Run your fingers along their spines, cast your eyes up and down the shelves, flick through the pages and sit cross legged on the floor engrossed in the words resting in your lap. Escape the dull, uniform, needlessly clean chain bookshops that are a stalwart part of any high street or soulless shopping centre. South London has its fair share of independent bookshops where hidden treasures can be found, prices are right and the shelves hold countless stories to lose yourself in.
If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.
I adore Halcyon Books for its simple attitude towards bookselling. You really feel you are walking into a true bookshop when you pass through its doors. The Lee branch has a delightful walled garden out the back. Grab an iced coffee (see Coffee article) and a well-read book and relax amongst the palms. The Greenwich South Street shop is currently having a clearance sale. All three rooms are open and they have thousands of books on all subjects for just £1 each! Halcyon Books buy your second hand-novels and also have a great selection of special edition publications. The staff are very friendly, with good knowledge of the books on offer. South London Club Card holders can receive a 10% discount off books from both shops.
2. Bookseller Crow on the Hill: Crystal Palace
This wonderful shop now finds itself in the hustle and bustle of the ever-growing and up and coming areas of Crystal Palace and Upper Norwood. Taking its name from Justine’s (co-owner) surname and from the resident birds that gather in Crystal Palace Park, Crow on the Hill is heavy on Modern Fiction, American Lit, Crime and Children’s. A good selection of Cookery Books and Graphic Novels can be found, so take your pick between a night-in baking with Delia or chasing Batman over Gotham with Alan Moore. Hop on the ‘Ginger Line’ and get down to Crystal Palace, pick up a book or two and head over to the park with your lunch. Make sure the crows don’t sweep up your sandwiches though!
With it’s prime pitch at the top of the lovely Tranquil Vale, Bookshop on the Heath overlooks Blackheath Village and the heath itself. Ideal for a gentle village stroll on a Sunday afternoon, the shop is packed with new and old books; a growing Antiquarian selection, and a startling collection of old maps and prints - some original copies and dating back to 1900! The shops stretches far back with beautiful wooden book cases creating a winding labyrinth for all it’s different sections. Escape into another world in this wonderful local bookshop and come out feeling refreshed after your 10% discount with the South London Club Card.
Winner of Best Independent Bookshop in UK and Ireland 2014, Dulwich Books has a very busy schedule and festival programme and is well versed in holding high-profile author events. They also work with independent, non-represented authors and aid them in getting their novels onto Dulwich Book’s shelves. It is a rather small and compact shop though they have a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction. 26th November is the Independent Bookshop Industry’s ‘Black Friday’. Dulwich Books are encouraging customers to come down and peruse the aisles of books. Homemade treats will be on hand and there will be a special children’s story time.
5. Herne Hill Books: Herne Hill
Painted in striking lime green, with plant beds sleeping under the window, Herne Hill Books has that independent feel to it. Conveniently right by the station, their stock ranges from Modern Lit to classics, biographies, history and many more interesting genres. If you get in contact or pop in, the staff are also able to help you with sourcing rare and out of print works as well. Herne Hill Books also offer an ordering service. Order before 5pm for next-day delivery. Reviews of Herne Hill Books are glowing and customers marvel at how tiny it is and how friendly and helpful the staff is. A true gem!
Believed to be potentially the oldest bookshop in South-East London, it opened in 1966. It has gradually expanded in size over the years and in 2002 a small art gallery was added. Kirkdale has become a meeting place for the Sydenham community and regularly holds author signings, local artist exhibitions and children’s events. A book group (see website for details) also meet at Kirkdale every month. They have a wide and varied selection of both new and second hand books and if the novel you desire isn’t stocked, the staff will track it down for you within 24 hours.
7. Review: Peckham
Situated on Bellenden Road, this is another miniature independent bookshop. Priding themselves as being an oasis of old-school shop selling amidst the fast-paced, rising prices and ‘place to be’ nature of Peckham, Review stocks everything from dog books to Moleskin journals, board games, wrapping paper, canvas bags, magazines and the best of modern fiction and non-fiction. Peckham Literary Festival is 8th – 13th November 2016. Head to Review Bookshop’s events page to see which author’s will be coming along to the bookshop to talk about their latest work and sign it for you!