The Story of How I Find Bookstores Everywhere I Go

Haley Dunbrack University of Edinburgh, Scotland


October 17, 2016

If you’ve read my first blog post, you will have discovered an incredibly important fact about me: I read a lot. I have always been a reader, will always be a reader, and hope to instill this love of reading into my children for generations to come. So, it seems only fitting to me that my most important and biggest goal while abroad is to uncover unique bookstores everywhere I go, and take a slew of pictures of them all. As a rule – one which I’ve begrudgingly made – I’m doing my best to not buy too many books while I’m abroad. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t get a taste of my biggest vice while roaming around bookshops throughout Scotland, England, and Europe at large.

…and what a place to do it. The United Kingdom is known for its history of producing fantastic authors who have written some of the greatest literature of all time. Scotland, in particular, is home to many of my favorite authors such as J.K. Rowling, J. M. Barrie, Robert Louis Stevenson, and believe me the list goes on and on. Edinburgh is a hub for literary inspiration and evidence of this can be found on almost every street corner I pass on a daily basis. There is no end to the exploration a literature-lover can do in this city, and I’m trying to take full advantage of that fact.

On a very important note, books are generally cheaper here than in the United States. It is unfortunate that I have to maintain a weight limit on my luggage when I return home because if I could, I would buy enough books here to last me for the next year due to their discounted price, but I must refrain (I may have already bought a few…but let’s just ignore that for now). On another note, small “mom-and-pop” bookshops flourish in Scotland and England where in the United States, they have all virtually disappeared in favor of larger conglomerates like Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Now, don’t mistake me, I thoroughly enjoy roaming the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and I find great joy in receiving Amazon Prime packages filled with my book purchases, but there is nothing like meandering down cobbled streets and popping into a diverse number of bookshops who haven’t been force to raise their prices in order to compete with larger corporations. And so I choose to do exactly this regularly. My friends know by now that if there is a bookshop to be found on our many paths, I will either want to browse its shelves for a while or at least snap a picture for my collection. In my opinion, there is no better way to get to know a country/city/town/generation than by seeing what books are being promoted at these shops or the types of books these shops specialize in – believe me, I’ve seen some interesting bookshops while here.

Among my many travels, I have picked out my absolute favorite bookshops and I’d like to tell you just a bit more about them:

  • Glasgow: In Glasgow, we discovered a few beautiful bookshops while walking around the city, but the most unique was one called Calton Books, Glasgow’s Independent Radical Bookshop. We didn’t have time to go into the store as we were on our way back to the train station, but I was completely intrigued and did some Googling once I returned home – I wanted to know exactly what “radical bookshop” meant. It was everything I expected and more. Books on Anti-Fascism, Marxism, History, Europe, Socialism, and many other topics are to be found in this tiny shop near The People’s Palace and I really hope I get the chance to return and actually browse its collection before I leave Scotland.
  • London: London has been the biggest city that my group of friends and I have been to during our travels, and I half-expected there to be a lack of small bookshops compared to other places due to its size. While there were significantly more Waterstones (a larger chain of bookshops) than in Edinburgh, we were able to find a number of small bookstores as well, to my utter delight. Daunt Books was perhaps my favorite simply because its selection was modern and popular, and they had adorable canvas bags which I almost bought (alas, I am frugal to a fault). It was a perfect diversion during a long day of walking and sight-seeing on the streets of London.
  • Melrose: This is the bookshop that I most regret not having enough time to go into. The Bookroom is a store situated in the incredibly small town of Melrose in Scotland. During a group trip throughout the Scottish Borders, we stopped in this town to tour Melrose Abbey (utterly beautiful and I highly recommend it), but we also had free time for lunch. Just as our lunch period had ended, I discovered this gem and snapped a picture before returning to the group. This shop was the epitome of my ideal bookshop. Quietly nestled in the curving streets of a small Scottish town, The Bookroom begs me to return and hopefully I will be able to someday.
  • Edinburgh: Now we return to my home base. Of course, Edinburgh is littered with bookshops and book memorabilia, but two have really made me happy so I’ve included these in my post. The first is called The Cornerstone Bookshop. It is situated right next to St. John’s Church on Princes Street and is a religious bookshop. I have read different kinds of religious texts throughout my life, and what I loved most about this shop was its solemnity and peaceful nature. It’s quite tiny and has a very niche selection of religious books, but it’s warm and inviting, and every time I walk by it I feel just a bit happier which is all I can ask of a bookshop.
  • Finally, my most favorite of all the shops I’ve been to is a secondhand bookshop called Tills. It is everything a secondhand shop should be. Books are piled high in stacks on the floor and in shelves which reach up to the ceiling itself. They’re well-worn and loved by their previous owners, and they beg to be bought by me (at ridiculously low prices – please, mom?). I took my favorite picture within this shop, aided by a bit of Instagram magic, and it’s the closest bookshop to my flat. For all of these reasons, and many more, it is my favorite bookshop in Edinburgh. I’d definitely recommend you all checking it out.