"The Bookman's London" reviews Foyles on Charing Cross Road…

I’m sitting in Foyles‘ cafÈ on the second floor of the massive and esteemed London book store and I’m having one of the most pleasant moments of my life. The cafÈ has a nice murmur of activity meandering around me. I’m sat with my laptop on an old school-like table. I’ve eaten some refreshing food, and am tapping away to myself while simple book-loving folk slip past unhurriedly. Most beautiful of all is the album of simple melancholic bluegrassy adaptations of Christmas carols that is playing in the background. It’s sedate, slow, respectful and humble – unlike the desperate to be happy, frantically cheery hysteria of most Christmas music. It’s all tremendously comforting.

On the wall is this rather lovely poster which has a review of the store I’m in from “The Bookman’s London” (1952) by Frank Swinnerton. It’s cast in this lovely typeface (I think it’s Parable). Anyway – I tried to find a source online for the (rather indifferent, but still apt) review and there wasn’t one. So I thought I’d transcribe it so that if anyone else looked, it would be be there for them to reference. So here’s Mr Swinnerton’s review of one of the world’s finest and oldest (and most randomly organised) Book Shops:

Towards the Oxford Street end stands one of the really extraordinary enterprises of the book world – Foyles. Two brothers began this shop within the memory of many who are living now. By sheer genius they made it the busiest centre for the sale of books known to me. One may go at any time of day into any of the departments – and there seems no end to them – and find everywhere a packed concentration of students seeking books and advice. The atmosphere is that of great, preoccupied busy-ness; the assistants are inexhaustible encyclopaedias; whole ranges of cheap classics, new school books, histories, dictionaries, novels and in fact everything, as far as everything can now be obtained, is at hand for the student’s need. There is, of course, a rare book department in Foyles, where those more exclusive in taste can rove; but for the most part this is a store for men and women of small means in search of essential tools. As an institution it is overwhelming.

Oh and if you are one of the more exclusive in taste, you might be interested to know that Mr Swinnerton’s book is in fact now itself a bit of a collector’s item (albeit not a very expensive one): Walter-Saxen Rare Books.

One reply on “"The Bookman's London" reviews Foyles on Charing Cross Road…”

I love Foyles, although I’m quite miffed that they have the french language versions of Les Miserables (the novel), volumes 2 and 3, but no copy of volume 1!
I especially love the recent refurbishment (although they’ve removed a delightfully random escalator that went from the 1st to the 2nd floor and looked like it was from the 1930s) because the illuminated signage above the bookcases still looks like it’s from a distant timewarp, despite it being brand new 🙂

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