If you are in London not for a long time but a good time, Soho has been a must-go area for many reasons. It is most famous for what happens there at night, but by day it seems only natural that what is exotic in the dark, be deeply interesting and stimulating when examined in the light. Bookshops are no exception and the independent stores mentioned here often stand alone as unique specimens in the capital.
Foyles’ flagship store on Charing Cross Road is the largest of the bookshops in the list. While it does not sell second-hand books, there is an unparalleled degree of variety on offer. Whether you like Graphic Novels, Atlases, Sheet Music or just plain old Novels, the 200,000 different titles on four miles of shelves is enough to keep anybody interested. Foyles was founded in 1903 on Charing Cross Road and it has existed at number 107 in its current carnation since 2014.
People should read the title of the shop while bearing in mind what Soho is most notorious for: sex. Soho Original Books is the the first of the Soho Books that has achieved something of cult status in London. Since 1993, the shop has stocked an array of books one might find at other shops. That is the ground floor. Head downstairs to the basement to find out what makes Soho Books stand out from the competition. Erotic fiction, magazines and the home of one of London’s largest selection of LGBTQ+ titles accompany an array of sex toys and pleasures. Maybe don’t take your nan.
The ‘JP’ in JP Books must be taken to read ‘Japan’. This is one of the best places in the UK to find manga in native Japanese, as well as other Japanese titles. But the shop also caters to people wishing to learn more about Japanese culture more broadly and stocks language-learning materials. If you are looking for that sleek Japanese edge to your reading and writing, JP Books has a stationery and accessories section to give you an alternative to trudging down to Muji.
One of the best things about being an independent business is that you can combine whatever you want. This ex-launderette combines a second-hand Japanese bookshop with a BYOB Karaoke bar. So, you can take some beers, browse some books and end it all by kicking back and karaoke-ing to your heart’s content. It is easy to miss as the shop front still belongs to the old launderette, but once inside you will be glad you took the risk.
Claire de Rouen Books is another bookshop that specialises, this time in art, fashion and photography books. There is a strong collection of Japanese photography books and rare collector’s editions, some of which are signed. The founder, Claire, passed away in 2012, but her shop remains as iconic to those in the know as she was to art and fashion-conscious Soho locals. Hidden above a sex shop, Bruce Weber and David Bailey are both regulars to a shop that has flourished for over a decade, largely by way of word-of-mouth.
If the type of books you like are ones with pictures in, then you have to go to Gosh! Comics. With over 30 years in the industry, this shop is second to none for the range and quality of graphic novels they have on offer. One thing they profess to do is continually strive to find new and interesting products to offer to customers, so no two trips to the shop are likely to be the same.