Guest Post from Josh Stephens
Josh Stephens is the editor of the California Planning & Development Report, a newsletter covering urban planning and land use. When he is not writing, he is a college counselor and freelance journalist. And when he’s not maintaining journalistic and academic objectivity, he enjoys places designed for humans rather than for unbridled commerce. Josh is assisting my son with his college essays and I have to say we learned more from him in an hour than we gathered from several college tours and talks and time with our own college counselor. Love the store he describes and how much it means to him. He also has an understanding of the independent bookstore world, check out his book review of Big Box Swindle.
Some years back I was corresponding with a wonderfully erudite woman named Eleanor. After braving a bedrizzled crossing of Regent’s Park I arrived at my friend’s flat and composed an email to her:
“Speaking of bookstores, I made a delightful find today: Primrose Hill Book Shop. The whole store is about the size of a dining+living room, but somehow every book seemed worth buying. I told the owner that she had a better selection than Barnes and Noble, and I meant it. It made me wonder why people are so eager to suffer those enormous stores when every neighborhood could instead have its own little Primrose Books replete with carefully chosen titles.”
While I took Eleanor on her first virtual visit to Primrose Hill through e-mail, mine own first visit had taken place years ago, when most reading still involved books and not computer screens. At age 10 I knew it as the place from which Pongo, Missis Pongo, and their 15 puppies disappeared—and to which they returned with 84 more. At that age I don’t think I considered whether Dodie Smith had set her story in real place or not.
But on that July afternoon, I found a little high street that, true to its name, overlooks Regent’s Park from a modest rise. It was exactly the sort of a place where mother or father might stroll, pushing a pram with one hand and restraining a full-of-beans firehouse dog with the other.
In the middle of this happy scene sits the blue and white face of Primrose Hill Books.
Orderly without being stuffy, and small without being cramped, Primrose Hill Books strikes an expert balance between endearing and twee, erudite and snobbish. For me, it confirmed London as a place of understatement and refinement. And, as I told Eleanor, its restraint—by not trying to be all things to all customers—reminded me that a small selection, chosen by people who care, surpasses any arrangement in which mere commercial pwroducts, printed and bound so they look like books, are allowed to overwhelm works of art and genius.
I cannot recall whether I saw The One Hundred and One Dalmatians among its titles. But I’m sure it was there somewhere, waiting for a nice family to come by and add it to their collection.
134 Regent’s Park Rd.
London NW 18XL
Tel: 020 7586 2022