood memories. I’ll write about that more when I’m done.

I’m not sure if this post was coherent or even had a point, but this is the end of it.