Sunday, 7 June 2009

Oxford: Bookstore fantasies

On Walton Street
Jericho, Oxford

I have a "thing" (is fetish too strong a word?) for independent bookstores. (Indeed, one of my enduring fantasies is to be the owner of one someday.)

I love the idea of well-edited collections -- no trash, only treasures -- where bibliophiles can browse and find all of the books that they always meant to read. A friend says: You must read this book . . . and there it is! Rarities, classics and deserved best-sellers -- all beautifully bound and arranged.
Albion Beatnik is just such a place.

An intriguing mix of the British and the American

There are lots of places to buy books in Oxford, but I doubt there is a collection as eccentric (and yet tempting to my tastes) as the one in Albion Beatnik. Reflecting the owner's passions, it has an excellent collection of jazz (books and records), Beat poets, and 20th century American and British literature grouped by decades. There is a really substantial section of Virginia Woolf and other Bloomsbury writers, both fiction and nonfiction. I was also really impressed by how many British female authors -- particularly those writing between the 1930s and 1960s -- were represented.

An old-fashioned touch: wrapped in plain brown paper

Did I need four new books? Well, that's not the point.

My new treasures:
The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning
In a Summer Season by Elizabeth Taylor

I am increasingly aware of the mental cross-pollination taking place in my orbit of the blogosphere. All of these books (or authors) have been recommended to me recently by blog-friends.


Train Landscape, Eric Ravilious

Tomorrow I will be taking the long train journey from Berkshire to Devon. And although I've requested a window seat, from which to view the beautiful countryside moving westwards, no doubt I will be distracted by my travelling companions (Amanda Craig and Elizabeth Jenkins).




39 comments:

Wendy said...

Browsing through the shelves of an independent bookstore is def one of life's pleasures.

Maggie May said...

I would love to go there.

CashmereLibrarian said...

Now this is a fabulous thing!

David Cranmer said...

Albion Beatnik sounds like a very magical place that I could get lost in for several hours. I'm in Maine (for a bit) and there's much love for books and such hideaways dot the landscape. And you can't pass a town that doesn't have its very own Albion Beatnik. Nirvana!

Ladybug said...

Looks like a wonderful shop. And that's one thing on my list, to travel on train through the countryside of England. One day.....

Fantastic Forrest said...

I swear to God, when we get over there, I am going to commandeer you as my bookstore tour guide.

As for reading whilst traveling...the only time I do that is on a plane. But I have been known to read in beautiful settings while sitting still. I read all of Jurassic Park (hopefully you don't consider it trash) while perched on a big red rock in Hells Canyon overlooking the Snake River. I kept looking up, worried about something as scary as the dinosaurs - rattlesnakes. Happily, none came by.

Beth said...

I too love independent bookstores but at the rate my list of books to read/buy is growing (also based upon blogger recommendations) it’s going to have to be the library or used book store for me!

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” (substitute “book” for “diary”)
Oscar Wilde

♥ bfs~"Mimi" ♥ said...

I love the smell of a bookstore ... too bad we can't package that smell and take it home. Love the look of that bookstore you found! Will anticipate your reviews.

ArtSparker said...

Do you know the Virago Press? they have quite an interesting early 20th century collection by women writers.

rxBambi said...

I also love the way it looks from the outside. No doubt many treasures within. We have only 1 independent book store in my community (plus the megastore Borders). But I love the independent. There is a resident cat that will curl up on the couch with you. Always a good place to spend a rainy afternoon.

Meri said...

I love independent bookstores too. And a train right through the countryside -- sounds like camera heaven!

Chairman Bill said...

Wouldn't it be lovely if train interiors indeed still looked like the one in your accompanying image.

PG said...

That is one of my favourite paintings! And the train journey down through Devon is fantastic, especially through Dawlish.

Delwyn said...

Hi Bee
Will you please give us your feedback when you have read the titles...

Happy days

Elizabeth said...

Maybe I could work at your bookshop and chat to the customers?
Excellent resume:
Blackwell's Antiquarian Bookshop: 1968
Harrods Bookshop: 1969
Liberty's Bookshop: 1970
some specialist art bookshop in St.James whose name I do not recall 1972........
skills somewhat rusty but could be polished.....
Enjoy Devon.

sarah said...

The bookshop sounds really interesting, the kind of place one could get lost in for hours. Enjoy your train journey:)

Anne said...

Hooray independent bookstores! And hooray train rides through the country! There's a distinct lack of very good independent bookstores in this area. We have one, and it's good, but not great. I should explore SF more in this area. I know of a very good French bookstore, but that's it--and after at least ten years, I'm not even sure if it's still there.

I hope you enjoy your train trip to Devon, and the company of your friends! I do miss the convenience of day trips by train, and the fun of taking a journey by train with friendly companions.

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

How lucky you are to have those bookstores! Enjoy your trip. Isn't train travel wonderful?
I'm enjoying 'Strapless' very much. Thanks, Bee.
Catherine

Sarah Laurence said...

I love the name and concept. I don't recall seeing this bookstore when I was living in Oxford. Is it new? I was happy just with Blackwell's but this one looks fun and quirky. I could see you owning a bookshop like this one day.

