London Is Full of Loebs & Tips for American Booksellers

My first trip to London was fun but bewildering. I got lost a lot.  When in doubt, I went to a bookstore.

“London is full of Loebs,” I wrote in an email.

If you don’t know the Loebs, you are not a classicist, but anybody can use a Loeb, which is why they’re popular.  The Loebs are a series of Greek and Latin classics with the Greek or Latin text on the left page and the English translation on the right.  I have reservations about the excessively old-fashioned literal translations, but where else can you find an edition of Manetho, an Egyptian priest in the third century B.C.E. who wrote in Greek?

Manetho’s History of Egypt and Other Works

The Loebs would be superfluous at our house–we have a bookcase full of Greek and Latin books– but I know I’m in civilization when I find them.  I let out a sigh of relief when I saw Loebs at Prairie Lights in Iowa City 10 years ago.  Just to be in a town where people read classics…I was in a daze.  Alas, the store’s stock has shrunk, and the Loebs have vanished.  So now I go to the used bookstores, where I find more scholarly texts.

Waterstones Piccadilly

Not to get carried away, but Barnes and Noble could use some Loebs:  just one or two to look classy. And that’s not all.  My serious advice:  the CEO and the Managers of Books (MOBs?) should take a trip to London bookstores.  Why not copy the attractive display tables at Waterstones and Foyles?  Some of them are even themed.  I remember an alluring table of Booker Prize-winning paperbacks at Waterstones. B&N could surely do a National Book Awards table.  Right now B&N is in financial trouble: it mostly pushes best-sellers, and, oh yes, they have what I call the Lord of the Flies table: you know, books you read in school.  A little more quirky, a little less predictable–it could be win-win for everybody.


10 thoughts on “London Is Full of Loebs & Tips for American Booksellers

  1. My first introduction to Loebs came in Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road where she mentions them. I’m afraid I don’t see them in the smaller Waterstones, which are the only ones I have within easy travelling distance but I’m not surprised you can find them in the Piccadilly branch, which I agree is beautifully set out. I bet they have them in Blackwell’s in Oxford as well – another beautifully organised shop.


  2. Yes I was just to England and saw bookstores even in small towns, and Waterstones is going strong, so too B&N and WHSmith (don’t forget them even if they don’t have Loebs).


    • Oh, I hate it when bookstores close! I realize you have so many options in NY, though, so I hope there are other bookstores near you. We do desperately need B&N here, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.


  3. Hi Kat – I have been reading some of your posts. You have a very cool blog. I love the idea of Loebs. In fact, I say revive the concept and start publishing translations of all sorts that way.

    I also like to visit bookstores when traveling. I kind of like the idea that different bookstores do things differently..


    • I remember a Dante with interfacing pages, but overall I think this is an unfashionable approach these days. Perhaps people are less interested in foreign languages now? Fomer TLS editor Peter Stothard wrote about taking a Loeb on a trip with him (either to Italy or Alexandria; I can’t remember which). Honestly, that got me curious about the Loebs.

      Travel and bookstores go together!


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