My Seventeen Books

London--book shopping

London is a book shopping paradise.  I bought seventeen books while I was there and I could have easily doubled or tripled that number.  I had to restrain myself to one or two books per bookshop.  Yes, we went to a lot of bookshops.  My husband is a very patient man.

Persephone Books--London

Let's start with the bookshop I absolutely was not going to miss.  Come hell or high water, I was going to Persephone Books.  I love this shop.  The books are pretty, the staff is friendly, and I have never bought  a book there that I didn't like.  Plus, there is a coffee shop conveniently next door for my husband.  This time I bought:

The Priory by Dorothy Whipple.  I am slowly making my way through her books.  I buy one each time.

 Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd.  I read a review of it somewhere.  It sounded funny and is set during WWII.  Just my type of thing.

The Fortnight In September by RC Sherriff. I was having a hard time picking a third book (it is three books for 30 pounds or 12 pounds each, obviously I was going to buy three) when I overheard one of the staff raving about it on the phone with another indecisive customer.  Then, when I went to pay another member of the staff told me it was one of her absolute favorites.  I can't wait to read it.

London Review Bookshop

Another charming bookshop full of books I didn't even know I wanted.  Though, actually, the book I bought here is one I was looking for.  I bought A Notable Woman--The romantic journals of Jean Lucey Pratt, edited by Simon Garfield.  I have read all his diary compilations using sources from the Mass Observation Organization and greatly enjoyed them.  Jean Lucey Pratt was quoted extensively in some of his other volumes.  I am looking forward to getting to know her better.

Daunt Books--London

Daunt Books might possibly be the prettiest bookshop I have ever been in.  It is just gorgeous and full of equally amazing books.  I bought My Dear Bessie-- A Love Story In Letters, also edited by Simon Garfield.  I heard excerpts of it read on the BBC with Benedict Cumberbatch and Louise Brealey playing the parts of Chris and Bessie.  I have wanted to read it ever since.

Waterstones is a chain like Barnes and Noble is here except it puts Barnes and Noble to shame.  I can wander around Barnes and Noble and not find anything I really want to buy.  I think I want to live in Waterstones.  So many books I want, so hard to choose.  I bought The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman.  It is published by Persephone Books and I just did a little Googling and Nicola Beauman is the founder of Persephone Books.  I didn't realize that when I bought it, I just was happy I found an interesting book on the clearance rack for one pound.

Southbank Book Market--London

The Southbank Book Market is under Waterloo Bridge and I love it. There is something about browsing through row after row of books while being able to glance up and see the river and iconic London sites.  It makes my heart happy and somehow epitomizes London to me.  I also love how the noise and commotion of nearby street performers and crowds dies down under the bridge and you just have fellow book lovers meandering up and down the rows, fingers trailing over titles, barely glancing up to dodge around each other.  We went twice because the first time was late in the day and they were breaking down the tables and putting the books away.  I bought:

A Family and a Fortune by Ivy Compton-Burnett.  I have read one other book by her and enjoyed it. Plus, she was mentioned extensively in the diaries of James Lees-Milne that I just read.

Provincial Daughter by R.M. Dashwood.  I absolutely love the Provincial Lady series.  This is a continuation by her daughter.  It could be charming, it could drive me crazy.  We shall see.

A London Girl of the 1880s  and A London Home in the 1890s, both by M.V. Hughes.  The first in this series is published by Persephone.  It was one of the books I kept dithering over in the shop.  When I found these I really wished I had bought it.  I snapped these up anyway and came home and found a copy of the first one online.


This little shop in Hampstead was a bit insane.  It was packed with books and was so crowded with boxes and stacks of books you literally could not walk down some of the aisles.  I am sure there were lots more treasures in there but I could not see them.  I craned my neck and edged my way down as many aisles as I could but eventually had to give up.  I did buy two books- Don't tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford and A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor.  I found the second one on this lovely shelf of orange Penguins.

Penguin books

This bookshelf was right by the door and I saw it from the street.  It is what pulled me in.


The last few books I found at various charity shops that I popped into as we went about our activities for the day.  I like the Oxfam bookshops.  They seem to have such a good selection.  I bought:

My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.  I have only read one book by him.  Everyone else on earth seems to have read this.  I thought it was about time I did too.

The Day We Went To War by Terry Charman.  My fascination with the home front during WWII is well documented on this blog.  I was pleased to find this.

The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor.  I automatically buy her books whenever I find one I haven't read.

The House by the Thames and the People Who Lived There by Gillian Tindall.  It tells the history of London through the story of one house that has existed for 450 years.

We That Were Young by Irene Rathbone.  I hadn't heard of this before but it sounded interesting.  It is the semi-autobiographical account of the work of women during the first world war.

There you have the seventeen books I bought in London.  I wish I lived there, not just because I love England but also because I love the book culture there.  I have said before that I am viewed as a bit of an oddity by many because of my love of books. There are not many bookshops near me unless you count Barnes and Noble.  Now, admittedly, I live in a small town in Connecticut and London is a big city but I have lived outside of Chicago as well and I still feel that maybe England has more of a literature-based culture.  I could be wrong but two different conversations I eavesdropped on made this point to me. (Tell me I am not the only one who is entertained by people watching and a bit of eavesdropping.)  The first conversation was when we were coming back from Greenwich on the train.  There was a group of businessmen sitting across from me and they were discussing Shakespeare's tragedies.   In detail.  Not just a passing reference to Hamlet or Macbeth but a detailed discussion of some of his lesser-known, to me, tragedies.  I have never had that happen in the US.  The second conversation was in Daunt Books.  A woman came in looking for a book recommendation.  The bookseller asked what she had enjoyed recently.  She mentioned a Barbara Pym novel.  He immediately recognized it, was able to discuss it with her, and then recommended an Elizabeth Taylor novel.  I am pretty sure that if I go into a bookstore near me neither the customers nor the booksellers are going to know who either of those authors are.  If you mentioned Elizabeth Taylor they would immediately think of the actress.

