Foyles is a bookshop
in London, on Charing Cross Road
(113-199 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0EB to be precise). It has been around since 1906
, and stocks over 7 million titles spread haphazardly over four maze-like floors. It is similar in some respects to Soviet Russia
before 1989, in that it is a hulking
, shambling beast which is outdated and cumbersome. However, unlike Soviet Russia
, it possesses considerable charm, and is profitable. It is 'the world's greatest bookshop' in the same way that Rolls Royces are the 'best cars in the world', i.e. it's not really
the world's greatest bookshop, but it would be impolite to say so.
It's run by the Foyle family - currently Christopher Foyle, who took over after his mother, Christina Foyle, died in 1999 (her father, William Foyle, founded the bookshop). Christina had a colourful history - during World War Two she tried to prevent Adolf Hitler from burning books by buying them from him. He refused, replying that, as the books were 'immoral', he did not wish for Christina to corrupt the morals of English people.
Foyles is essentially a small village bookstore magnified to massive proportions; it smells old, the design appears to date from the 1960s - including the use of microgramma - and the shelves are stacked with a wide range of books, some of which appear to have been sitting there for forty years. Foyles is superb for finding esoteric books accidentally which will never, ever be stocked by Amazon.com. It's not very good for finding things deliberately, however. The Military and Art sections are particularly impressive, whilst any section devoted to a topic that dates mainly from after 1910 (such as Motoring or Computing) tends to be disorganised.
Foyles is also famous for its literary lunches. In the past, authors such as H.G. Wells and Evelyn Waugh have attended, although nowadays they are mostly given over to promoting new books (a recent guest was Iain Banks).
Amongst its many quirks is the fact that almost all of the workers are temporary staff who are paid the princely sum of £11,500 for the honour of working there ('I work at Foyles' opens doors in some circles); calculators and electronic adding equipment were not introduced until the late-80s (the staff had to work out prices in their heads); and until quite recently the book-buying process involved handing your chosen book to a member of staff in exchange for a bill, at which point you went to the billing desk to pay, after which you retrieved your book - as if Kafka's nightmares had been turned into a bookshop.
Surprisingly, there is a website, at http://www.foyles.co.uk/ . Perhaps inevitably, if you want to search for books by 'Larry Bond' you have to type 'Bond Larry' into the search box.