ANY AMOUNT OF BOOKS FEELS LIKE WONDERLAND
Any Amount Of Books is a second-hand bookshop on Charing Cross Road. They sell rare books, first editions, and leather-bound sets across genres and have a collection of over 55,000 books.
Any Amount Of Books, 56 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0QA. Phone: 020 7836 3697
READ AVANI UDGAONKAR'S STORY
Every broken spine and well-worn edge of a used book tells its own tale. There is history in these books; their words are not the only story they tell. Holding a second-hand book feels gentle and comforting, akin to finding a trail in the woods and knowing you are not alone. Someone has walked this path before you.
What first attracted me to Any Amount Of Books were the bins filled with books on sale outside the store. Before I knew it, I had abandoned my friend and was trailing my fingers along the spines of the neatly ordered stacks. When I did finally look up, into the wide, windowed front filled with books, I knew this was someplace special.
Stepping into the store for the first time felt oddly like coming home. It’s the kind of place you walk into, get hit with the beloved scent of old books, and cannot help but smile. It has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves overflowing with beautifully kept tomes and cheerful, knowledgeable staff. There are a few people wandering up and down the store, and the division between the new and the regulars is apparent. The new talk in murmurs, as if afraid to break the intimate silence of the books around them. The regulars laugh together, occasionally calling out jokes to the owner who sits behind the desk.
There is history in these books; their words are not the only story they tell.
I immediately make my way over to their poetry section – as I always do in bookstores – which surprises me. Every bookstore has the standard collection of poetry: Yeats and Wordsworth and other canonical writers, all the same editions by the same publishers. But here, between these standard tomes, I find some of the most beautiful editions: a sturdy hardback by Sir John Suckling, a copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay, thin pamphlets and slim editions of poets I have never heard of. I’ve been collecting and reading poetry books for years and always look for volumes that are unusual or rare in some way, a task I have often found difficult. Here, it is as easy as breathing.
But I know I have found something truly special when, near the bottom of the bookshelf, tucked away into a corner, is an absolutely gorgeous little hardback edition of Thomas Hardy’s poetry in blue leather and silver lines. Though Hardy as a poet isn’t awfully rare, I cannot look away from this book. I flip it open and find that not only does it contain some of my favourite poems by him, the print is beautiful, as is the price – £3. I don’t let it go for the rest of the time I’m in the store. After having combed the poetry section, I turn my attention to the rest of the store that weaves through fiction, biographies and cookbooks alike. A locked cupboard near the billing desk contains rare and first editions that my hands itch to possess but cannot afford to. Below that are shelves of critical theory that the literature student in me both desires and dreads instantly. Every way I turn, a book catches my eye, and I’ve soon collected a stack of books I cannot live without. I make my way down to the maze-like basement and, in the low warm light with ceiling-high shelves lining my twisting path, feel like Alice, fallen down a rabbit hole into my own personal Wonderland.
I’m not sure how long I stay down there. For hours, I hunt through piles and shelves, finding myself captivated by different books in a way I haven’t been in a long time. I stay that way until finally, a hungry (and slightly exasperated) friend pulls me out, forces me to make my purchases, and literally drags me away.