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My Favorite Bookish (and Capacious) Totes
Meet the book lady's favorite accessory.
Forget Chloe. And Longchamp. And most definitely Prada. Book people adore a much simpler accessory that rarely costs more than $20: the literary-themed canvas tote. No joke. I’ve come to rely on several in my collection and not just as carryalls to haul groceries home.
So while I rock a boho purse when I’m running errands or going out, I use my favorite canvas totes to schlep all my writing gear from one workplace to another. Inside is my laptop, notebooks, pens, headphones, the novel I’m reading. And no surprise, my bag almost always has a bookish theme. Tote bags make a statement, even if it’s like wearing a sticker on your back that screams: NERD! Ha! Honestly, though, I feel supremely cool when I carry these around.
When I was in London, I found myself reaching for bookstore totes as souvenirs. They’re easy to pack in a suitcase, and I knew I’d use them when I returned home. Little did I know that some of these book-themed tote bags are so popular, you can buy them on Amazon and Etsy, rather than the bookshops themselves. Regardless, if you’re a book worm, I think you’re going to love my favorites.
This tote is sold in several colors, and they hang just behind the checkout counter at Daunt in Marylebone. (The bookstore itself is a stunner, and I’ll try to devote a separate issue to the Best London Bookshops.) I loved the forest green because the bookshop clerk said it was the official color of the shop. That classic British racing green is familiar to me from writing about the 1960s, too, so I knew it would remind me of my travels. Best of all, this tote is especially roomy. I can throw the kitchen sink in it. Winner!
This is my second favorite of all of my writerly tote bags, but you can’t just buy it at a shop. Like a true bibliophile, you will have to become a paying supporter of LitHub. It wasn’t a reach for me to pay for their content because I’ve come to rely on their excellent book coverage. But I have to admit, a part of why I paid to support them was that I really wanted this tote bag. Again, this bag is sturdy, roomy and it doesn’t get dirty easily. Plus, who doesn’t love carting around a little Didion attitude? I always feel like a rebel with this on my shoulder.
Here’s the thing about The Strand: They have an entire art department that designs the iconic images on their beloved tote bags. Today, they have dozens of designs. I love looking at the clever illustrations in the world famous bookshop, and the Nine Lives Totes are my fave. But if you can’t make it to New York, they sell most of their inventory online. The Strand’s totes have very sturdy straps, which is necessary when your cargo starts weighing more than you, and they’re very durable. I’m always tossing mine roughly on tables and benches without problem.
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A decade ago, artist Jane Mount’s paintings of books lined up in rows exploded in popularity. At least five years ago, maybe more, I picked up one of her Ideal Bookshelf totes that features classic novels, like Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, among others. I have no idea where I bought it, but I’ve used it so much that it was too grubby to take a photo. Still, I adore it. The hand-painted image of the book spines is colorful and inspiring and it always feels like a warm cup of tea when I tote it around. Kind of like a sweater you’ve worn so much that it pilled, but you continue to wear it anyway.
Shakespeare and Company’s Tote Bag
Ok, so hear me out. I think we can all agree that Shakespeare and Company has become a bit ruined thanks to everyone wanting to pose with it for their social media account. Most days of the week, at least in summer, there are lines of people waiting outside just to get photos. (Not to say that they’re not buying books, too.) Regardless, the iconic Parisian bookstore will always carry a bit of magic for me. I visited for the first time when I was sixteen, those years when you’re just beginning to understand that you decide the direction of your life. Walking through the aisles and being a young American in Paris, I felt incredibly sophisticated — and the shop always made me feel as though books weren’t just something you read, they were something that made you who you are. For that reason, I adore my tote from there. (Honestly, I bought this rather recently just because…)