15 January 2006

London Review Bookshop

I visited the London Review Bookshop for the first time on Thursday, and what a delight. James and I spent some time trying to imagine how we could achieve a similar sized space for our own bookshop housed at Leicester Secular Hall. Even then, the books would still have to be packed from floor to ceiling as at LRB.

The LRB was something of a revelation when it opened. It stunned people by saying that it would only carry one or two copies of each title (most are available to order from suppliers within twenty-four hours, so not quite as risky as it sounds). The policy was unheard of at the time, with the headlong tumble towards the three-for-two-pile-em-high approach pursued by the High Street multiples.

The LRB is a classic bookshop: a beautiful, tranquil space with conveniently placed chairs, and none of the razzmatazz of popular culture - fizzing expresso machines, dubious celebrity biographies and badly-written bestselling novels, appealling to the modern mind that prefers to escape into mythology and quackery.

After several hours of inspiring browsing, I chose "The Heart of Things", a miscellany of articles and essays by A C Grayling, and "Culture and Materialism" by Raymond Williams. The latter is published as part of series of Radical Thinkers by Verso. It says on the cover, "A comprehensive introduction to the work of one of the outstanding intellectuals of the twentienth century." As someone who was brought up with Williams' "Keywords", I decided it was time I knew more about the man and his ideas.

A C Grayling spoke at the Secular Hall just over a year ago, about what it is to live a good life in this day and age. What is a good life, and how can one live it. He was the best sort of speaker - one where you enjoy the simple pleasure of listening, quite apart from any benefit you may gain beyond the experience. However, he introduced many fascinating ideas and people and fuelled my already growing interest in reading philosophy.

The Heart of Things is an excellent book for those of us struggling to live in the reality of the 21st Century with a dozen things clamouring for our attention every second, and a dozen choices about how you might choose the spend the next five minutes of your time. For one thing, each piece is short (several only a page and a half), succinct (not always the same thing), accessible and well-written. For another, they provide you with some clues about how to deal with this clamorous world. How to find some space for yourself to reflect on what you think about things, and consequently, how you want to act.

Grayling closes the book with two helpful articles - The Uses of Philosophy, and a commentary on Russell's History of Western Philosophy. I liked especially this thought from the Uses of Philosophy,

" ... the best resource for dealing with the problem of the inexplicable void at the heart of rich, healthy, safe, well-fed, well-entertained modern Western life lies very close to hand, either unnoticed or, when noticed, neglected. In fact, modern Westerners are like thirsty people drinking from a muddy puddle on the banks of a great river of clear water, as if they simply had not noticed the river's existence, or did not know they could drink from it."

He goes on to say,

" The river in question is philosophy."

I also came across the "New Humanist" journal, and bought a copy. We'll investigate stocking it at Frontline Books. You can find more at:


and inside I found


billed as "independent websites with something to say".

The LRB visit gave renewed hope to my ambitions for our tiny upstart bookshop in a provincial town in the Midlands.


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