We were delighted to launch our new series of Slightly Foxed biography events in association with the Biographers’ Club at Hatchards Booksellers on Piccadilly this summer; the inaugural event was an engrossing evening with author Bart van Es in conversation with Rachel Cooke. Hatchards has supported and stocked Slightly Foxed since we first began, so it’s a great pleasure to further our partnership with this literary institution and hold events within its distinguished book-lined walls, not least because it’s an opportunity for us to visit one of our favourite bookshops.
Tables laden with book displays, vases of flowers and choice literary quotes writ large welcome customers as they enter from the hustle of Piccadilly, while knowledgeable booksellers provide recommendations and guidance throughout its many floors – as well as beautifully gift-wrapped parcels with signature dark-green ribbon if a book-buyer so desires.
We had the pleasure of talking to Mark Banting, events manager and bookseller, over a glass of wine in the bookshop following the first of our biography events earlier this month.
Please tell us about your bookshop. What makes it special?
Hatchards is London’s oldest bookshop. Having been established in 1797 by John Hatchard, it has been a literary and cultural landmark on one of the finest and most famous streets in the world, Piccadilly, since Georgian times.
Our customers have always been the literary, political, artistic and social lions of their day and, since its inception, there has been a link between the fine booksellers of Hatchards and the royal households of Britain and Europe. We’re honoured to hold three royal warrants.
Much has changed through the course of two centuries, but we hopefully continue Mr Hatchard’s commitment to the very best literature and our loyalty to both the authors and their readers – our customers who come in for our recommendations on fiction and history, children’s books and beyond. Again, following Mr Hatchard’s example, we publish our very own special limited editions, most recently The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W. E. Bowman.
We have also opened a sibling Hatchards at St. Pancras International. It’s a great time to be in the books business!
What first inspired you to become a bookseller?
There’s something about working with books, discussing them with fellow readers, sharing and recommending titles new and old, that makes me feel I’m on the front foot of what’s happening in the world. Good books are thought-provoking, well-crafted and stimulating acts of communication, positing ideas, shaping knowledge and offering stories that illuminate the world around us – who wouldn’t be a bookseller?!
What are your all-time favourite reads and why?
Virginia Woolf’s novels are right the top of the list and, from a Hatchards perspective, I would have to mention Mrs Dalloway, in which the eponymous heroine famously looks in at the bookshop’s windows.
Who would be your dream bookshop party guests?
Virginia Woolf (of course), Edith Sitwell and Nancy Cunard.
What is your favourite bookshop anecdote?
It was a December day and I asked a lady if I could help find whatever she was looking for: ‘Murder!’ she said. ‘I do like a good murder at Christmas!’ and so I steered her towards the cosy crime shelves!
What are your top picks for autumn 2019?
Elif Shafak’s 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World is, I would suggest, one of the essential ‘must-read’ novels of the year; Sarah Watling’s Noble Savages: The Oliver Sisters looks to be a glorious biography; there are some outstanding histories coming up, including William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy on the East India Company, and I can’t wait to read William Feaver’s biography The Lives of Lucian Freud: Youth.
Tel: 020 7439 9921