I like travel guides, but I love reading fiction and non-fiction set where I’m going on holiday even more. When a book brings a destination alive, well, that does more than any number of glossy travel brochures or restaurant recommendations could ever manage. Unfortunately, finding the books set in your destination isn’t always so straightforward; sometimes Google and Wikipedia just don’t come through.
So I was hugely excited to discover Daunt Books. The independent chain’s five shops in North London are beautifully old-fashioned stores split not by genre, but by continent and (in some cases) country. Allende and Garcia Marquez sit alongside guides to Argentina and Ecuador, and Spanish phrasebooks. Looking for Bryson’s Notes from a Big Country? No need to dig out the travel writing section – just head to ‘America’ instead. And if you fancy adding the latest bestseller to your pile you can do that with minimal fuss too, the shops having a separate section for the less exotic titles. If you’re looking for holiday reading, these are sure-fire one-stop shops.
But Daunt Books’ shops are not just convenient – they are also lovely spaces. The shelves are wooden and old-fashioned. They have either wooden or carpeted floors.They aren’t sprawling mazes of stores, but they aren’t cramped either. And small touches make a huge difference too – in the Belsize Park branch that I visited, the lighting felt natural – a far cry from the harshness of strip and/or flourescent lighting favoured by so many stores. It’s not a big feature, but it adds to the shop’s cosy atmosphere. Although the shop at Belsize Park is the only one I’ve visited (yet!), photographs of others and the virtual tour of the stunning, original shop in Marylebone suggest they are all exactly as I like my bookshops to come – homely, and easy to while away many an hour in.
The only negative aspect of the shops is that, as an independent bookstore, it is more expensive to buy here than from larger chains or Amazon. However, besides the layout there are a number of reasons to loosen the purse strings to support the company – other excellent features include an interesting talks programme (bonus points for ticket prices including wine), the cloth carrier bags they provide with purchases, and the late opening hours in Chelsea and Belsize Park (9pm Monday – Saturday).
You can find Daunt Books is Belsize Park, Chelsea, Hampstead, Holland Park and Marylebone. Learn more at their website, and look out for the green frontages when you’re in any of the areas!