Hello There, London!

I consider London still uncharted territory. Though I’ve been to Central London a few times already, the short trips were not enough to explore the whole of it.

One time, as I was walking around Covent Garden, I have stumbled upon an alley of book shops at Cecil Court. I was delighted with my discovery, but disappointed to find out that most of them weren’t open yet (it was around 10 am). One shop was open so my curiosity led me to snoop around. I went inside and found all books to be covered in plastic and all in pristine condition though it all appeared to be old. I picked up a familiar book from the shelf (because I have read it before), looked at the price and was astounded to find it was £85 😮. Still curious as to why it was very expensive, I proceeded to check the book and find out myself. As it turned out, it was a signed copy and a first edition as well! I have discovered later on that most book shops in that alley specialises in antiquarian, first editions and signed copies. I meticulously returned back the book in the shelf (as I do not want to damage the book) and bid the shop keeper goodbye. I was too nervous to be around expensive books so I left the alley and instead looked for alternative 2nd hand bookshops.

Next, my feet led me to Charing Cross Road, and it was here I found Any Amount Of Books. I was so pleased that I didn’t waste any time. Prodding into the stacks and shelves, I bought my first book haul to take home: “The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto” by Mario Vargas Llosa, “Erotica: An Anthology of Women’s Writing” by Margaret Reynolds, and “Prayer Cushions of the Flesh” by Robert Irwin. As most second hand book shops, the prices of the books here are very affordable.

Any Amount Of Books at 56 Charing Cross Road

Still not satisfied with my bookscapade for the day, I checked Google maps for directions to another nearby book shop. This time I went to Judd Books . What I liked most about this shop is that it may be a little bit cramped on the top floor, but the basement is wide and spacious. They have a very extensive range on history, military and geography books downstairs. Before going down, I was asked by the staff to leave my bag behind the till (I guess this is to to protect the shop from theft). Luckily, I was able to find something for my dear husband: a Folio Society edition of “Magellan’s Voyage” and a vintage copy of “The History of South Africa” by C.W. De Kiewiet printed in the 1940s.

I know there are still a lot of book shops in London I have yet to discover. And I would love to go back again and again just to seek all of them out, hoping that each visit would be a one-of-a-kind experience.

Astley’s Amazing Book Farm

Hidden in the heart of West Midlands is its biggest second hand book shop called Astley Book Farm. I came about this shop by searching through the internet for more book shops to explore around. At first, I wanted to go there alone, but when I checked and found out that there are no public transportation available around the area, I knew I had to persuade my dear husband to accompany me to my bookscapade.

One gloomy day, we decided to drive to Bedworth to visit the shop. It was indeed hidden in the middle of a farm, that’s why access to public transportation is non-existent. I didn’t expect what I saw next: shelves upon shelves of books! My husband and I were quite amazed by it. The till is next to the entrance and the coffee shop. It was a busy day as it was Saturday and a lot of the people were just hanging around. I tugged my husband to enter the maze of books. Just when I thought it was a dead end, comes another turn or corner of books. I really wouldn’t mind getting lost in this place.

So in a huge book place like this, where do I even start? Almost all types of book genres can be found here. They have a vast collection of paperback fiction. The sci-fi & thriller section is also one of the most interesting places of the shop. Upstairs is the children & young adult’s hayloft with an extensive selection. By this time, my husband and I parted ways; he went to the history and geography section, while I went to the classics and poetry section (priorities first, haha!). They even have a full corner dedicated for Folio Society editions.

To say that they have a huge selection of books is an understatement. The variety of every genre is astounding. Wandering further on towards the end of the maze lies a cosy room with a little fireplace and couches in the middle. This is such a perfect place to just relax and enjoy reading while sipping your coffee or tea.

Over all, Astley Book Farm did not disappoint us. Both of us enjoyed our time rummaging through the books and discovering gems of literature for very affordable prices (starting from £1.00). Oh, and by the way, they buy books as well. We brought a few books with us that we have read and didn’t need anymore, and asked the lady at the till if they are willing to buy them. We got £10 from our lot which was good enough since we weren’t really expecting them to buy any of it. Check out what books we bought with the photos below. We knew we wouldn’t be leaving this book heaven without bringing home good finds!

Fangirling For The First Time

I’ll keep this post short and sweet.

Actually this is a throwback to last year’s Stratford Literary Festival where Jodi Picoult was touring around the world to promote her new book “A Spark Of Light” and was invited to speak about it. This was a special event in my life because it was my first time meeting an author in person! Not only do we hear her speak about the book, but we were also able to get a photograph with her and get our books signed! I was so psyched about it, and was totally in my fangirl mode! I hope as I live here in England, I will be able to do more meet & greet with authors. It’s just such a surreal feeling!

