I’ve invited Lauren from Bluestocking Books to talk about her fabulous London Book Shop tours. Be sure to check them out if you’re visiting London.
How much do you love books?
Beyond the totally normal – I’m sure food tastes better when reading, a bath is improved by a book, as is travel (and not travelling, too). Even my exercise is story-based – I use an app called Zombies Run featuring an unfolding story written by Naomi Alderman, author of The Power. If my partner would read to me in bed I’d be delighted, but I cheat and listen to audiobooks, currently The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman.
I love books and readers enough to have built three careers around them: first at The New York Public Library, second as a librarian in North London, and now as a tour guide taking book lovers to the most unique bookshops in the city.
What’s the story behind Bluestocking Books?
The original Bluestockings were a women in Georgian England who ran salons encouraging literary conversation and encouraging women to write and publish. They were considered outrageous in a time where women were rarely educated or publicly outspoken. More recently “bluestocking” has been used as a derisive term for women who pursue education and enjoy reading and writing. It is fun to reclaim the word, and I always wear blue tights when I’m leading tours!
What can people expect from your tours?
Walking, talking and browsing books – about 2 – 2.5 hours of exploring London via a selection of bookshops, learning a bit of local and literary history along the way. The scheduled tours are open to everyone, just book via the Bluestocking Books website. I also offer bespoke tours, for groups visiting London and book clubs.
Do you have any tours that are suitable for family and friends who might not be super bookish?
There is always a lot to see along the way on the Shoreditch Creative tour – the street art is an extra bonus. Teens into comics or superhero films would find plenty to enjoy on the Comics and Illustration tour.
What if family and friends are really stubborn, are the tours OK for lone book lovers?
Absolutely, many of the people who come on the tours are Londoners or visitors on their own. I’m happy to chat during the bookshop browses and as we walk along; everyone tends to get enthusiastic and share their book and magazine recommendations.
Are bookshop tours a good way to see London? Which areas do you cover?
A great way to see London! We explore narrow side streets you’d normally walk by, and visit specialty bookshops that feel more like clubs. Tours focus on central and east London – Bloomsbury, Soho, Charing Cross, Shoreditch, Brick Lane – my plan is to keep expanding. I have my eye on Broadway Market and also a luxe tour around St James.
What do you love most about book shopping in London?
The variety of shops. There are amazing second-hand shops, from antiquarian to treasure trove basements. London is a publishing hotspot, with myriad small book and magazine publishers represented at local bookshops. Booksellers and owners (often one and the same) are generous with their time, and many share a bookshop history that goes back over 100 years.
Will there be opportunity for cake?
Yes! Every tour ends at a bookshop with opportunities for coffee, cake, tea or drinks. On one unseasonably warm day there was an ice cream break.
What books do you find yourself recommending the most?
After ten years as a librarian I have accumulated a huge repertoire of recommendations. During one recent tour I recommended Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, The Politics of Design by Ruben Pater, Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl, Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry. If I could create a cult hit it would be Soho DJ Scarlet West’s autobiography, I’d Like to Thank Manchester Air Rifles. Her diary is a story of addiction, music and devotion to London – bleak and funny.
What was the last book you bought and where did you buy it?
Not to be named. We all make mistakes, especially at airports while waiting for the gate to be announced. Recent airport purchases I have loved are Marian Keyes’ The Break, and Sophie Kinsella’s My Not So Perfect Life. Before the airport I bought The Good Immigrant, edited by Nikesh Shukla, at my local Muswell Hill Bookshop.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
One shop that I love to introduce is bookartbookshop near Old Street Station, because it is a new realm of books for most people, and the owner is fantastic. But I don’t have a favourite shop, only a favourite reaction – a widening of the eyes and a whoosh of air as the person by my side disappears to look at books.
To find out more or to book a tour go to www.bluestockingbooks.co.uk
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