There is nothing as heart-warming for foreigners after a whole day of processing things in a second or third language than to curl up with books in their familiar native tongue. However, finding them in the great tumble that is London can be a bit difficult.
There are bookshops out there dedicated to bringing the non-English speaker their favourite literature closer to home. They are not numerous, however, and the quality of these does vary. But here at The First Pint we have been able to enumerate a couple of places that should appease the international bookworm as well as the ever increasing number of polyglot Brits.
The First Pint’s favourite foreign language bookshop by far, the European Bookshop is a well-rounded, attractive place to get books in the major European languages. As part of European Schoolbooks, the European Bookshop has been around for 40 years and has sister shops around London such as the Italian Bookshop.
The biggest selection in the shop is for French books, with its first floor dedicated principally to the language. There is also a second floor which shares the other languages, mainly Spanish and German, but there are also books in Portuguese and Russian, and some learning materials for other languages such as Polish or Norwegian.
Pablo Argente, responsible for the Spanish section of the shop, said that there is a native speaker in charge of each of the major departments, assuring that the books ordered for each language is of the utmost quality and updated for the trends of every country. “We definitely have a good selection here,” Pablo said. “But there are still some things that people ask for that we don’t have. But we are constantly working to fix that.”
Despite Pablo’s humbleness, the selection in the European bookshop is great, where literature shares space with essays, poetry, and comics. It even has a part of the shop dedicated to children’s books called, appropriately, the Young Europeans Bookshop. In the Spanish section, you could even find La Vorágine, a Colombian classic which you wouldn’t expect to find in a small bookshop in Spain, not to mention in a bookshop in London.
At around £10 for paperbacks and £20 to £25 for hard-covers, even the prices are reasonable. There is really no excuse not to visit this treasure.
5 Warwick Street, W1B 5LU
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 9.30-18h
Grant and Cutler
Perhaps the most complete of all foreign language bookshops in London, Grant and Cutler’s selection is mind boggling. Aside from all the major languages, the amount of other languages seen is incredible: from the more uncommon European languages like Catalan, Dutch and Albanian to the more obscure such as Pashto, Amharic, Swahili and Malay, visiting Grant and Cutler’s is just an exercise in bewilderment. The amount of help desks, learning materials and shelves is noteworthy and a pleasant feeling of finding a refuge for the world’s languages does make the imagination go wild.
The downside of such variety is its presentation. As a visitor to the shop told The First Pint, it feels like a warehouse where you would find your school textbooks in. Books are piled in the shelves with no apparent organisation, English translations and original language books are mixed together, and just finding things can be frustrating. That must be why there’s so many help desks. However, it does not give the feeling of a place where you would stay for hours browsing for your next read, but more of a utilitarian place where you would get your reading materials and leave.
Grant and Cutler may not be as inviting as other shops, but it does dedicate itself to bringing as much from different languages as possible. Besides books, it also has a great selection of World Cinema DVDs and curious souvenirs like versions of Scrabble in different languages.
Grant and Cutler
55-57 Great Marlborough Street, W1V 2AY
Opening hours: Mon-Wed, Fri 10-18.30, Thu 10-19h, Sat 10.30-18.30, Sun 12-18h
Burrowed in the lower floors of the Mitsukoshi department store, JP Books is spread between two to three smallish rooms packed with different Japanese miscellanea, including small trinkets such as Totoro dolls. Books and magazines in Japanese can be found in good measure, and it definitely has a very distinct Japanese flavour to it – which is important since it is the only Japanese bookshop in London, as several people could confirm.
One of these, Ichiro Osako, said that even though the shop is good, it has a very general selection of books which would be very limiting for those looking for more specialised fare, such as business books. In his opinion, despite the shop’s selection not being the best, the alternative – ordering from the internet – is very expensive and some Japanese sites don’t even ship to the UK.
In regards to price, one of the shop assistants said that JP Books was a good shop even though the books could be almost three times more expensive than what you would pay in Japan.
However, when wanting to indulge in Japanese readings, what else can you do but visit JP Books?
Lower Ground Floor, Mitsukoshi Dept Store
Dorland House, 14-20 Regent Street, SW1Y 4PH
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 10-18.30, Sun 10.30-16.30
If you are itching for Chinese reading materials, the Guanghwa bookshop located in Chinatown is a decent option.
This two-storey bookshop sells books ranging from classics to modern literature and from philosophy to cookery. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for masterpieces from 鲁迅 or 冰心, or the Chinese version of Twilight, you will be quite satisfied. The bookshop also sells Chinese magazines, including Newsweek Asia, Readers’ Digest and Cosmopolitan. The only downside is that they have an incredibly small collection of traditional Chinese reading materials – more than 90% of the products are in simplified Chinese. For Taiwanese and Hong Kong readers, you may be disappointed.
Also, Guanghwa is heaven for calligraphers. The basement displays a variety of calligraphy brushes, ink, paper and exercise books for professional and amateur alike.
The location of the bookshop is convenient and easy to find. But this petite book store is not somewhere you can spend hours feeding that Chinese bookworm of yours!
7 Newport Place, Chinatown, WC2H 7JR UK
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10-19, Sun 11-19h
This list is ever expanding. So if you find a better foreign language bookshop, please tell us and we’ll send someone to investigate. Rumour has that The First Pint’s very own Angry Russian is scouring the city for his favourite Russian bookshops at this very moment! Watch this space.