Today we’re talking about my love affair with the written word.

When I was a kid, my mom would take me and my sisters most Saturdays to the local public library. We would spend the better part of an hour filling up our canvas bags with that week’s haul. Once home, we would sit in the living room, describing, sales pitch style, the books we chose and why we made that particular selection. As we finished reading, there was a basket near the front door where the books went, for easy collection the following Saturday.

Such sweet memories.

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As a teenager, I hated the forced togetherness of my family’s annual summer vacation to Northern Michigan – it was my personal form of torture. Too old for Barbies, too sick of losing to my 8-years-younger sister at cards, I was a sullen mess.

But at least I had my books.

I would bring 8 books for an 8-day-vacation, blowing through John Grisham and Michael Crichton novels at a rate of one per day. It was 1995.

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To this day, I choose my vacation books very carefully, calculating the time in airplanes and on beaches in pages per hour.

Knowing many people who don’t identify as active readers, I’m so happy that it has remained for me one of the only ways I know to truly relax. I’ve moved a lot as an adult and I always know I’m truly settled in a new place when I head down to the local library to get myself a card. It’s one of the first things I do – furniture and unpacking can wait.

I use my daily commute as a way to get engrossed in a new novel, and Drew knows when I’ve fallen asleep at night when my hardcover book hits the floor. I read when I’m bored and when I’m restless. I read to challenge myself intellectually and to escape into a new world. I read for inspiration and self-discovery. I read to get a historical perspective, and to learn about current events.

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Second to libraries, I also have a soft spot for bookstores, particularly independent ones that have survived through the years of consolidation and Amazon-domination. It’s unsurprising that London has a strong literary tradition, and probably hundreds of bookshops. There is even a street in SoHo that is lined with bookstores on both sides, the historical street where people shopped solely for books.

My favourite single bookstore in all of London is Stanfords, the biggest map and travel bookshop on Earth (says their website). Open for over 160 years, this is heaven to a literary wanderluster like me. If I’m not leaving London for a period of a month or more, a visit to Stanfords is in order to get lost in the guidebooks, and dream up my next adventure. It’s also massive, spread over three floors of … just … travel. In Stanfords I feel like the ultimate kid in a candy store.

It’s my jam.

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Up the road from Stanfords is another one of London’s stalwart bookshops, Foyle’s. Don’t be fooled by the corporate façade or the sprawling 7 stories of book heaven – this is one of the world’s legendary independent bookstores, dating back to 1903. Here’s my idea of a perfect rainy Sunday: browse Foyle’s ridiculous selection for a new title, take my book up to the lovely upper storey café, and read away the afternoon, stopping only for a second slice of cake.

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For a more upper brow collection, I like to duck into the London Review Bookshop, located over near the British Museum. The London Review of Books, is one of the great outlets for literary criticism, and the review opened this shop just twelve years ago (a baby store, in London terms). It’s a small store, with a carefully curated collection which focuses heavily on politics, philosophy and classic literature. They also have a tea shop and garden, tucked in the back.

It’s a little gem and a place where smart tourists go after braving the crowds to see the Rosetta Stone in the museum around the corner.

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Books and London go together like jam and scones or tea and milk. A match made in British heaven. Every neighbourhood has their own popular shops, like Books for Cooks in Notting Hill and Camden Lock Books, in Old Street Station. You really can’t go far without running into a shop that has stood the test of time, and offers its customers a warm book-y hug.

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Do you have a favourite bookshop in London? Please share in the comments below!

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  • July 10, 2015

    How lovely, we share a favorite bookstore! Stanfords all the way! I also love the Southbank book market. Never actually bought anything from there, but it’s a real joy to have a look around (and wonder about the previous owners of these books…)
    Maaike – Travellous World recently posted…10 Tips for An Unforgettable Road Trip in SwitzerlandMy Profile

    • July 11, 2015
      Julie

      love that book market. So much fun to stroll along the Thames and look at the inexpensive, used books. Never bought anything myself, but one day I will!
      Glad you enjoy Stanfords too. I think it is the most amazing travel store in the world. Anything you might need to know about any destination can be found there, plus some fantastic travel-inspiring non-fiction books. Love the map section too. Okay, obviously I love this place too much!

  • July 10, 2015

    Yes to all of these! I used to love a little independent bookshop called Wolfson & Tay in Bermondsey, but unfortunately it closed down a couple of years ago. I love the National Theatre bookshop though – such a great selection of plays, and I love reading contemporary drama. Also, not a bookshop, but have you been to the Poetry Library on the top floor of the Southbank Centre? If you’re even slightly into poetry, it’s heaven.
    Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog recently posted…Travel Tales: The Legend of Lake WakatipuMy Profile

    • July 11, 2015
      Julie

      I’m not a huge poetry person, but love to find new places, so looks like I have to head down to Southbank Centre. Thanks for the rec!

  • July 11, 2015
    Amy

    I love that you used to take multiple books on vacation as a teenager – I did the same thing! I’ve also kept my love of reading, and I find that it’s the best way for me to relax.

    • July 11, 2015
      Julie

      Me too (she says on a Saturday night home reading instead of out at a party!)!!!

  • July 13, 2015

    Skoob Books near Russell Square station is my absolute favourite – I’m all about non-fiction and they have a massive collection. Also it’s so quiet down there. Could stay there all day!
    Charlotte recently posted…12 quiet places to explore in Euston and BloomsburyMy Profile

    • July 15, 2015
      Julie

      Ooh, I will definitely check that out. Putting it on my iPhone notes right this second. I love non-fiction as well. Thanks for the tip!

  • July 14, 2015

    I LOVE Stanfords!! Hands down my favorite London bookshop as well – it was actually one of the first places I ever blogged about in London. When I was in grad school, I used to run over during breaks between classes just to peruse. I always loved all the globes on the bottom floor, too! I’m using a Stanfords bookmark in my current read to remind me of the ultimate travel book heaven 🙂
    Julie @ A Life Exotic recently posted…More Colorado Mountain Towns: Vail & BreckenridgeMy Profile

    • July 15, 2015
      Julie

      I once thought that I would make a collection of globes. But I’m such a minimalist that a collection of globes now feels overwhelming and would take up way too much space! I bet that in grad school it would be a great place to get lost!

  • July 17, 2015

    I can’t remember the name, but there is one bookstore on the water in Camden Market that I especially loved on my last visit. It was such a warm and welcoming place, and I loved that they kept books outside for homeless people to borrow and return if they felt like it. Love business that love their communities.
    xx
    veena recently posted…tales from the bus: the lady who sat on my feet and then proceeded to shout at everyone on the bus.My Profile

    • July 17, 2015
      Julie

      I think I know which one you are talking about. I haven’t been to Camden Market in a while, but that rings a bell. I’m overdue for a visit to the craziness of Camden, so I will check it out. Thanks for the tip!

  • July 30, 2015

    It makes my heart so happy when I see a bookstore thriving! I am a hybrid reader in that I usea Kindle, but I also still love books in print and I still purchase them in hopes that the bookstores like this are always around.

    • July 31, 2015

      Def good to see local stores surviving. The UK has such a strong literary history that I think people appreciate small bookstores more than a lot of places. There is also a massive festival in Welsh town called Hay-on-Wye. Draws in major authors as well as celebrities. Not often that movie stars make an appearance at a book festival!

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