This weekend, two of London’s best bookshops have joined together to put on a day of literary, musical and culinary events to celebrate Charing Cross Road, spiritual home of the UK bookselling trade.
In recent years, many of the wonderful bookshops that dotted the Charing Cross Road have gone. I started work on CXR in 2002, and can still roll off the list of the deceased. Al-Huda Books, Sportspages, Murder One (recently revived in Forbidden Planet), Comic Showcase, Silver Moon, Bookends, Waterstone’s, Borders, Zwemmer’s, Shipley’s, lots of second hand ones, and probably some more I can’t remember. Border’s became a TK Maxx. It’s all a far cry from the halcyon days of 84 Charing Cross Road (which is now a Wetherspoons).
So who’s left? Foyles, of course, perhaps one of the best bookshops in the world, and certainly one of the most famous. Blackwell’s still have a major presence there (full disclosure: I worked there for almost ten years, and am deeply fond of it). An art specialist, Koenig Books, a handful of second hand bookshops (Any Amount of Books, Henry Pordes, Quinto’s), a couple of remainder shops and that’s about it.
However you look at it, and whether you buy your books online, in eformat or some other way, this loss of expertise and range diminishes the book trade, London and, I would argue, our culture. I would say that, though – I’m a Londoner and a bookseller at heart. But we should be glad that the few remaining shops keep hanging on. In recent years, though, things have got even worse with the arrival of the massive CrossRail project currently chewing a hole through the ground around Tottenham Court Road. It’s now very difficult and unintuitive to make your way from Oxford Street to CXR, and although there’ll be a benefit when everything is finished (in 2016!), right now the businesses on CXR are suffering hugely.
So Blackwell’s and Foyles have come together – perhaps for the first time officially, although we always used to help each other out if needed – to put on the first LoveCharingCrossRoad Festival. On Saturday 30th June there will be a day of talks, performances and fun. Our own Ben Aaronovitch will be there, talking to fellow novelist and Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell, but there is something for everyone. Whether you want to see Simon Callow talking about Shakespeare, hear Clive Bloom discussing the London riots, be told some amazing true life Soho Stories or just try some exciting icecream, please do consider heading down to central London for a few hours. Buy a book or two, enjoy the special offers from many of the restaurants and pubs around, perhaps even have a pint or two at the wonderful Phoenix Artists Club before the literary pub quiz in the evening.
Because if we’re not careful, in a few years even the last stragglers will have fallen, and we won’t have any bookshops left at all.
You can find details of all of the events on the LoveCharingCrossRoad website here.