Nowhere in London inspires such wanderlust as Daunt in Marylebone – an “original Edwardian bookshop with long oak galleries and graceful skylights.”
It’s a place I return to time and again and never leave empty handed.
The shop is curated for travellers.
It’s very visual, with tons of books facing outward instead of endless rows of spines.
Most countries or areas of the world have dedicated shelves, and they are filled not just with guidebooks but plenty of fiction and nonfiction, shelved according to the location in which the stories are set.
For someone whose favourite books always have a strong sense of place, this works perfectly for me.
I stopped by last weekend and came home with five books to dig into over the next few months:
- Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw
- Cuba: The Land of Miracles by Stephen Smith
- Spain in Mind with contributions from many writers
- How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
- Village Of Stone by Xiaolu Guo
Yes, I could probably have bought these much cheaper on Amazon but for me, buying books is about taking the time to make it an experience.
Touching the pages, digging through the collection, the smell of the shop and just supporting smaller speciality shops like this.
It is a chain, with smaller branches in Chelsea, Holland Park, Belsize Park, Hampstead and Cheapside. I’ve been in all but the Cheapside shop and Marylebone is hands down my favourite.
It’s architecturally stunning and has the best selection, even a section full of cookbooks arranged by area and another for those fabulous coffee table style photography books.
I can’t tell you what the five I just bought will be like but here are 12 books worth reading that I’ve bought at Daunt over the years:
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. This is an autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, about how she evolves from a little girl living a traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia into a controversial political figure, a freedom fighter who sought asylum in the Netherlands after escaping a forced marriage. She endured horrific things like genital mutilation, beatings and war and fights the oppression of women in Islamic societies.
Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni. Azadeh’s story is “a memoir of growing up Iranian in America and American in Iran.” It’s about search for identity and a violent history between the two countries. She takes us behind the scenes of the Iran we read about in the news. We follow her to drug filled parties in Tehran and the stunning landscape of the nearby ski slopes. Expats will relate to her when she writes about what it means to “perpetually exist in each world feeling the tug of the other.”
Londoners by Craig Taylor. This is a fascinating portrait of a city that comes together through the woven voices of those who live there. Canadian Craig Taylor spent five years in London interviewing the rich and the poor, everyone from a Pakistani currency trader to the woman whose voice we hear announcing the stations on the Tube.
Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. If you’re as fascinated as I about about the secretive country that is North Korea, you’ll love this insightful story. With all of the six main characters, we have a real human view on what goes on within its borders, and a look outside the capital to the country’s third largest city, Chongjin, in the north east. It’s a look at how the famine, the corruption and censorship effect real people. The name comes from a verse that school children have to recite: “we have nothing to envy in the world.”
Emergency Sex (And Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone by K. Cain, H. Postlewait, A. Thomson. This book is hilarious and serious at the same time, taking a good look at the UN and its role in developing countries through the eyes of three strangers whose stories intertwine in places like Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. It looks at the limits of peacekeeping in modern wars. Kofi Annan called for it to be banned, which always adds intrigue to a book.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith. White Teeth covers an ambitious array of topics from race to class to religion and everything in between manages to tackle such serious subjects in an often humorous and clever way. It’s based in London, where Zadie Smith calls home, but has parts set in Jamaica, Turkey, Bangladesh and India as well. Her characters are well developed and feel like people who are part of your everyday life.
The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam. Somaly Mam’s true story is not easy to read, but it ends positively. It’s about her life as a child being raised by her grandmother in Cambodia. It’s not easy to read, as she was raped at age 12, forced to marry when she was 15 and then sold off to a brothel. She escaped sex slavery and now with the organization she co-founded, co-founded AFESIP, helps combat sex trafficking.
Desert Children by Waris Dirie. This is a segment of an eye-opening three part series that looks at the life journey of author Waris Dirie as she goes from childhood with her family of tribal desert nomads in Somalia (where she went through the tradition of genital mutilation and ran away) to eventually became a fashion model and UN ambassador.
The Place at the End of the World by Janine di Giovanni. Written by one of my favourite journalists, I couldn’t put this one down. She follows the advice she was given at the start of her career as she travels through the frontlines of some of the most dangerous warzones in the world: ‘Write about the small voices, the people who can’t write about themselves.’ From Chechnya to Baghdad to Kingston and beyond, she does just that, creating a path of small voices and a raw, passionate and vivid book to devour.
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. Many of her characters in this collection of short stories are Bengalis in Boston. Jhumpa shares a similar background and writes about nostalgia and homesickness and the beautiful discoveries that come with living in a different country from where you were born. The stories are about people and their relationships to one another through the words of an excellent storyteller.
The Island by Victoria Hislop. Starting in the 1930s, this is a multi-generational piece that follows a family through the years to the 2000s. It features the fascinating setting of Spinalonga, a tiny and deserted island that is Greece’s former leper colony, and a detailed look into the lives of the people who lived there. It’s an quick and easy read about empathy, love and family history that circulates around Cretan culture.
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Gou. A fictional account of a Chinese woman called Zhuang, this is about a year-long quest to learn English in London. It’s written in “deliberately bad English” which makes it quite amusing to read. While she’s learning her new language Z falls in love with an Englishman and starts to look at the values and beliefs of the English in general, and in turn, her own as well. It’s another one I couldn’t put down.
Leave me your best recommendations of books that focus heavily on location in the comments. I’m always adding to my list!