Before one of my friends suggested it to me earlier this year, I hadn’t heard of the London Book Crawl and, honestly, most people I mentioned it to hadn’t either. So, I really didn’t know what to expect.
Before I launch in to my experience however, I’ll give you a bit of backstory about the event itself.
The London Book Crawl started in 2016 as a way for book lovers to meet each other, discover new bookshops and (most importantly) buy some new books! It takes place in February, which is a relatively low turnover month for most shops, let alone bookshops. But the Crawl gives those bookshops taking part a chance to up their usual February income and (hopefully) get some new returning customers!
The Crawl itself spans across a weekend (Friday to Sunday) with numerous events (such as tours of the British Library, which I’ll talk about more later) and guided crawls. You can also plan your own Crawl if you don’t fancy the guided one (or if they run out of room). A lot of the bookshops taking part offer discounts for Crawlers (in case you needed another reason to get on board!) Those are the basics!
As I mentioned earlier, I had no idea what to expect from the Crawl. We booked tickets for a British Library tour, but decided to do our own Crawl rather than join one of the guided ones. We planned a vague route the night before—although we were a bit optimistic about how fast we could walk—picked a starting point to meet and just kind of went for it. Before you do the same, I have a couple of tips:
Factor in meandering time. If you don’t book any of the special events, then your only restrictions are the store opening times. If you do book an event, make sure you leave plenty of time to mooch around the bookshops, walk between them and get to your event. Also, don’t forget to set aside some time for lunch. By the time we had finished our British Library tour, I was so hungry that I was eyeing up my newly-bought books!
Your choice of footwear will set the tone for your whole Crawl. Luckily, (unlike the food debacle) I had enough sense to wear comfortable, tried and tested, waterproof footwear (given that it’s England in February, waterproof is a no-brainer). I went with my trusty, broken-in Ariats and by the 5th bookshop I was so glad I did. We did have the option of travelling on the Underground but, with a lot of the routes, and because a lot of the bookshops are grouped together, its much easier to walk between them.
In case you’re interested (and are maybe thinking of doing the Crawl next year), this was the route we took—all the bookshops we visited were incredible and deserve a shout out:
London Review of Books
Gay’s the Word
The British Library
Word on the Water.
We ended up missing a couple of others that we wanted to see (Hatchards and Libraria) and had to go back to Gay’s the Word after the British Library because of time constraints. But, as a route, it actually worked pretty well!
Another thing I was worried about going into the Crawl was that I might not find any books that I wanted; being an avid reader of YA fiction, I was a bit dubious, but I learnt a couple of things there as well.
First, even if you don’t buy books at every (or any) of the stores, there is something incredibly enjoyable about being surrounded by books all day. That, as the London Book Crawl website mentions, is such a large part of the idea behind the Crawl: to discover new bookshops, to have fun with fellow book-lovers and to spend a day or a weekend getting lost in the world of bookshops.
Second, I learnt that you’ll likely surprise yourself with what you end up being drawn to. I went in thinking I would only buy YA books, and do you know what I ended up with the most of? Poetry. I found writers and collections I’d never heard of yet I’m now so excited to read (I did get one YA book by the way.)
The highlight of the day (apart from meeting all the amazing bookstore owners and buying books), was most definitely the tour at the British Library. Unfortunately, we missed out on doing the Treasures tour, but we got ourselves on a general tour that proved to be very interesting. Having never been in the British Library (which is a shock given that I have a book in there somewhere), I was unsure about what to expect, but I was—again—pleasantly surprised. Not only was the tour guide lovely (and willing to answer a myriad of questions) but we also got to see the Reading Rooms (without anyone in them), the behind-the-scenes book transport system (I never thought I’d be so intrigued by a piece of machinery) and we learnt about the history of the Library itself (like the fact that it has the equivalent of 9 storeys of storage underneath the actual building).
Fun fact: Every brick in the British Library was placed ‘smiling’, which essentially means that the grain of every brick was laid facing upwards to make it look like the bricks were smiling! Random, but cool. It was facts like this (and the sheer volume of books) that made the tour so enjoyable.
So, our Crawl in itself I would say was a huge success. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it’s something I would definitely do again, although I think I would try to do a couple more of the events next time. But, if you’re a book-lover, I would wholeheartedly recommend trying the London Book Crawl, whether you do one day or a whole weekend!
P.s. You don’t have to wait until next year to do Crawl because they also do roaming summer Crawls!