My Summer Date With Shakespeare

The first time I have encountered Shakespeare in my life was in high school, when we were studying English literature. My then English teacher gave us a task to choose one sonnet by Shakespeare, memorise it (we were given a week), and then recite it in front of the class. I chose sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds. I enjoyed it so much and even got a high mark for the task!

Never have I imagined in my life that I was going to be able to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace one day. Stratford-upon-Avon in the West Midlands is a popular tourist destination, as it is the home of Shakespeare’s birthplace and grave site.

So of course, being new in the Midlands, my husband and I bought two tickets for 12 months of unlimited visits to all five properties of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (a ticket for an adult is £22.50, better check their website first). It was so worth it! The five properties are as follows: Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Mary Arden’s Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s New Place & Hall’s Croft. I won’t go into much details of all five. I think you will appreciate it better if you visit all and get the full experience.

I actually learned a lot from all visits. Through the museums & properties, I have seen Shakespeare’s life in different perspectives: as a poet, a playwright, an actor, a husband, a father, a son, a brother, and even as a businessman.

And of course, my whole experience wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Shakespeare Bookshop! Because it is a very touristy place, I must admit the books a very pricey. I had to limit myself to buy one book (which was quite hard for me).

I have been wanting to add to my collection at least a book about Shakespeare’s Sonnets. And so I decided to buy one. I was a bit hesitant at first to buy it because it was £25.00 each (which was not in my book budget), but I ended up doing so because I know that not only will this book be just a physical book for me, it will also be a keepsake and reminder of my fun experiences at Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

All in all, we had a blast visiting all five properties. I was particularly entranced by the old wobbly houses that they were able to preserve. It was such an amazing feeling to think that Shakespeare used to spend his time in these places. It was like travelling back in time and following his foot steps in the pavement where he once trode.

Discovering The Big Comfy Bookshop

To continue my exploration in Coventry, I found another book shop that also caught my attention. Located in Fargo Village, The Big Comfy Bookshop is literally what its name says; a big comfortable book shop with a cafe, lots of chairs, tables and couches. It’s that kind of place that not only you would want to stay for a long time to read a book, but also it’s a nice place to hang out with your friends.

Check out their website: The Big Comfy Bookshop Cafe
You can also follow them in Instagram (@bigcomfybooks) & YouTube (The Big Comfy Sessions)

Again, because I was distracted with all the books, I was not able to take more photos, the only one I have was the picture above. And this long shelf full of books that lined the wall was actually the first thing that caught my eye upon entering the shop. Naturally, I gravitated towards this part of the shop. This shelf houses fiction titles ranging from young adult, sci-fi, romance, suspense/thriller & mystery. A separate shelf is dedicated for autobiographies, as well as for Penguin classics. Poems, plays and verses are grouped at one corner of the shop. They also have fictional books about magic, dragons, sorcery (following the Harry Potter theme). Another corner of the shop is dedicated for children, complete with colourful books and toys.

During my visit, the shop was busy with lots of customers. Most of them are actually occupied with having tea or coffee. The shop has this feel-at-home vibe into it and a nice ambience of cosiness, which I think what mostly attracts people in to the shop.

Not only is this shop a book store and a cafe, it also is a venue for musical gigs, book club meet-ups, and poetry readings. Although I have not yet gone to any of the gigs, I think it is a very creative way to draw more people in. I mean, you can’t go wrong with the book + food +music combo. Heck, this shop even appeared in a Visa print advertisement last Christmas 2018! The advertisement was actually Visa’s drive to encourage people to use and shop more at their local high street, which I think is a very good way to show the importance of supporting local products and businesses.

Of course, I did not leave the book store empty handed. The price of the books are good too, you can find a second hand book in trade paperback starting from £1.50. When I arrived in England, aside from the Penguin classics, I started to build my erotic literature collection as well. I had three good finds from this shop, namely: The Kama Sutra, The Picador Book of Erotic Verse, and Delta Of Venus.

I’m ending this post to remind anyone reading this, if you’re looking for a place in Coventry to have a cup of tea or coffee and would like some light snacks while reading, The Big Comfy Bookshop is the perfect place to be.

Getting To Know Gosford Bookshop

Having moved to a new country and not being employed for quite a while rendered me lots of time to travel around and explore. The city closest to Rugby Borough is Coventry. It is known for it’s Coventry Cathedral (also known as The Cathedral Church of St. Michael) that was built in the 14th century but was heavily destroyed during the 1940’s Coventry Blitz.

I remember looking from afar and seeing it’s majestic spire standing tall among the surrounding buildings. As I came closer to the church, that was the only time I realised how massive the whole structure was. Standing in the middle of the cathedral ruins, I was completely blown away thinking back in the days how people manage to build such a monumental building.

Moving on with my exploration, I walked a few blocks away from the town centre and into Coventry University. It was there that I stumbled upon Gosford Books. Before I decided to explore towns to look for book shops, I told myself not to have any expectations. So, imagine my delight when I found this little treasure cove of books.

