It’s World Book Day so I thought what better way to celebrate than amble along to one of London’s most exciting new bookshops Libreria just off from Brick Lane in the trendy East End. It opened only a week ago. You’ll find it after passing by graffiti-covered walls and countless vintage clothes, artisan chocolate, restored furniture and vinyl shops. Oh yes, it’s that sort of uber trendy neighbourhood and the unusual “concept” style of the shop reflects its environment. It’s designed with soft lighting, reading cubby holes, soothing cover versions of songs playing and a printing press in the basement. No coffee is served and no phones are allowed – didn't I say trendy? The shelves branch out to enticingly display a superbly curated selection of books which seem to have been chosen as much for the books’ physical beauty as their compelling content. There are many titles by Vintage as well as some great independent presses like Fitzcarraldo editions, & Other Stories and Peirene Press. I asked if they stock Persephone titles and they said they had just spoken to them today about getting some in.
I spent a long while browsing their impressive range of titles. I even took time to hole up in a nook and flip through a book by the brilliant David Shrigley. They have two clearly marked sections for ‘Fiction’ and ‘Non-Fiction’. However, the rest of their sections are organized under eclectic subject matter such as ‘First Person’, ‘Enchantment for the Disenchanted’, ‘Despair and Redemption’, ‘Identity’ and ‘The City’. The fantastic book vlogger Jen Campbell helped advise and organize their stock. You can watch a video here of her talking about the shop with footage from the opening night where Jeanette Winterson (who owns a nearby grocer shop called Verde & Company) gave a touching speech. The staff told me that they plan to change these categories every few months to encourage a better browsing experience. No doubt this will be disorientating for some book shoppers, but I found it to be a fun experience similar to days long ago when I used to spend ages hunting around used bookshops.
The titles I finally settled on are “Excellent Women” by Barbara Pym and “A Whole Life” by Robert Seethaler. The Pym I chose because she’s an author I’ve never read but Thomas of the book blog Hogglestock speaks often about her with tremendous affection and Jacqui of the book blog JacquiWine’s Journal wrote an excellent review of it recently. It’s also a gorgeous Virago edition with a cover design by Orla Kiely with an introduction by Alexander McCall Smith! The Seethaler I chose because it’s a book published by Picador last year that received a lot of great press, made several people’s best books of the year and it also has a beautiful cover. It’s also enticingly short making it feel like the sort of book I’d like to spend a long lazy weekend day reading all in one go.
One thing to note is that after you buy books they stamp the inside title page with a Libreria insignia. I wasn’t asked if I wanted this and while I was happy for it to happen I imagine some readers who like to keep their books pristine might be disgruntled by having their brand new books branded before their eyes.
So if you live in London or happen to visit I would recommend a trip over to East End to have a look inside. There are also lots of tempting food vans nearby and I even passed by journalist, presenter and author Owen Jones as he was being filmed talking about Syria in the nearby food and shop Box Park. Yes, it’s all that uber uber trendy!
Simon over at SavidgeReads had the good idea to share some book suggestions in honour of World Book Day so here are my answers to these questions and I’d love to hear your answers in the comments as well!
Your favourite book:
The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Here’s a video of me talking about it.
A recent reading highlight:
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing. It’s published today and it’s the sort of incredibly readable book I didn’t want to put down. I loved it.
A book people might not have heard of or read by really should have:
Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman. One of my favourite books last year. These inventive stories are so engaging, fun and draw you into the lives of slightly obscure women from the past.
A book which might get someone who doesn’t think they like reading back into books:
Lovely, Dark, Deep by Joyce Carol Oates. These short stories offer a wide range of styles and subject matter but are all sumptuous, compelling and gripping reads.
A book you can’t wait to read by a favourite author:
Barkskins by Annie Proulx. It’s published in June, but I have an advance copy. Some early praise hails it as her best book yet which is quite a high achievement!
Let me know your answers and what you did if you celebrated World Book Day in some way!