The London review of bookshops

Where do you go when you’ve got a few hours to kill, when you’re fed up of being in your own house but it’s not quite the occasion to head down to the pub?

I’m beginning to gain a penchant for chilling out at bookstores. They’re the perfect place to peruse the latest novels or magazines while indulging it a spot of people watching too.

To date I’d purely been a Borders aficionado. Perhaps my habit had something to do with the fact that I worked at a Borders store during my university holidays one summer. More likely it’s based on the relaxed approach that the store has to letting customers put their grubby hands all over the merchandise.

Growing up as a book-loving kid in the nineties, book stores were a bit like churches. You were free to browse the shelves, if you were intent on buying you could even ask a shop assistant to order a book for you but woe betide you if you took a book of the Dillon’s shelves and actually started to read it. That would be outrageous behaviour.

So you could imagine my amazement back in 1999 when, while covering the Winter Music Conference, I stumbled into a Borders on Miami Beach. First of all it was around 9pm and the shop was open and further still people with mugs perilously full of coffee were dotted all over the store not just fingering, but actually reading the books. In the store! Not only were the store workers not hassling these lingerers, they actually offered to put away all the titles that had been pulled of the shelves.

It was an experience that marked my book-buying experience for life. But I popped into Waterstones on Piccadilly earlier this week and I’m beginning to realise that I may have been mistaken in favouring Borders so strongly. There’s a whole world of booksellers out there.

So I’ve decided to start (an inevitably irregular) series reviewing London’s bookshops. Feel free to mail me any suggestions or opinions on your favourite spots.

Waterstones, Piccadilly

Situated in an imposing art deco building, the Piccadilly branch is a five-floored emporium for book lovers. If you’re looking to sit and read head for the red leather seats to the right hand side of the building. It’s undoubtedly the most peaceful location (apart from when the bells in a nearby church chime at the top of each hour) and on a sunny day it’s a real sun trap.

Waterstones Piccadilly has a sense of space, peace and order, the antithesis of another London bookstore institution Foyles (review to follow). It attracts a smarter sort of crowd and the staff give the impression that the take themselves and their jobs very seriously.

Despite the staid vibe, the store isn’t quite dead on its feet. Waterstones puts in a good show at trying to be trendy with innovative names for book displays. The floor featuring fiction offers tables of books on which you could find the signs ‘Salaam India’, ‘Weepies’ or ‘Quintessentially English’. Cool.

The Piccadilly store has carved a niche with its high-profile book signings. For those of you who fancy something a bit harder than a Costa Coffee cappuccino, take the lift up to the 5th floor where you’ll find the restaurant and bar serving cocktails plus superb views of London.

Borders, Oxford Street

As far as shop layouts go, the Tottenham Court branch is definitely my London favourite (UK fave would have to be Glasgow – impressive building). But the location makes the in-house coffee store slightly less desirable; Tottenham court is possibly one of the grimiest area in central London.

Oxford Street has more space and comfier chairs, although the incessant background music can sometimes be slightly soporific. The queues at the Starbucks are ridiculous so try not to time your visit for lunch time. The staff has also imposed a five magazine limit on the number of publications you’re allowed to bring up from the ground floor – that sounds pretty reasonable to me…

Slim, Rich and Fabulous

I stumbled upon a great exhibition yesterday by accident.


Having finished work early and having a couple of hours to spare before heading down to the Southbank for a screening at the BFI, I decided to pass the time by checking out the Photographers Gallery off Oxford Street.


Being mapless, I somehow ended up instead at a Slim Aarons exhibition at the Getty Images Gallery.


The gallery staff was setting up for a private view and the numerous crates of booze did kinda tempt me to stick around; the show is co-sponsored by Eminent Wines.

Such a brand is a perfect fit for a show entitled Slim, Rich and Famous.


It features photos by Aarons depicting the Glitterati from the 1950s onwards. The sort of folk continued living the sort of F Scott Fitzgerald detailed his novels, long after the Jazz Age had been and one.


