Bloomsbury Publishing carries this area’s name with reason. Home to some of the best libraries and academic institutions, it is unsurprising that Bloomsbury is also replete with independent booksellers of the highest caliber. There is a veritable network of these small businesses who collectively strive to offer what cannot be found elsewhere. We hope our guide will persuade you that Bloomsbury is perhaps as close as one might come to a book lover’s dream.
A bookshop that will take you to another world – the occult. Treadwell’s Books specialises in everything otherworldly, from contemporary and antique books on spirituality, paganism and druidry to tarot reading and talks on the subject.
Perhaps suggestive of the fact that Bloomsbury might have a darker, more mysterious side to it, our second entry is another occult bookshop, this time London’s oldest. Established in 1922, Atlantis Bookshop offers one of the most comprehensive collections for the living history of magic in London. Created by magicians, for magicians, the Atlantis bookshop serves a tight knit community yet also is very welcoming to those interested in witchcraft.
London Review Bookshop
The commercial outlet for the highly respected literary publication, The London Review of Books, The London Review Bookshop is a place to go if you want to stretch your literary interests, with frequently curated displays and significant book launches taking place on the premises. The café attached to the bookshop is worth visiting in its own right and taking the time to enjoy a coffee provides the perfect complement to the book you might have just bought.
Gay’s the Word
The only bookshop exclusively dedicated to LGTBQ literature in the UK. Founded in 1979, this independent bookshop has served the community in many ways that go beyond simple bookselling. Often seen as a sanctuary and place of refuge for members of the gay and lesbian community in the 80s and 90s, Gay’s the Word has led multiple political campaigns, had to fight tooth and nail for its own existence, all the while continuing to host influential writers and thinkers such as Alan Ginsberg and Patrick Gale.
A stone’s throw from the British Library, Skoob Books leans towards the encyclopedic end of secondhand bookselling. With academic titles organised by subject and uncatalogued, there is plenty to gain from a trip to the shop. The prices are extremely competitive with those you would find online, and the look and feel of the shop makes the experience of purchasing a hundred times more pleasurable than scrolling down a webpage.
Not a second hand bookshop per se, Judd Books is a discounted bookshop which offers a quietly authoritative range of high-brow titles. The shop originated in 1992 on Judd Street around the corner – hence the name – but moved from its ground-floor premises to the much airier ones on Marchmont Street after its first few successful years of trading. It has a close relationship with other Blooomsbury booksellers on this list, including Jarndyce and Gay’s the Word.
This bookshop is dedicated to recognising female authors who have gone out of print and are no longer in the public consciousness. It represents their voices by both printing and selling their works from this Bloomsbury base. Though the store is small, what Persephone Books offers is unmatched anywhere else by virtue alone.
The School of Life
While the phrase ‘I went to the School of Life’ is often used in a trite context, visiting this Bloomsbury edition is anything but. The bookshop focuses on mental wellbeing and offers classes, therapies and talks alongside the texts the organisation produces itself. The shop is packed with wisdom and things that remind you to be kinder to yourself and those around you, so any visit here is sure to brighten up your lunch break.
The name of this bookshop immediately calls to mind the court case which runs through Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, “Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce”. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the shop is a leading resource for 18th and 19th century English Literature and History. Each year Jarndyce aims to publish eight catalogues of varying topics, guaranteeing that any selection of books offered on the premises are highly curated. This is a perfect example of what independent bookselling can achieve: a more considered approach to specific subjects that you might find in the larger bookshops of London.
Keeping the tradition of radical bookselling alive, Bookmarks caters for those interested in socialist and trade union concerns. Selling from this Bloomsbury premises and also at various bookselling events around the UK, Bookmarks takes a definitive stance against the behemoths of the bookselling industry like Amazon and in this way provides an interesting counterpoint to these businesses at a societal level. The staff are always keen to let you know how important your decision to stay away from the online giants is, and perhaps more friendly than their corporate counterparts as a result of their unionised status.