Have a lovely time in Devon. I hope the weather improves.

Anna said...

Bee hey books are great, but you know with the blogging and 1 year old, reading is nearly impossible. I think I been reading DaVinci Code for a year now, lol. But you are right it is a pleasure and fun to browse bookstores. Anna :)

Jenny Woolf said...

Thanks for mentioning this interesting looking bookshop. I'll look for it next time I'm in Oxford. The city has lost quite a few of its good book places. I still regret the loss of Thorntons (secondhand) in Broad St which is now -yes, you guessed - a tourist shop

julochka said...

i love independent bookstores too..prairie lights in iowa city is a fave, as is the seminary co-op bookstores in hyde park (chicago). sigh. you make me want to go there now...

must look for that balkan trilogy book...just bought pride and prejudice and zombies this evening in oslo. probably not really going to fulfill my jane austen...

Boomka said...

Ahh old book stores are brilliant places to lose money on books you think you've always wanted to embody. I like to go find a hidden lost shelf and pick a book off of there thinking I've found something long forgotten. But that is probably what everybody does huh?

Reya Mellicker said...

I hope you live to see your fantasy come true. Our local independent bookstore, Kramerbooks, is just like what you describe: no trash, not too many books, and yet the books that they do offer are the best. Their buyers are excellent.

Enjoy your train ride! Happy reading.

B said...

I love that bookshop, it's fairly new and I always worry that it's not going to last in this economy, so I obviously have to buy something every time I'm in the neighbourhood, which is pretty much every day! :)

Stacy Nyikos said...

Independent bookstores are the shining jewels in the world of brick and mortar bookstores. It's where you find the unusual, rather than the run of the mill. It's like independent film vs. big Hollywood. Diversity flourishes.

Nimble said...

After a youth wasted reading English novels, Oxford looms large in my imagination. How do you like the city? Is it too touristy? Better in summer or fall? Sigh.

Barrie said...

I could spend days in a bookstore like that. Hope your train ride went well.

Polly said...

I also want to run a little independent book store one day. One that would also sell coffee, of course.

Your book recommendations look interesting.

I'll have to look this bookshop up next time I'm in Oxford.

Lisa said...

One of my most enjoyable blog meet ups took place at Kramerbooks and Afterwords. CDP and I could have spent hours and hours looking through the titles.

Now that I've scaled back blogging to allow more time for book reading, I'm going to watch for your reviews.

Dick said...

Wow, what a wonderful bookshop, Bee! Jazz books, the Beats and Bloomsbury too. I'm currently reading the new Frances Partridge biog (excellent) so I must get myself down the map a bit and then left for a look. Thanks for the word on Albion Beatnik.

I remember train compartments like the one in the Ravillious pic (which, coincidentally, I have tucked into the corner of a picture frame above where I'm typing now.)

Anil P said...

I'm all for independent book stores as well. The owners hand on it ensures a distinct identity.

What a lovely train landscape.

Hope there'll be pictures shot through the train window to share.

Bee said...

Thanks, everyone, for meeting visiting me while I was off in Devon. By the way, fellow book-lovers, if you are in Devon this summer make sure you check out The Harbour Bookshop in Kingsbridge. They had an excellent selection (albeit not quite so eclectic and literary as Albion Beatnik's) AND beautiful cards from local artists. Cards are another weakness of mine, also mentioned here . . .

Nimble - Oh, definitely fall or spring for Oxford -- with September and May being the absolute ideal. I guess that the tourists come in the summer, but I've never been overly aware of them.

Dave King said...

Of course you needed four new books. Nice to know that Oxford still has book shops.

Tessa said...

Long may they all continue - and they will if we support them.

Lucy said...

It is something I miss; I look longingly at nice bookshops here, but I know there's little point in buying many French books, they take me too long to read, aren't as much fun for me, and the writing goes the wrong way on the spine.

For people like us, Amazon and other online sources are a boon, but I do hope they don't destroy the small bookshops. And you simply can't browse on-line in the same way, which is why the recommendations, especially reviews like yours, are even more important.

I love that painting. Everyone else seems to know it, but I don't...

Bee said...

Dave - Perhaps the economy IS looking up? (this is a new venture)

Tessa - I'm glad you are back!

Lucy - I use Amazon, too; especially for out-of-print things. But it doesn't compare to the pleasure of finding something that you didn't know that you wanted!

dogimo said...

I love love bookstores. I never go downtown without hitting Logos or Bookshop, and usually both!

But I have the sneaking suspicion the ones in England have all these extra neat treasures tucked in cubbyholes, that we mere colonials have failed to either produce or squirrel away.

Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Hey, I've come to this 3 months out of date, so no one's reading, but I just wanted to say what an amzing place The Albion Beatnik is. I wrote a paean to it in my lastest blog, and it's the ONLY bookstore in Oxford I've asked to stock my new book, I love it so much in there. They're even throwing an evening reading with wine (I'm providing music). It's a place where authors, writers, and people who love culture in general (especially - as I rather awkwardly phrased it in my book - "acoustic jazz covers of Kraftwerk") can get together and get excited about books.

Dan Holloway (Songs from the Other Side of the Wall)
www.danholloway.wordpress.com