As I entered the shop, I saw a small hand-written signage reminding customers not to use their phone while inside the shop (be it for taking photos or for taking calls). I did not take photos of the shop’s insides (although I wanted so badly because the books all over the place was such a pretty sight for me). Hence, the photo above was the single picture I have. And because it is a second hand book shop, you would definitely appreciate the smell of old books.

The shop itself is a pretty decent size. But because every nook and cranny is crammed with books, it does appear to look smaller. It was a challenge to move around without bumping to other people, but I didn’t mind it because I was easily distracted by the books surrounding me. If you like to rummage into book piles, like I do, this is the perfect place for you. The whole shop is very quiet and perfect for reading, although I doubt you’ll find a proper reading space.

At the front side of the shop are shelves on world history and geography. They also have a separate shelf for Penguin classics. Near the display window are books translated in other languages. After going through the front, there’s a short hallway going to the back, where more shelves and the till are located. Just after the hallway, the left shelf is stocked with poetry & verse books . On the right side are more shelves containing fiction, art, drama, music, film and autobiographical books. Most shelves are in alphabetical order by the author’s name . Farther at the end, opposite the till, are the antiquarian & collectable books. I dare not touch them because they look so fragile, it was better to admire them at a distance.

The owner of the shop was kind enough to answer my questions. He said that the shop has been running for 40 years, and that there was an archaeological dig before under the ground where the shop was erected. I didn’t probe him that much any more because I feared that I disturbed his quiet reading time. My favourite section of the shop was definitely the poetry shelf. It was such a high for me to find old and rare books.

I would say the books are reasonably priced. For as low as £2, you won’t leave the shop empty handed. During my first visit, I bought “The Annotated Alice” by Martin Gardner, “Japanese Stories” by Ryunosuke Akutagawa & “Flowers for Hitler” by Leonard Cohen. With my second visit, I actually brought my husband around since he likes reading books as well. I was able to find an old copy of “Fruit Gathering” by Rabindranath Tagore and “Birth Of The Owl Butterflies” by Ruth Sharman. My husband was not disappointed as well, he found a rare book find entitled “Arab Historians Of The Crusades” by Francesco Gabrieli.

My husband and I both agreed to come back again. This is definitely a must-see place in Coventry if you’re a bibliophile. Each second hand bookshop or independent bookshop has its own characteristics. You’ll only be able to experience the magic of it when you are fully immersed in it. So, if ever you’re around the West Midlands area, drop by Coventry and visit Gosford Bookshop.

The Hunt Begins

I remember the time when I was still in Qatar and my husband called me from the UK saying that he found a book shop that had a hard-bound copy of Lawrence In Arabia and got a good deal for it. I was happy for him because he was yearning to find and buy one for his book collection. Little did I know that this book shop he was talking about will become a constant part of my book adventures.

After I was introduced into the local Rugby library when I arrived, my husband brought me next to a shop in the high street named Hunts Bookshop. It is the only independent book store of Rugby. I was so delighted to finally visit an independent book shop after years of buying new books from big book store chains in Qatar. I remember feeling giddy as I stepped inside, taking in the smell of old books, which I dearly missed!

Check out their website by clicking this link: Hunt’s Bookshop
Follow them in Facebook: @huntsbookshop

As it turns out, the shop is a family-run business established 23 years ago. The second floor of the shop houses a music room that sells music sheets, scores, song books and a few vinyl records. They not only sell new and used books, they also buy antiquarian and collectable books. The shop also offers to find and buy books for you upon request.

What instantly grabbed my attention was the selection of vintage Penguin classics (the orange, blue and green ones). I was so mesmerised by it that my husband had to tell me to look around instead of just sticking at that corner of the shop.

The shop also has it’s own shelf of Folio Society and Barnes & Noble hard-bounds that I would love to have. I was so eager to find Pride & Prejudice from this shelf but was disappointed to find out they don’t have it in stock. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed browsing through the titles.

Having this good selection of new and used books, I was not able to resist the temptation of buying. My husband had to remind me to take it slow when purchasing books and that we can come back again. I didn’t regret splurging on my first purchases in the UK because these books became my steadfast companion during the first few months of settling in.

My first book stack purchase in England.

In a few months, I was already a regular customer of Hunts Bookshop. I coveted their Penguin Classics selection so much that I can’t stop myself from buying them and started my own collection. The photo below shows my mini collection, hoping that it would continue to expand.

My mini Penguin Classics collection.

When I arrived, I was clueless of the status of the book community here in the UK. I later found out that the emergence of Amazon and E-bay made a huge impact to the book selling community, especially the independent bookstores. This made me realise the importance of supporting local book shops. That is why I made a decision to be a regular customer of Hunts Bookshop, and to buy mostly from local & independent book stores.