Although New York tempts me with its cinematic offerings, London is the city that really knows how to lure me in: the bookstores. Oh, oh, the London bookstores. Specifically, the London esoteric bookstores, with their pedigrees and their events and their shelves stacked high with obscure grimoires and dusty alchemical texts. Oh! It sets my bibliophile heart aflutter, just thinking of it!
Treadwell’s is top of my personal list, if only for the delightfully tempting list of titles and events listed on their webpage. They’re the newest of the lot, open less than six years now, but the owner has an academic background in medieval history and their selection seems both interesting and reasonably-priced (well, as far as antiquarian book collecting goes). Their lectures series is absolutely fascinating to me, and I’m likely to make Jim batty when we visit London by trying to plan our trip to accommodate some upcoming Treadwell’s speaker or event.
Next on the tour is Atlantis Bookshop, one of London’s oldest occult bookshops. It should probably be first, given it was founded in 1922 by a group of magicians that included Austin Osman Spare, Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley, and they do run another impressive series of events, lectures and pub nights. Chalk it up to nostalgia: Treadwell’s was the first bookstore I fell in love with online, and I’m still a bit sweet on them as a result.
Finally, there’s Watkins Books, who almost got the top billing when I spotted the A.O. Spare book on the top of their Antiquarian page. (Then I spotted the price, which may well be reasonable for Spare’s extraordinarily rare works, but still!) Watkins was actually founded before Atlantis Bookshop, issuing their first catalog in 1987 and opening doors on their current location in 1901. W.B. Yeats used to shop here, and the original owner was a friend (and printer) for H P. Blavatsky, a key figure in the Victorian occult revival. Like I said, pedigree!
Londonist.com has some lovely photos of all three shops in their Biblio-Text series: Treadwell’s, Watkins and Atlantis.
Ah me. In lieu of an overseas trip, I’ll have to make time this weekend for a stop-in at The Monkey’s Paw, one of my favorite browsing spots in Toronto. They may not have a specific focus in esoteric/occult texts, but there’s always one or two books in their little glass shelf to make my heart go pit-a-pat.