May 14, 2012

Dame at Sea

Sarko and Bruni are out, Hollande is in, Greece is in limbo...

Fewer hookers and more discretion would probably have seen DSK lording it over the French right now. Such are the follies of arrogance.

And then, the latest conviction from Paris, where Jean Paul Guerlain was found guilty after saying he had 'worked like a n*****' to create one of the company's most famed perfumes.

The perfumer said this on television, which should earn him zero for sensitivity. Although he has apologized profusely since, the court found him guilty for being a threat to public order

Last week, in the American House of Representatives, that half of the national legislature that currently has organized itself as a pre-school for Visigoths, we saw the latest chapter in an act of such naked ideology-drenched cynicism that I wonder if all systems are not utterly beyond hope.

In November the United States is going to elect itself a president, whether it feels like doing so, or not.

"We’d like to imagine? that elections are decided on the issues, by voters responding rationally to competing policy proposals. But myth and narrative are stronger than reason — and strongest of all when, as now in the U.S., times are hard and solutions are lacking. " 

Oj Gewalt.

I’m off to the Actor’s Studio to boost my vocal cords. HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELP!

There is a time when one should adjust the sails, resign from the human race, turn off the computer, unplug the iPhone, cut up the credit cards, buy gold, and head out to sea. This is the time.


May 12, 2012

Far from the madding crowd.

When in London you can discover havens from the madding crowd that are staffed by attentive men and women who are passionate about books and have actually read the volumes they recommend. Whether browsing for yourself or looking for a unique gift (and not just of the literary kind – think perfume, original artwork and customized maps, among other things), the bookshops I’ve come across in London will not disappoint.

Heywood Hill  10 Curzon Street, Mayfair

Celebrating its 76th anniversary this year, Heywood Hill’s eponymous Mayfair shop has been known as the “society bookshop” ever since the well-connected Nancy Mitford joined its ranks in 1942 during World War II. When her legion of friends were in London on leave from military duty, they would lunch at their club and then totter up to Heywood Hill on Curzon Street for a good gossip and to find out what to read.

Slightly Foxed  123 Gloucester Road, South Kensington

Slightly Foxed is run by a Heywood Hill alumnus, Tony Smith. Not only is Tony extremely knowledgeable and passionate about books and thus, adept at creating libraries (and is called upon with some regularity to do so), but he will also go to great lengths to secure virtually any special request. If, for instance, you must lay your hands on a uniform edition of Roald Dahl’s collected works in pristine condition for your precious little ones, Tony is your man.

Lutyens & Rubinstein  21 Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill

Lutyens & Rubinstein has been a hit in its chic Notting Hill enclave ever since it opened its doors a few years ago. Owned by two literary agents, the pretty shop delights not only with its careful selection of fiction, non-fiction, art and children’s books, but also with its merchandise. Proffers include a selection of locally made jams and honey as well as CB I Hate Perfume, a range of perfumes by the Brooklyn-based Christopher Brosius, a former New York City cab driver. His award-winning, natural-smelling fragrances have evocative names like “In the Library” and “Burning Leaves.”

Books for Cooks  4 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill

A hop, skip and a jump away from Lutyens & Rubinstein is probably “the best-smelling shop in the world," the self explanatory Books for Cooks. Not only does the shop carry over 8,000 cookery books (all in English), but it tests the recipes on hand, serving up a daily and seasonally-fresh lunch from its tiny test kitchen at the back. At £5 for two courses and £7 for three courses, this has got to be the best meal deal in town. Come early because seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis and continues until the food runs out. The shop also conducts cooking classes in a larger kitchen upstairs.

Daunt Books  83 Marylebone High Street, Marylebone
Daunt Books has an impressive six locations throughout London. I mention the Marylebone shop because it’s the original one (it opened in 1990) and because it’s also the most beautiful with its large skylights and long oak galleries (although the shops are all very pleasing with their dark wood paneling and light and airy interiors).
Originally conceived by James Daunt as a travel bookshop, the store has evolved to cater to the general interest reader with a large selection of fiction, non-fiction, art, children’s and business-oriented books. And oh yeah, they still have plenty of travel books organized, as always by country. But you won’t find just travel guides in say, the Australia section. There, you will also find fiction, history, art and cookery books pertaining to the Land Down Under – everything to inspire your wanderlust.

