The Very Best Of Bookshops

In no particular order, some of my favourite bookshops!

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Blackwells, Oxford

It’s easy to get lost among stacks of books on almost every topic imaginable. From current and popular literature, to the classics, the food and obscure. We spent hours in the basement lost among politics, science and travel. Just when you think you’ve seen it all another floor appears, another layer of books, a genre you didn’t even know existed pops up and draws you in, waylaying you, stalling you, encompassing you. The extensive quirky gift range at Blackwells is also worth a mention I feel- perfect for Christmas present shopping.

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Forum Books Northumberland

Forum is an independent bookshop in Corbridge, a lovely village on the River Tyne not too far from where I grew up, and now no trip back to my parents is complete without a trip to Corbridge to visit the vintage treasure trove at the base of the church; to pick up a gadget at the wonderful kitchen shop, or a leisurely look in Forum. Helen and Jamie are hugely knowledgeable and I trust their recommendations entirely. Forum feels safe, welcoming and as though it would be impossible to walk away without a good book.

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Unnamed, Rabat

Ok I didn’t buy anything from this ‘bookshop’ but I loved walking past it every day during our stay in Rabat, Morocco’s political capital. This bookshop, is less of a shop and more of a cavernous doorway, overflowing with thousands of books. The owner sits daily, nestled among the pages, and making talk with people on the street. He was busy, friendly and I was jealous of his slow paced, apparently easy life, sat in the warm, surrounded by and reading books.

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Voltaire and Rousseau, Glasgow

Ramshackle, dusty, chaotic. You can’t buy more than half the books in V&R because you can’t actually get at them safely. Books tower everywhere, occasionally cascading to the floor in a dramatic fashion, earning whoever is nearest a scathing look from the owners, stationery in front of an electric radiator. There are some real beauty’s, but like most second hand books shops you have to wade through a whole load of rubbish to find the quality- but is part of the joy. I lived across the road from V&R for three years, and still make it a must visit whenever I’m back in the city. Unlike most bookshops, and perhaps because of its mad array of books, and the underlying fear that my handbag will destroy a tower of classic 1970’s cookbooks- I find the whole experience as much terrifying as I do enjoyable.

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Libreia Acqua Alta, Venice

As part of a whistle stop tour of Venice, with a American motor mouth who jogged us around the city, negotiating bridges, canals and tat, we took refuge (she was, no doubt no commission) at Libreia Acqua Alta- a must see on the checklist and now no doubt as much a tourist destination as a bookshop, as it’s unique and entertaining set up does more for people than the books. The bookshop, like most things in Venice remind you that the city could be flooded at any moment, and so books are stacked in bathtubs, gondolas and boats. In the courtyard at the back there is a reminder that not all books have made it, and a soft, precious staircase makes for cute photo opportunities. Like nowhere else.

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Barter Books, Northumberland

If you find yourself in Alnwick for a day or two, there’s a good chance you’ll be busy at the castle, at the gardens, at the beach, or just drinking excellent tea somewhere- what you also need to do though, is make sure you leave enough time for a leisurely wander round Barter Books. With a trainline running around above the shelves, poetic words lovingly painted on the walls; dark high shelves, and plenty of vintage furnishings to sink into, Barter Books is a treasure trove of secondhand books. Lovingly decorated, homely and welcoming Barter Books feels more like nipping to an elderly relative to borrow a book than it does buying from a shop.

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St Giles Bookshop, Lichfield

It might seem odd to have a charity bookshop on this list, but St Giles is unassuming, small but well stocked. It always has what I’m looking for, in fact only this week I took a list of books I fancied reading along and managed to get a number of them on a four for £5 deal. Total bargain- and the money goes to charity so it’s a win- win really. The staff are helpful, and it is incredibly well supported and patronised by the local community. A gem.

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Shakespeare and Sons, Prague

I just really like bookshops, and will look for them on holiday. I find them relaxing, tranquil, escapes. My partner wouldn’t let me buy a book from Shakespeare and Sons, arguing (quite rightfully I suppose) that he was already lugging around six massive novels and didn’t want to carry another one. We were travelling around Europe, and my refusal to go Kindle definitely added to our carry on weight. I found a book though, and sat, quietly in the basement of Shakespeare for a little while, avoiding the manic hordes of tourists on the Charles Bridge for just a little while. It didn’t involve beer, or history or speaking to other people. Still managed to take a photo- proper tourists.

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Wenlock Books, Shropshire

Years ago I was working at an event in Much Wenlock, and as I made my way through the busy town centre I passed Wenlock Books, with its gorgeous Christmas display in the window, I longed to go in. For years (actual years) I pined to return, but I didn’t ever have call to go to Much Wenlock- it’s not really ‘on the way’ anywhere. One day though, I visited, and I was not disappointed. A narrow staircase winds up to several floors of nearly ordered books. A brilliant selection, and a cosy feel.

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