40 years of rare and interesting reads at Chalk Farm’s Walden Books

David Tobin founded Walden Books in 1979. Picture: David Tobin.

David Tobin founded Walden Books in 1979. Picture: David Tobin. - Credit: Archant

David Tobin is in a reflective mood. “In an age where digital information proliferates,” he is saying, “we have found it is still possible to make a living selling carefully-selected, good quality and in-the-main inexpensive books.”

Tobin outside his shop in Chalk Farm in 1990. Picture: David Tobin.

Tobin outside his shop in Chalk Farm in 1990. Picture: David Tobin. - Credit: Archant

Tobin is the owner of Walden Books, the second-hand shop tucked away in Chalk Farm which is about to celebrate four decades of service. Having started out selling books in the Community Market on Hampstead High Street in 1977, Tobin was 26 when he opened his charming shop at 38 Harmood Street two years later.

How does it feel to celebrate a 40th anniversary? "It's great, really. A lot of very famous bookshops have closed, so it feels like some achievement to have maintained it.

"We do sell online, which helps, but we get quite a few people coming through the door. People say that young people aren't interested but I don't think that's true actually. I do think people are looking for ideas, they like the idea of older things. (To them) something from 1940 seems extraordinary, even though we've also got books from 1640."

Specialists in buying and selling rare books, Tobin's shop comprises two rooms with around "10,000 to 20,000" different reads in stock. The 66-year-old owner lives upstairs, and the shop's forecourt features plenty of bargain books for passers by to browse.

Walden Books will celebrate its 40th birthday with live music and drinks on August 31. Picture: Davi

Walden Books will celebrate its 40th birthday with live music and drinks on August 31. Picture: David Tobin. - Credit: Archant

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Tobin has endeavoured to offer "good quality books on most subjects" throughout his career, and you'll likely find row upon row of reads about history of art, architecture, literature, philosophy, psychology and, of course, good-quality fiction.

The name Walden comes from a book published by the American essayist Henry Thoreau in 1854. "He was a revolutionary," explains Tobin, "and most people know him for living in a hut near Concord, Massachusetts.

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"He tried to grow his own food and be close to nature - to create an alternative life. He was a very great advocate of anti-slavery, and to some extent he keeps me in touch that life is more important than business, and people are more important than business.

"I first heard of Walden in the early 1970s and read it when I was 22 or 23. Thoreau influenced Ghandi and Martin Luther-King, he believed in non-resistance. He was locked up for refusing to pay his tax which went to (funding) a war which he disapproved of. That's inspiring really; that people are prepared to stand up to oppression.

"I don't claim to put this stuff in to practice - it's just a compass to point one in the right direction!"

Tobin is planning a shindig at his bookshop on August 31, where his friend's band will play some music and a few drinks will be handed out. Customers both old and new are welcome to come along.

Despite a common conception that young people these days are glued to their phones, and their iPads, and their Playstations, Tobin thinks this generation are actually starting to read more. Why is that?

"I don't know, I think people might be fed-up of instant communication. Books represent something much longer, and I think the design of older books is quite often much nicer and on better quality paper. Also, I think people who are dissatisfied with the modern world, politics or society are interested in people who have had similar feelings from the past. There is an interest in ideas and how people from the past expressed themselves."

Looking to the future of Walden Books, Tobin says: "I'd just like to let things carry on for a year or two. It is physically very demanding, and the online side needs another sort of concentration. But if my health allows, I'd just like to keep the doors open.

"I'm not a goals-orientated person; just do what you do to the best of your ability."

Walden Books can be found at 38 Harmood Street, NW1 8DP. For more information, click here.

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