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Top 5 Independent Bookshops

Five bookshops offering more than mainstream material and are staffed by knowledgeable 
enthusiasts

'Books are a load of crap', wrote the poet Philip Larkin - in jest of course! In reality, he was a live-wire librarian. But present-day prophets of doom proclaim that reading is dying and that the printed book has had its time. Is this true? Literary events flourish, and author awards are never short of media coverage or controversy. And in London five flourishing bookshops - all of which offer more than mainstream material and are staffed by knowledgeable enthusiasts - together tell an encouraging story.

Slightly Foxed

For several decades this site on Gloucester Road has been a second-hand bookshop. Now, it's been taken over by Slightly Foxed, a publishing firm which aims to widen readers' horizons by providing a range of books including out-of-print titles. The shop's content reflects this as, in addition to the second-hand stock, there are new books on topics such as biography, gardening and travel. The place is small, cosy, yet neat and, despite the range of books on offer, doesn't feel crowded. As well as the compact ground floor there is a basement for you to explore.

Daunt Books

Until the eighties, the Fulham Road had a raffish reputation. Then it had a stint as Sloane Ranger territory. Now - rebranded as the Beach - it plays host to numerous bars. But it's also home for a branch of Daunt Books. Spacious, this shop has brown wood shelves which, combined with good lighting, make the interior feel traditional yet relaxed. Despite the heavy traffic thundering past outside, the shop is quiet. This enables customers to have peace as they browse through its wide selection of new books (if you're after second-hand ones, you can find them at the Marylebone High Street branch). Oh, and on Wednesday afternoons there's a flourishing children's reading group.

Housmans

Around since 1945 and situated in King's Cross, this is the capital's premier radical bookshop. The shelves are packed with books on politics, art, health and environmental issues as well as a wide range of related magazines. This may sound as if the shop is an outpost of the politics satirised by Private Eye magazine's resident radical, Dave Spart. But this material shows that political discussion is alive and well, in contrast with the bland spin- doctored image with which it is seemingly so often repackaged within mainstream coverage. By the door, there is a special section devoted to London Writing, covering both fiction and non-fiction works. In recent decades the hidden life of London has been excavated by authors such as crime writer the late Derek Raymond and psychogeographers like lain Sinclair: anyone who wants - or dares - to follow the paths they explore will find this part of the shop invaluable. If you're bargain-hunting, you should visit the basement, where many of the books are on sale for one pound. Check-out the website for information about in-store book signings and meetings.

Skoob Books

Just before the First World War, Bloomsbury was regarded as a hub of the nation's intellectual life. This shop is an echo of that time but despite its title - which, as you've worked out, is 'books' in reverse - it's very far from being a jokey operation. Located in basement premises within the revamped Brunswick Centre, it's a treasure-trove of second- hand books of every sort. As you descend its concrete steps you feel as if you're going into some sort of underground bunker. Gratifyingly, you emerge into a well-lit cave full of second-hand material to explore. Despite the bare decor, it feels enticingly comfy and full of expectation. For, as you wander around thinking you've come to the end of one stack of books, a new one suddenly seems to appear. Whilst not arranged alphabetically, subject-matter is clearly marked, so due diligence should be rewarded. The shop also provides an on line service from a warehouse in Oxford - check the website for more details.

London Review Bookshop

Tucked away in a side street round the corner from the British Museum, this offshoot of the London Review of Books (a publication famed not only for its erudite content but also its interesting lonely-hearts column) offers a wide range of new books - fiction and non-fiction - as well as literary and current affairs magazines. The shop has a dark green facade, but inside its light wood furnishings and metal hand rails on the stairs to the basement give it an airy feel so that you don't feel hemmed-in as you search among the stock. When the mind has been fed with the written word, the body can be nourished at the adjoining London Review Cake Shop.

Happy reading!

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