So, I am curious, wherever you live, do you feel you have people who appreciate and understand books the way you do?  Do you have a lot of exciting bookshops near you?  And have you read any of my seventeen books?


  1. The post we have been waiting for!

    I am currently reading the Molly Hughes books, I'm in the middle of the second one, and loving them. I am pretty much adding all of your other books to my want list, thank you very much :)

    Houston has some good and offbeat book stores, and two good library systems, but I don't feel like it's particularly literary city.

    1. Did you write a review of the first one? I know I read one recently and thought it was you.

      I am always happy to contribute to other people's book buying obsession!

      Good and offbeat book stores sound nice. That is what I wish my area had. I do think so many book stores have disappeared in recent years. I know when I was a child there were a few more in my general area. Now chains have swallowed them up.

  2. "Come hell or high water, I was going to Persephone Books" -- You and me both, you and me both. :)

    Oh, reading this point has made me so very nostalgic for London. So many things I have to say too! I love London Oxfams -- their book selections are reliably excellent. I've found some lovely gems there.


    I tried valiantly but I never managed to go to Daunt Books, whether during my semester abroad or during my vacations. There was always a time conflict. Even more of a shame as you call it "possibly be the prettiest bookshop [you] have ever been in."

    I think Americans have a pretty good literary culture. Definitely not as pronounced as Europe, where about one in two people on the metro are reading something during the commute, but the reading culture is definitely there. There's reading lists in English classes, you study literature in school, and libraries systems are in place.

    New statistics just came out and Indonesians are officially the second laziest readers in the world. Disheartening but not surprising. Previously, I worked for a publisher and we embarked on a project to anthologize Indonesian short stories of the twentieth century. The infrastructure for the project was so poor. There was only good resource for the short stories themselves and they haven't been digitalized so I dread to think what would happen to all the documents if something happened to that building. The building itself almost shut down for lack of funding despite being the center of literature in Jakarta.

    Schools don't nurture readers here either. I don't remember ever being told to read a book for class.

    I actually envy Americans because they a much better literary culture. And I guess I should look at the bright side: at least we aren't the worst of the worst. (Although second worst is pretty close)

    1. You must go to the Southbank Book Market next time you are in London! And Daunt Books. So pretty. So many great books.

      It is interesting to read your viewpoint on reading cultures. I know America encourages reading in school. I regularly had books assigned to be read and now my kids are assigned books and also required to read books of their choice during the school year. I tend to take the existence of library systems for granted. These things exist but the thing is that after most people get out of school they stop reading. My son mentioned to me how strange it is to go into his friends' houses and there are no books. He is used to a house packed with books!

      I am curious now, which country came in last one that study you mentioned?

      So if you don't feel you grew up in a culture that encourages reading, what developed the love of books in you?

  3. Botswana came in last.

    It's interesting that Americans stop reading after school. I wonder why. Do you have any ideas?

    I have my mother to thank, mostly. She read to me every night before bedtime up until I was around 6/7. I loved being read bedtime stories. It did my brain a lot of good too. I learned to read and write faster than my peers. My mother worked (still works, in fact) a high-powered career and her hours became crazier after my brother was born so she never read him any bedtime stories. The difference is stark. Other than his university requirements, the only book he has ever finished is The Hunger Games.

    1. I am not sure why so many Americans stop reading. Maybe because they associate reading with schoolwork? I do think the most useful way to encourage reading is to do what your mother did. Read to your child early and often. I am a huge proponent of reading to kids and having books easily available to them. Make books an everyday part of life and don't make reading a chore and you will develop a love of reading in your child.

      I do know that both my kids love to read but they do not always love to read in school. The emphasis on analysis and note-taking and "connections" and having so many minutes assigned as homework can suck the joy right out of it.

  4. Some wonderful finds from some wonderful stores! I just did a little excited squeal when I saw 'We That Were Young' in the photo as that's one of my favourite WW1 novels. I wrote about it for my dissertation years ago and it's brilliant. I still remember one particular section which broke my heart a little. I'd love to hear your thoughts when you've read it :)

    1. It is good to know you give it such a thorough recommendation. I had never heard of it and picked it up solely because it was a Virago. I'll have to read it soon and let you know what I think.

  5. Hooray! Seventeen books -- how delicious. I haven't read any of these, but they sound great, and I hope you review some of them here in the future.

    1. I am looking forward to all of them and I am sure at least some will be reviewed here.

      You have your own collection of new books that I am looking forward to hearing about in the future.

    2. Yup! That pile of books kind of makes me giddy :-)

  6. I've been looking for a secondhand copy of Don't Tell Alfred for YEARS so I'm rather jealous! Great Persephone haul, too.

    1. I was rather happy with that find. I hope you stumble across a copy soon. I love Persephone books. I end up saving them for ages because it isn't like I can just pop into the shop and pick up another book.

  7. how did you get 17 books home? did you ship them?:) impressive!

    1. No, I didn't ship them. It is amazing what you can cram into a suitcase if you are determined enough.

  8. Persephone Books = love = dream = life :)