London without a Shovel

Some of the books I bought in London.

Take the 5 pence,” I said at Oxfam.  Snow was falling, and I needed a bag for my books.  (You pay 5 pence per bag in London, as a way to reduce the use of plastic bags.)

Mind you, I had a Waitrose bag, a Foyles bag, and a Westminster Abbey bag in my hotel room.

There wasn’t much snow in London. Possibly an inch or two.  But it was packed down, slushy, and slippery.   Nobody shoveled the sidewalks.  I saw nary a snow plow nor a snow blower. It took me a day to realize the city seemed empty because the snow had shut it down.  (N.B. Other parts of the UK really got a lot of snow, but London just expected snow.)

Even though Londoners are wusses about the snow, I’m a wuss about the cold. My mother taught me always to take off my coat inside,  but that wasn’t possible in cathedrals.   I froze my ass off at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, though I kept my jacket zipped.  I also visited Waterstones on the day the furnace broke.  At the lovely, warm, almost-empty National Portrait Gallery I sat on a bench and was amazed to find myself looking at  portraits of Andrew Marvell and a very young Milton. Later, at an almost empty Pret a Manger, I ate a fruit cup, drank coffee, and enjoyed Virginia Woolf’s essays on London.

Definitely not an ideal season for tourism, but I loved making the rounds of the bookstores.

In the window of a used bookstore on Charing Cross Road, (possibly) Any Amount of Books, I saw a very old copy of Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?,  but knew there wouldn’t be room in my suitcase.

At Foyles, I browsed in the fiction, essays, and  foreign language sections.   I bought a copy of Susan Hill’s Jacob’s Room Is Full of Books, which is very much like her previous book about books, Howards End Is on the Landing. I couldn’t fit it in my suitcase, alas!  but read it in the hotel.   I also bought E. Nesbit’s The Lark, (which I read as an e-book a few years ago and wrote about here), with an introduction by Penelope Lively.

I came across Hatchards,  the UK’s oldest bookstore, which was founded in 1797, in a very elegant building on Picadilly (the original building). It is my new favorite bookstore in London.   I bought a copy of Vita Sackville-West’s Heritage.

Hatchards

I bought used  paperbacks at Oxfam and  Skoob.  Here’s a list:

Helen Dunmore’s Zennor in Darkness

The Harsh Voice by Rebecca West

Daughters of Decadence, edited by Elaine Showalter.

Hermann Hesse’s Rosshalde

William Plomer’s Museum Pieces (looked interesting: I’ll let you know)

H. E. Bates’s Death of a Huntsman (I’m very fond of H. E. Bates)

The Minister by Maurice Edelman. (Never heard of it:  looks amusing)

So did I buy great books or junk?  Only time will tell.

And I hope you have all thawed in London.

17 thoughts on “London without a Shovel

  1. Looks like a fun trip (despite the weather!) and some great finds. I’ve read the West and seem to remember rating it highly. Which Waterstones did you visit? The one in Picadilly is beautiful. And if you return to the National Portrait Gallery take a look at the Allan Ramsay self portrait – it’s small and stunning and I always try to visit it when I’m up in the Smoke! 🙂

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  2. So lovely to imagine you here in the UK. The snow was a pain, thankfully gone now. I love Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road, I have found some good things there myself. You have some wonderful purchases there. I don’t have that Rebecca West so interested to hear about that. The Lark is very charming, and I very much enjoyed Zennor in Darkness.

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    • So glad the snow is gone! I did find some remarkable used bookstores and am not quite sure which I bought where, but was certainly glad to find those Viragos.

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  3. “Museum Pieces” is a very good novel – a little masterpiece. Its central character was based on Plomer’s friend Anthony Butts, brother of Mary Butts, whose books have been revived recently.

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  4. How lovely although sorry London was so manky with its icy streets. We get this so little that it doesn’t make financial sense to keep the things accessible and ready to go that get rid of it when it does come, which is annoying. Any Amount of Books is one of my favourites, and I have had some great books from the outside display area!

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