I'm always on the lookout for a great bookshop. London has it's fair share of bookshops, but few are actually great. Though if pressed to choose a favourite in London, I'd probably propose Daunt Books on Marylebone High St (see picture below). It's a lovely shop: the staff are mostly friendly and knowledgeable, the put on great author events, and the interior is lovely - a bit like perusing for books in a Parisian train station. The books are catalogued in a brilliant way, organised by geographic location - novels are intermixed with travel books, history books, biographies of important people from the area, cookery books, etc. So if you're a fan of a certain South African novelist, you can go to the section on South Africa and browse other South African novelists.
Still, I think if Mr B's was in London, the owners of Daunt would be nervous indeed. Sipping tea in a cafe in Bath on a Saturday afternoon, I suddenly had the urge to look for books. I asked a girl in the cafe where the nearest bookshop was, and she gave me directions to Mr B's, which was only around the corner. It's down a little side street, which I always think helps one feel like one is entering a magical little world. If you have to go into a bookstore off a high street, it's much more difficult to distinguish between the madness of the shop and the madness of the street.
Mr B's is the best of all bookshop worlds: some rooms are very cramped, some are nice and spacious. It's packed with books, but the buyers have obviously been careful to select books they think their readers will love and not just fill it with "Top 10" tosh. They have a Victorian roll-top bath as a stand in for a table, lots of comfy chairs everywhere to sit and flick through books, they put on events that look interesting, and the owner is sitting right there at the front of the store. I can't remember his name (of course), but he was friendly and charming and we had a lovely conversation about bookshops in general and about the wonderfulness of Mr B's in particular.
Perhaps the best bit of Mr B's is upstairs on the first floor. They've created a bibliotherapy room and a reading booth. The bibliotherapy room has a fireplace (with a fire in it - not just for decoration!), lots of comfy chairs, free tea, coffee and water, and a general atmosphere of calm and relaxation. It's like a living room away from home. In fact, it's probably better than any living room I know of - I wanted to move in at first sight. The reading booth is a hilarious and novel creation dreamt up by the owner. For £3.50 an hour, you have sole access to a sound-proofed reading booth (about the size of two phone booths stuck together) which has an iPod and headphones mounted on the wall, a comfy Chesterfield, tea or coffee, and all the peace and quiet you could ever want. Such a cute idea, which embodies the immense charm of Mr B's.
Bibliotherapy Room at Mr B's
If I were the sort of girl inclined to rate things, I'd say it's better than Daunt, but still not as good as having the British Museum's reading room as your own personal library...