Camden Lock Books
The first bookshop to be featured on the ‘Browse A Bookshop’ feature is Camden Lock Books who can be found at:
Old Street Station
4 Saint Agnes Well
London EC1Y 1BE
Open between 8.30 am & 7.00 pm [GMT] Monday to Friday, and between 12.00 noon & 5.30 pm [GMT] Saturday. Closed Sundays and Bank Holidays.
How did you come up with the name of your bookshop?
My first bookshop in 1984 was called Lot 49 books (after Thomas Pynchon’s novel). But I renamed it Camden Lock Books after a year or so. We are not located in Camden Lock, but we are a bookshop (one out of three isn’t bad). We used to be in Camden Lock. If it’s not broken, why fix it? We kept our name when moving to Old Street Station, Islington.
Who are you? Owns the bookshop? Bit of a bio and pics, please
We are Jason Burley and his amazing dream cohort of booksellers. My working life started in two libraries and an auction house (University College-London, Institute of Mechanichal Engineers and Phillips). My subsequent and last employment was about 40 years ago with Francis Edwards Antiquarian Bookshop in Marylebone.
Why a bookshop? What made you want to get into bookselling?
It was 1984 (good enough for George Orwell- a talismanic date for me). I was a bibliomane. If you love buying books, why not start your own bookshop? I had been a library assistant, an auctioneer’s cataloguer and finally a bookshop assistant- it all led to the same conclusion.
General background/history of the shop please
Our bookshop was built in the Beatles era (one of their last group photo shoots took part on our roof!). Until we converted the concrete shell with shelves made from cast off floor boards, it had been a Travel Agents (remember those!).
Do you stock a variety of genres or do you specialise?
We are a general new literary bookshop with a specialisation in photographic, local history and fashion books. We also stock and sell collectable vintage and antique books, many of them online.
Do you mainly sell new or second-hand books?
New books are predominantly what we sell, but we supplement new book sales with secondhand and rare antique books.
What makes your bookshop special?
The staff, service and layout maintain generally great reviews. The books keep on changing, as we discover amazing new titles. So we are lucky enough to be running a little gem of a bookshop now.
What’s the hardest thing about being a bookseller?
It’s hard having to read Advance Proof copies of books by authors you can’t bear.
What’s the best thing about being a bookseller?
It’s bliss reading Advance Proof copies of author’s you love.
What’s the most surprising thing about being a bookseller?
How many people seem to imply they would like to swap their job for yours, and yet independent bookshops are not massively proliferating.
What are the goals for your bookshop?
We provide a natural habitat for all species of book browsers. Our aim is simple, to make the experience of as many visitors as possible, an enjoyable one. And, by extension, for our employees to enjoy working here.
Do you think owning a bookshop has changed your life? How?
My whole identity has become subsumed by being a bookshop owner. I am my bookshop.
What book do you wish would sell better?
I wish that every book heavily discounted by Amazon and the supermarkets, sold better in all independent bookshops. But that is never going to happen.
What little-known book do you think is underrated?
Death on Credit by Louis-Ferdinand Celine is not by any means unknown. But it is underrated, in my view.
What well-known book do you think is overrated?
I read the Harry Potter books aloud to my kids and, although well received, I didn’t think they were well written.
What is your preferred reading genre?
Literary fiction or non-fiction if it concerns the book trade.
Describe your store in three words.
Cave of wonders.
What book is your greatest treasure? Why?
OMA are one of the most influential architects today. My greatest treasure is their submission to build the new Tate Modern in 1995, it is one of just 35 copies ever printed. https://tinyurl.com/y696ysp6
What was your favourite childhood book? Why?
The Hobbit opened up the long journey into reading literary fiction, that I’m still on.
If you could invite any author for a book signing at your shop, who would you choose?
Sally Rooney. I want to hear about what she’s writing now.
How do you reach potential readers/customers?
What are you reading at the moment?
In the Distance by Hernan Diaz
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from selling books?
We are all different people who appreciate reading different books.
What is the best book-related gift you’ve ever received?
Every Easter, as a child, my parents would allow me to choose a new book as an annual treat.
What is the weirdest thing a customer has ever asked for?
Balloons. That is not what I would expect to find in a bookshop.
What is the nicest thing a customer has ever said to you?
“Love you”. Well, I sometimes sell books to my partner.