2014年7月24日 星期四


“A good bookseller is deeply embedded in their community”


Words by Sarah Rowland Photographs by Ella Webb
This original Daunt Books has been one of London’s iconic travel and literary shops for more than 20 years. Wooden gallery-style shelves line the walls with rows of photography books, fiction, journals, maps, language references, travelogs, poetry, biographies and classic literature. The shop has an extensive section where books and authors are separated by country of origin, complete with a plentiful selection of travel guides and literature for adventure planning. Plentiful skylights and a large oak balcony add charm to this beautiful shop. With other locations in Chelsea, Holland Park, Hampstead, Belsize Park and Cheapside, Daunt is all about the experience of finding something new and different. Offering customers a true book buying experience, the shop is a testament to the timelessness and physicality of the printed page.
Daunt has been open for more than 20 years. What’s the story behind the shop?Closer to 25 years now which—as with one’s own children growing up—seems to have passed in a blink. The story is no more than setting up as good and interesting a bookshop as possible and trying to make it a little bit better every year with the help of some very talented booksellers.
What was your inspiration in opening the bookshop?All bookshops are arranged by subject, which is not how I read. Trying one that reflected my reading tastes seemed worth a go. (I was young!)
You’ve said before that bookshops are truly part of the community. Explain that notion and what Daunt means to the community of London.A good bookseller is deeply embedded in their community. You are the place readers drop in to, often as much for a quick word and glance about as to specifically buy anything, the place children divert to on the way back from school. Families grow up using their bookshop: our middle-aged customers are now our old ones; the first generation of children are now the parents. A bookshop is a warm place of conversation and intellectual stimulation, a place of its community in the same way as (but of course different to) the local park and perhaps in years long gone the church.
Throughout the years, how much of the decor has stayed true to the original style?We paint it occasionally but, beyond the walls changing color by a slight shade or two, it is as it was built. Incidentally it’s the only purpose-built bookshop in the United Kingdom. “One of” incidentally I would argue with…
Tell us about the changes that have occurred in the past two decades.
It opened as it is now, a bookshop arranged by country. Some see this as being a travel specialist and of course it is this, but the real strength of the shop is that it’s much more than this. We are, and always have been, brilliantly stocked across all subjects that we believe people want to read: fiction, history, politics, biography and so on, and have always taken great pride and interest in children’s books. The only change has been to take the shop next door and to expand the number of books we carry. The main beneficiary of this has been the children’s section. The expansion coincided with the arrival of my own children, so now a good 17 years ago. The changes that have occurred have been in the wider book-selling world, which has been in a state of extraordinary change for the past decade because of Amazon’s impact. That perhaps is another subject.
Daunt is known for its impressive travel section where book topics and authors are divided up by country. Tell us about this area of the shop.It is how I read and how I arrange my own bookshelves at home. Over the years customers either “get it” instinctively and immediately or don’t. Give it 15 minutes and almost everyone works it out and then in fact finds it very easy and very interesting. Books are positioned so very differently from the way they are in every other of the 2,000 odd bookshops in the UK.
What was your purpose in creating the vast travel section?To create the bookshop I would want to buy books in. It is not actually a “travel section” in anything remotely like the conventional understanding of this term. The Russian section carries about 1,000 titles of which maybe 50 are “travel” books, as in guides or travel accounts.
How do you decide what books to sell?The ones I want to read. I look at a children’s picture book through the eyes of a four-year-old.
You have areas for “book of the week,” and tables that are dedicated to various specialty categories. How do you curate such unique selections for customers to browse?Simply what interests us—the booksellers in the shop.
What are some of the author events you host in-store?We have a huge and varied program and are lucky enough to host so many of our best writers. We’ve been doing it for so long, we know just about everyone and they enjoy coming to us. The shop is a lovely place and our audiences are always engaged and appreciative. In Marylebone we have four events just about every week so almost every weekday night. We leave Friday free to prepare for the weekend.
In the world of e-books, Daunt has managed to grow increasingly popular and successful. What’s the secret?Lovely booksellers, interesting and well presented books, a beautiful space—always in that order and to different degrees in the different shops.
What are some of your all-time favorite reads?So many. I read all the time. I have just chanced upon a new series called Save the Story published in the UK by a tiny independent Pushkin Press. They retell children’s classics by some of our best contemporary novelists in beautifully designed editions: Don Juan by Alessandro Baricco, Captain Nemo by Dave Eggers, Antigone by Ali Smith and more. Really exciting. All-time favourites? I bought—and then sold—all the copies of Louis de Bernières” first novel, War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, when the publisher lost faith in it. It was a success that propped up the shop in its earliest days.
What role does Daunt play for its customers? A book haven? An escape? A place to go and browse?All those. I hope everyone leaves feeling that little bit better about the world and themselves. It is a very happy place.
What is your hope for the future of Daunt?That it just keeps on getting a little bit better with every year.
83 Marylebone High Street