Primrose Hill Books  134 Regent’s Park Road

This small shop packs a wallop not only in terms of its popularity in the family-friendly and über-fashionable Primrose Hill neighborhood but also in terms of the number of books on offer. Incredibly, some 20,000 new and second-hand books, all carefully chosen by the owners, Jessica Graham and Marek Laskowski, line the shelves of this vibrant neighborhood gathering spot.  The shop isn’t popular only with the locals however, as it sends books all over the world, many of them to America.

Foyles  113-119 Charing Cross Road, Soho

The first thing you notice about Foyles is that it is huge. I mean HUGE. Its flagship location on Charing Cross Road (there are five London locations in all) is five stories high. But, don’t let that put you off. The second thing you notice while perusing the store directory is that there is something for everybody. I’m not kidding. The shop not only carries over 200,000 books – probably the largest number of volumes in the world in any one shop – but it also has movies and music. Aside from works of general fiction and non-fiction, at Foyles you will also find plenty of material on the subjects of business, law, medicine, crafts and even DIY, among others. It truly is a one-stop shop. Should this embarrassment of riches not be enough for you, there are another 17 million titles to choose from on their website. Not bad for a business that is still family run. This independent operation has been in the Foyle family since 1903.

Stanfords  12-14 Long Acre, Covent Garden
Stanfords is a travel bookshop nonpareil. But it’s more than that. It’s a “travel specialist” because, aside from the obligatory maps and guidebooks, it seemingly carries every necessity you would ever think of for your trip and then some. History books and novels related to your destination? Check. Insect repellant? Check. Walking stick, biodegradable body wash and dopp kit? Check, check and check. Famous customers, past and present, real and fictional, include David Livingstone (“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”), Captain Robert F. Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Florence Nightingale, Michael Palin, and Sherlock Holmes.  One of the best things about Stanfords, in my opinion, is its cartographic services. You can commission a map of an area, chart your travels or outline an event. The shop also offers historical maps of London and its suburbs. Let’s say you want a map of Kensington as it appeared in 1856. Provided it exists and Stanfords can secure the rights, it will reproduce it for you.

John Sandoe Books  10 Blacklands Terrace, Chelsea

The beloved shop manages to cram an impressive 25,000 or so books on three tiny floors of an 18th century building which it has occupied since 1957. It carries many titles for the general reader with an emphasis on the arts, but you will also find a wide variety of esoteric books. During my visit, I spotted a privately published book on wooden Russian churches and lavishly illustrated books on, among other things, gypsies, gothic arches, Islamic art, Boulle furniture and chickens. Yes, chickens. This serendipity makes it a pleasure to browse at John Sandoe – if you can squeeze yourself in among the stacks, that is.

London Review Bookshop  14 Bury Place, Bloomsbury
The London Review Bookshop was opened nine years ago by the prestigious London Review of Books to fill a gap in the marketplace that wasn’t being addressed by chain
 stores, according to its Manager, John Creasey. Fittingly, the shop focuses on the types of books favored by the Review – those on history, philosophy, cultural studies, poetry and literature. So, if you’re looking for discounted books or books by and about celebrities, then this is definitely NOT the place for you. The shop carries about 22,000 titles in all, but if you don’t find what you’re looking for on the premises, check out their comprehensive website which ships books all over the world.

Persephone Books  159 Lamb's Conduit Street, Bloomsbury

This flower-filled, pretty-as-a-picture feminine sanctuary carries mostly its own imprint made up of early 20th century books which have been largely neglected for the past 50 years. The carefully curated list of 96 titles focuses on novels written by women and taking place during World War I, the interwar years and World War II. With their distinctive dove-grey covers inspired by French publishing houses and thematically relevant, colorful endpapers, the books are a joy to behold.

Hatchards  187 Piccadilly

Last, but certainly not least, there is Hatchards. All the shops mentioned above are independent ones as those are the ones I favor. But, I must point out Hatchards. As it’s owned by Waterstones, Hatchards is not independent, but it is rather special nonetheless. Perhaps the shop’s most distinguishing aspect is its 200+-year history. Incredibly, Hatchards has been in existence (and always on Piccadilly) since 1797! It is almost as old as the United States. How many stores can boast the same today?