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My Favourite Bookshops

If ever you can't find me, this is where I'll be.

I’ve always, always got the time for a bookshop. Even when I don’t. Surely, I think, as I’m on my way to an appointment, there’s time for a quick browse.

Except of course, it’s rarely quick. I can't always buy something but I do always stand there for a long time beaming at displays, breathing in all those ideas, taking pics of books I’ll buy next time it’s someone birthday or for when I really do have no more books on my ever expanding ‘must read soon’ bookshelf.

When I do buy something it’s normally a book I’ve never heard of that a bookseller has displayed in a way that means it’s absolutely calling my name. ‘Deana! Read me! You’ll never guess what I’m about.’ How have I never heard of this genius author? I ask myself. I must read everything they’ve written, immediately. And, I add, in the extremely unlikely event I need any more convincing: Surely, as a bibliophile, a writer, a creative writing teacher, and a very curious and nosey human, it’s my duty to read this book. 

The best bookshops have the best displays, often with personal recommendations from staff who know their stuff. But I am swayed – super swayed, easily swayed – by a good cover. I can’t help myself. Something beautiful, colourful or unexpected, often featuring a small dog.

And I love bookshops with grandfather clocks and soft armchairs, where they genuinely want me to pick up a book and read. Where there are nooks and crannies to get lost in and where I know the people who work there love books as much as I do.

My local bookshop in Kew is great. Friendly and small but perfectly designed for browsing, they pack a lot onto their shelves. They also do amazing window displays for their children’s books. I love that within a five-minute walk from home I can pick up books and read blurbs and get excited by something new.

My favourite bookshop of the last few years is Mr B’s Emporium in Bath. Deservedly popular, Mr B’s curates and entices brilliantly with shelves filled with enthusiastic recommendations. I do a lot of university drop offs in Bath and every time I’m there it’s my first stop. ‘Choose something!’ I tell my kids as I skip around grinning.

And I love second hand bookshops – my daughter is studying in Milan for a term and called me this morning about one she's found that we will visit when I’m there tomorrow. Second hand books is one of the many reasons I love Berwick-upon-Tweed. I visited for the first time in 2022 and it’s a book lover's delight. Apart from Hay-on-Wye, I’ve never seen so many bookshops clustered together in one small town.

My big, ‘I can’t help myself, I have to pop in just because’ bookshop is Waterstones on Piccadilly. This is entirely because it’s huge and there are floors – so many floors – packed with books. It’s my happy place when I’m in town. For someone who claims to dislike shopping this really does make me question who I am.

I always find bookshops when I’m on holiday. My last foreign bookshop was in San Jose in Costa Rica. It wasn’t special, or pretty or remarkable in any way but it was filled with books and the people in it were my people – book lovers. Just walking through the door made me smile.

One of the most beautiful bookshops has to be Livraria Lello in Porto. Commercial? Yes. Barely room to move with all the tourists? Of course. But it’s so gorgeous and so much fun. I bought a beautifully bound Wuthering Heights from there last summer, unable to resist.

Sadly, one of my favourite bookshops no longer exists. When I was 19 I was living in California for a few months and discovered a 24-hour bookshop in Santa Monica. I don’t remember its name but I do remember the excitement and disbelief I felt when I found out it never closed. What kind of gift is this? How do they know I’ll get out of bed at 3am on any night of the year to look at books?  What’s more, they had very different covers to books in England, each of them shouting out for my attention: 'Deana! You won’t have heard of me. And look, there’s a small dog on the bottom left side of my cover! You’ll love me! Read me!' So many authors I discovered in this shop became my go-to writers for years.

I could go on and on. Trust me on this. But I’ll leave you to think of your own favourite book shops and, please, tell me which ones I should go to next!


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