London Trip and Book Haul
In the city
A couple of weeks ago I went to London on a short business trip. It was my first time traveling to the UK, so I definitely had a lot of catching up to do. I only had two free evenings to explore the city and tried to make the most of the little time I had.
My iPhone Health app, which is hopefully to be trusted, suggests that on the first day I walked something close to 16 miles, passing by all the big names: Big Ben (that scaffolding was disappointing! but at least you can still see the face of the clock), London Eye (absolutely gorgeous but I didn’t have the courage to get in line this time around), Buckingham Palace (I found it somewhat underwhelming, according to my maps app I was right next to it but I couldn’t believe that was it), Picadilly Circus (believe it or not, for the first 10 minutes I kept walking around the square in search of an actual circus), Trafalgar Square (okay, maybe not in this order, my memories are getting blurry by now), Westminster Abbey (I approached it at twilight and I think this was the most impressive place I’ve seen in a long time—so big and powerful, silent and solemn) and Oxford Street (by the time I got there I thought I was gonna pass out from all the walking).
On the second day I finished up my little tour by cutting through Hyde Park, taking a good look at Royal Albert Hall and finding my way to what turned out to be one of the best bookstores I’ve ever been to so far—Foyles on Charing Cross Road. But before I dive into the world of books headfirst, I feel obliged to mention that I topped my day off with a dinner at Burger & Lobster Soho. I had a lobster burger, uncreatively. While it was nice to know that there was lobster meat inside, the taste of the beef patty overpowered everything else and it tasted like… a burger. A more tangible consequence of the crustacean’s presence in my meal was the fact that my pocket became about 30 pounds lighter (I wasn’t trying to make a pun, but the British currency lends itself to it without you even asking). I still enjoyed the food, the cider and the atmosphere of the place though, next time I’ll just order pure lobster, with no patties and buns to steal the limelight. And that pretty much marked the end of my London trip!
Lest it sound like I wasn’t properly impressed by all the sightseeing, I was. I did like London a great deal more than I expected to—its streets, its vibes and… the weather! Contrary to what everyone kept warning me about, the weather was amazing—sunny throughout the day, without a cloud, and something like 75-80 degrees (bear in mind that it was in late September). I couldn’t have done it all had it been raining. So thank you London for your kind and warm welcome!
At the bookstore
Now let’s get to business, fellow book lovers! Where was I? That’s right, Foyles on Charing Cross Road! I came across the store as I was dragging my feet back to the hotel from Oxford Street late on the first night. Even though I was super tired, the red neon letters were glowing so invitingly above the entrance. I went in only to hear that the store was going to close in 15 minutes. I frantically rushed along a few aisles but soon realized it was useless and I needed to come back another time. That was my first brief encounter with Foyles that only teased me.
On the second night that I was out and about in the city, I was trying to find a bookstore closer to work. I dropped by a small store right around the corner and gave the cashier my hard-to-find list to check if they have it. After six or seven searches he looked up at me apologetically and concluded that they have none of the books that I’m looking for. So I made up my mind to go back to Foyles.
This time I arrived a few hours before closing time. As I entered, I was dazzled by the sight of so many bookshelves—all around me and above my head, I didn’t realize how many there were the first time around. Once my eyes got used to the beautiful surroundings and could focus again, I noticed the greeting right in front of me—Welcome book lover, you are among friends. Indeed, I was!
I pestered the guy at the counter about the books they have and went about the store to pick up what he could find and look around. Six stories! Well, as far as I can remember only the first four are for books, then on the fifth there’s a cafe, and on the sixth a hall for events. Either way, this a whole lot of books in one building! The two-three hours I spend inside were filled with excitement, indulgence and difficult decisions—this is the part I will omit and go right to what I walked out of that store with.
The book haul
I left the store with six books—as always I was limited by how much free space I have in my suitcase and financial considerations. Let’s go through my picks one by one.
Assata: An Autobiography | Assata Shakur
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” I’ve heard these words of hers so many times—at rallies, marches, protests. Now it’s time to hear the rest of her story.
Surpassing Certainty | Janet Mock
Redefining Realness was a really important book for me, it helped me learn and reevaluate so many things in life. I’m sure that Surpassing Certainty will be no less meaningful and will teach me a lot as well.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race | Reni Eddo-Lodge
Apart from the promising title and the cleverly designed cover, this book has been praised by many of my fellow bookstagrammers. I trust your choice!
We Were Eight Years in Power | Ta-Nehisi Coates
In UCLA I audited a class called Philosophy of Race, Racism and Its Politics taught by Professor Melvin Rogers. I didn’t fully commit to it (my exchange program had me focusing on other things) and couldn’t quite keep up, but even the little I took home from it meant so much to me. As I look back, I can’t even begin to think what a treasure trove this course was and what an amazing educator Professor Rogers is. I think I only read one book in full for this class and left a lasting impression on me. It was Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I tried reading The Beautiful Struggle a couple of years later but realized I wasn’t yet ready to read that book (this whole thing of not being ready for some books deserves its own post, I think). We Were Eight Years in Power sounds like something I’m very much ready for. And the more I watch the news and the more nostalgic I wax, the more ready I am.
O Alquimista / L’Alchimiste | Paulo Coelho
There’s a whole post about The Alchemist on Along My Lines. As I wrote before, I really want to read it in every language I speak (English and Russian fluently, Spanish and French to some extent) and also in Portuguese, its original language, which I am yet to learn. I want to try something new—listen to The Alchemist audiobook in Portuguese while reading the text and learn the language that way. It’s kinda like how machine learning and neural networks work, or actually it’s kinda like how the human brain works.
Just when I thought that six books was enough for my super short trip, I came across a small WHSmith bookstore at Heathrow. So I ended up buying three more books.
The Hate U Give | Angie Thomas
A young adult novel that is so intimately tied to the Black Lives Matter movement could not escape my radar. It has also been widely praised by those people whose judgement I trust the most—friends, BLM activists and many of you here on bookstagram. Also I really want to read the book before I see the movie, although from what I hear, it’s a great film adaptation that did justice to the book. I already started reading it, a review coming soon!
Black Klansman | Ron Stallworth
I heard about the movie first and then found out that it’s based on a book. In some sense it’s reminiscent of another memoir about the KKK I read a few years ago—The Klan Unmasked. But this story is, of course, in the league of its own—truly heroic, outrageously daring and outright crazy.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck | Mark Manson
I’ve seen people read this book a few times but somehow assumed it wasn’t worth my time. The title, while curious and somewhat exciting, ended up being too off-putting for my priggish self. But just as I picked it up at the airport bookstore to give it another hard look, a friendly chap stuck a conversation with me, ‘It’s a good book! My son has it.’ I smiled at him and said, ‘Well, I guess sometimes that’s all we really need in life!’ He laughed and agreed. And we parted our ways, he still chuckling to himself, and I carrying this good book to the checkout.
We did it! We went through all nine books one by one—boy, that was a doozie! I’ll definitely report back when I read them all. ¡Hasta pronto!