Slim, Rich and Famous shows an age where fame wasn’t necessarily about celebrity – most of the people caught on celluloid aren’t movie stars. Rather, they’re daughters of Mexican industrialists, well-healed philanthropists.


It’s not exactly the sought of exhibition that’s going to make you feel better about your life after a hard say in the office but if you in the mood for some beautiful photography and glimpse at how the jet-set live it up, I’d say the show is well worth a visit.


Slim, Rich And Famous is on at the Getty Images Gallery from 16/04/09 – 30/05/09

Greenwich by boat

Pop down to the Millenium Pier and use your Oyster card to get a discount on one of the boat services that’ll take you on a scenic route eastwards on Thames.

It takes less than half an hour to get to Greenwich and it’s so much more fun than the tube. Once you’re there I’d recommend taking a peek at the Old Royal Naval College and the Market.

(I do just have to add how much I’m loving the camera on my Samsung phone)

Greenwich Market

Probably the best sweetshop in the world
Probably the best sweetshop in the world

Mr Humbug, Greenwich

Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Youtube’s beta launch of full-length content

Just recieved the following information from YouTube:

We have beta launched a section of full-length content with partners such as Lionsgate, Sony, and our own EMEA partners BBC Worldwide & Entertainment Rights.

While most of the content is geo-blocked to the US-only you can see the landing page at and

Please note that full-length content also has new ad formats for us – pre-roll, post-roll, and interstitials.

If you have content that you’d be interested in contributing for the US or UK please let me know and we can discuss further.

It’ll be interesting to see just how popular longer form videos prove to be online, both in terms of viewing figures and monetisation

Brown cuts out the middle man

They’ve only gone and done it again. Just days after Alistair Darling irked economy reporters by issuing a YouTube statement on his hopes for the economy, now Gordon Brown has taken the heat out of the second-homes allowance row by demanding an urgent commons vote on reforms.

What news editors hate about this growing trend in government issuing missives online is that their correspondents don’t have a chance to grill politicians and get to the nitty gritty of their statements. Really, you should hear how they fume. Yet does the public really need a middle man to intermediate in the flow of information?

They no longer have to wait until the 6.30pm bulletin to get this information – it’s accesible online as soon as it’s released and just maybe they’re intelligent enough to add their own analysis to the news that they receive.

Despite the crisis, economy stories fail to win Pulitzers

The New York Times dominated the Pulitzer Prizes announced Monday, winning five of the coveted awards for investigative, breaking news and international reporting, feature photography and criticism.

The Las Vegas Sun won the most prestigious Public Service Prize for reporting on the high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas strip, according to the board of the Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism, Letters, Drama and Music.

The strength of the prize winners’ work shows the power and significance of print journalism, said Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzers.

Newspapers are suffering badly in the recession, with massive job losses, elimination of sections and cancellation of home delivery. A few have ceased publication, slashed salaries and filed for bankruptcy.

“The watchdog still barks. The watchdog still bites,” Gissler said. “Who would be doing this day to day if we didn’t have newspapers?”

None of the prizes went to stories about the economy or the financial crisis.

The Wall Street Journal, one of the nation’s most prestigious daily papers, did not win a prize this year.

The paper has not won a Pulitzer since Rupert Murdoch bought it through News Corp’spurchase of Dow Jones & Co in December 2007. In the previous 10 years, the Journal won Pulitzers in all but two years.

This marked the first year that entries from news organizations that publish entirely on the Internet could compete in the journalism categories.

Despite the growth of online journalism, there were no online winners and only, a largely online outlet, was a finalist in editorial cartooning, said Gissler. The editorial cartooning prize went to Steve Breen of The San Diego Union Tribune.
The New York Times staff won the breaking news reporting award for coverage of a sex scandal that led to the resignation of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and international reporting for coverage of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan under dangerous conditions.

 The Times won for investigative reporting by David Barstow on retired U.S. generals who were working as media analysts and co-opted by the Pentagon to defend the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

[Source: Reuters]