Bookstores small and big have a life unto themselves and going to bookstores definitely provides a good experience - at least for the bibliophiles-. The fresh paper smell, knowledgeable staff , great selection of books to your avail would definitely could leave a great feeling of satisfaction of time well spent in them. London with its blend of modern values and legacy has a plenty to offer for those who love that personal feeling of visiting a booksho. Especially, Charing Cross road is full of bookstores from Borders, Blackwell, Foyles , a couple of secondhand bookstores etc. This is just an attempt to connect the dots on my pursuit of good bookstore's over the last three weeks .
Foyles was the first bookshop that I started with, Foyles is one of the oldest bookstores in London ,started in 1903 by two brothers, William and Gilbert Foyles, who set the shop to sell the books that they left with after failing in the civil service exams. Foyles has an extensive collection of books ( loved those books on pirates). Though it has many a sections, the collection lacked depth, I ended up staying mainly in the philosophy section and bought a couple of books.
After a bit of googling, I found Hatchard's to be a cut above the rest- it is the oldest surviving bookstore in whole of UK (Started in 1797)- and it didnt fail to impress. The shop has a well preserved legacy look(especially those reading chairs), after walking around for a while, I eventually moved on to my favorite section. Disappointingly the philosophy section was very weak. In the tills – I bought “Conjectures and Refutations” from Karl Popper- the staff accepted the fact that they have a very little collection on philosophy and surprisingly, referred me to couple of other places (competitors) where I could find a good collection. I don't know whether his manager would like that!
Another interesting place I found near Hatchard's was the “Fortnum and Mason” which was started in 1707 as a grocery – a supermarket now by evolution-, It was really an interesting place with all those costly items (350 pound hats, 150 pound umbrella's etc). It had an unimpressive small book section (majority on cookery , wine etc) as well.
After having lost the mobile , the weekend seemed to be more personal ,with an absolute control over my destiny. I decided to hit the Waterstones near Piccadilly (based on Hatchard staff's reference). After waving bye's to the party goer's in the stretch limos, I entered the biggest bookstore I have ever been to (they own Hatchard's as well), it was so huge that people were sleeping on the reading coaches- you feel bad when you want to sit and read-.
Waterstone's has a big collection of every possible books on all the possible titles -with a huge one epistemology as well-, but I didn't get the same warmth as in Foyles and Hatchard's. The staff (at least those whom I encountered) were less knowledgeable and more like those who are behind the train ticket counter. In spite of huge collection of philosophy books ,somehow I didn't feel like staying there for a long time. After spending a while in the Travel section, I headed back to Hatchard's to spend my evening with whatever they have got.
In the fast paced world, where book reading habit is dwindling drastically, very soon the smaller as well as bigger bookstores could be extinct paving way to supermarkets. Though these days could be a bit far, the smaller soulful bookstores would definitely be missed. After all , buying books is an experience we could always cherish, somewhere i read a quote about fishing which went like, 'Fishing is about that experience, many confuse it with the fish".