Back in the 70s I used to say my dream job was to be the checkout clerk at Collette's Marxist bookstore in Charing Cross Road. My customers would stock up on dialectics; I would argue with 'em. It would be just like law teaching but with a more motivated audience, and no grading.
Collette's Marxist is long gone as is Collette's itself and these days I'm pleasantly surprised when I get back to London to find that not every other bookstore has gone the same path. Now here is Rhiannon Batten in The Independent with a list of "The 50 Best bookshops," i.e., in England, Scotland and Wales. I suppose it is always possible to pick apart this kind of a list ("What? You didn't include--?"). I will deny myself this indulgence (ha!--see infra.) and just say I'm glad to find some dependable favorites still alive and kicking.
First on the list is an almost inevitable choice: The London Review Bookshop at 14 Bury Place up near the British Museum, interesting not least because it for all practical purposes a new bookshop, aggressively self-invented to cross-market product from its distinguished weekly newsletter. I can't think of any place in London more pleasant for idling away an hour.
Except it be my other old favorite, Waterstones (as it is now called) in Gower Street--but really Dillon's until it went belly up in (2000?), happily recreated by people who had the good sense to salvage the best of a good thing. And, well, yes I guess I am a little surprised to note the omission of my other London favorite, Foyles, across the street from the ghost of Collette's in Charing Cross Road. And while I'm at it, I suppose I am also a little surprised at the omission of Hartchard's at 187 Picadilly--never an habituelle of mine because I never lived or sojourned in the neighborhood, but still exuding a kind of English solidity that you've got to enjoy.
I know, I know: these places are all cutting against the grain as folks like me undertake to destroy them with a thousand digital cuts. If and when they vanish, I will be one of those to blame. Well, yes. And maybe they won't vanish. Maybe even in the cyclonic winds of change, there is a place for a few durable old monuments who find a way to buck the fashionable current and retain some of their old identity. For all my apostasy, I must say I hope so.