London Food & Culture

Why we love #3: Word on the Water

The wandering bookman is currently anchored at the bottom of the steps off Granary Square. But be quick, he'll be on the move again soon

An amazing floating heaven of rummageability. Photo: Tom Kihl
An amazing floating heaven of rummageability. Photo: Tom Kihl

Been for a stroll alongside the canal recently? Then you’ll have seen – or heard, as blues or jazz often emanates from its tome-strewn innards – one of the capital’s best second-hand bookshops.

Word On The Water is the nomadic baby of literary-minded Jon Privett, whose boat moors up in different watery locations in London every couple of weeks. Generally,  he can be found somewhere on the Regent’s Canal; right now he’s offering diversion for Central St Martin’s students and the hordes who pour in and out of Granary Square.

Step inside, and a roaring (and diminutive) woodburner adds to the atmosphere. Shelves of well-thumbed books in all categories fill the narrow space, and there’s a surprisingly good children’s section, too.

Paperbacks, typewriter, a roaring woodburner: what more do you want?
Paperbacks, typewriter, a roaring woodburner: what more do you want?

For north London landlubbers, Jon also has a twice-weekly stall in Archway Market. Eight years ago he was selling books from a shopping cart on Old Street when founder Stephanie Smith invited him to be her first trader – and he’s still there on Thursdays and Saturdays, in addition to the more daily business of the boat.


So support Jon and the capital’s only floating bookshop, if you can, this weekend: late last year canal authorities turned down Jon’s application for a permanent mooring in Paddington Basin, and so its future, like so many other things nowadays with cultural rather than economic capital, looks uncertain.

Top 5 reading tips by Jon

Enlightening and expanding: Jon Privett

• Reading for pleasure is a journey that never ends and takes us to unexpected places. It is a cumulative process that builds up from its own foundations.

• When we make our reading choices we furnish and decorate the rooms of our minds as well as replenishing our personal storehouse of knowledge and information.

• Reading can give us the benefit of experiences we would choose to avoid in real life, from shipwrecks to victimisation, madness and violence.

• By choosing books from beyond our own sense of identity we can gain a breadth of understanding and insight into other people and other ideologies.

• Well-chosen literature does not merely entertain, it can enlighten and expand our minds.

Follow Jon on twitter @wordonthewater

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