MAGICAL BOOK DAY--LONDON EDITION
A couple of weeks ago, a classmate of my daughter’s gave her a book called Clara Button and the Magical Hat Day by Amy De La Haye and Emily Sutton. It’s the story of a little girl named Clara who loves to make hats for her animals and dolls while wearing a hat made by her Granny Elsie, a milliner who died before she was born. When her brother carelessly tears the special hat, Clara’s mother decides to make it up to her by offering her an outing, wherever she likes. Will it be a day at the pool? The cinema? Clara says, “I would like a magical hat day, please.”
They take a bus to the Victoria & Albert Museum, where Clara, following a trolley full of glamorous hats, sneaks away to a back room. There, she meets a “hat doctor” who shows her how to mend her grandmother’s hat. It’s a charming book. My daughter has asked me to read it again and again, giving me lots of time to think about its precise appeal.
I love the concept of a Magical ________ Day. It got me thinking about the way we adults so often have to sneak away from our other responsibilities to indulge in our hobbies and interests. It’s a little bit naughty, a little bit frivolous. And there is all too little time for such things in life. There ought to be more! And in the spirit of Magical Days in which More is Better, I offer bibliophiles this Magical Book Day itinerary. If I had only one day to spend in London, here are the places I would go.
MAGICAL BOOK DAY (London Edition)
The day begins at the British Library in King’s Cross with a visit to their exhibition space. The current show is called Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination--and other recent subjects have included graphic novels, the Great War, and children's book illustrations. If you can wrangle a Reader Pass to the reading rooms, you could spend a whole day at the British Library and I frequently do. It is a researcher’s haven, where the only sounds are the turning of pages and the gentle tapping of keyboards. Almost any book you request will arrive within an hour. It's not a lending library, but the reading rooms are so comfortable that you won't mind.
Next, it’s on to Marylebone for a browse at Daunt Books. Although this independent stocks the latest releases in its oak-panelled, sky-lit shop, it is best known for its travel section, where fiction, nonfiction and guide books are shelved together to marvelous effect. An hour of snooping around here will inspire and transport you—whether or not you have a vacation to plan. Be sure to buy a few books and they might give you one of their coveted canvas tote bags. (Any tourist should be sure to get one—carry it, and you may be mistaken for a local.)
By now, you will be looking forward to lunch. Hurry to Books for Cooks in Notting Hill just before noon if you want one of the few tables next to their test kitchen. Each day’s menu is chosen from a different book. Serendipity is the order of the day—you won’t know what’s cooking until you arrive. But there are always a few decadent cakes on the counter.
After lunch, pop into Lutyens & Rubinstein, a small, smart shop with a carefully curated selection of books and gifts for readers. It was founded by literary agents who canvassed hundreds of readers to help them decide which books to stock. If you are looking for a passionate recommendation, you’ll find it here, along with a perfume that smells like a library and a personal shopping service that will help you find the perfect present, or build your own collection.
Next, swan over to Hatchard’s in Piccadilly to pore over signed first editions of newly published books. Those signed copies are ideal for presents, but I often end up buying a one or two for myself. Don’t overlook the children’s department, where there is a great selection of classics and new titles—some of which are signed. They also have a comprehensive collection of the Usborne sticker books, beloved of the under-five set.
Perhaps my favorite book day destination in London is the London Library. Memberships are more than worthwhile if you’re local, but day passes are available, too. (If you join for the day, you might need two Magical Book Days to make the most of it!) Here, you are allowed to browse the stacks freely. Members may take as many books as they like for as long as they need them—or until another member requests them. You’ll find treasures that you wouldn’t find in any store or discover books you never knew existed. I was delighted one day to find children’s books by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath on adjacent shelves right at the top of the stacks.
No Magical Book Day would be complete without a visit to the delightful Persephone Books in Bloomsbury. Persephone reprints books by neglected mid-twentieth century authors—books by, for, and about women. Their dove-gray jackets, gorgeous textile print endpapers and thoughtful prefaces all add to the pleasure of discovering books and authors you may not have heard of before, but won’t soon forget.