10 best bookshops in the world
Published 08/06/2009 | 15:39
From 18 miles of books in New York to a feast for the eyes in Singapore, Derbhile Dromey lists her top literary hangouts.
1 AMSTERDAM AMERICAN BOOK CENTER
The American Book Center in Amsterdam is home to one of the largest collections of English literature in continental Europe. Its rickety shelves, spread over four floors, are crammed with American masterpieces from the likes of Hemmingway and Flannery O’Connor. If non-fiction is more your buzz, there are dozens of lavishly illustrated books on subjects such as art and design. ABC also runs The Treehouse, a series of events designed to nourish literary souls from the roots upwards. The books are on the expensive side, as it’s hard to circumvent the cost of importing English- language books to mainland Europe, but the quality of the selection should make an investment worthwhile.
Visit: Spui 12; www.abc.nl
2 PARIS SHAKESPEARE AND COMPANY
Marxism is generally regarded as a failed experiment yet it still exists in its most utopian form in a corner of Paris. For years, George Whitman (below left), the charismatic owner of Shakespeare and Company Bookshop on Paris’s Left Bank, offered free beds in the shop to any browser who needed somewhere to stay. All they had to do in exchange was help out in the shop and read a book a day. The shop has an Irish connection. George Whitman bought it in 1951, but in an earlier incarnation, its owner was Sylvia Beach, publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses.
Whitman finally retired at the age of 95, but young writers, known as ‘tumbleweeds’, still man the shop in exchange for a bed. Visitors can also drop in for Sunday tea, literary festivals and other themed events.
Visit: 37 Rue Bûcherie, Paris; www.shakespeareandcompany.com
3 MUMBAI SMOKER’S CORNER
Smoker’s Corner started life as a library and that ethos of making books freely available to the masses still prevails at the bookshop.
You can pick up a classic for just 75c and regular customers can get books on credit. It has the feel of a roadside book stall, with a sandwich board at the front listing special offers. Owner Suleiman Botawala bought the shop from a tobacconist in 1954, hence its name.
He prides himself on the personal relationship he strikes up with his customers. Many of the regulars call him ‘uncle’. The books are piled together in glorious disarray, giving you the heady sense that you never know what gems you may find.
Visit: 4A Botawala Chambers, Pherozeshah Mehta Road, Mumbai. No website but location available on www.maps.google.com
4 CAPE TOWN CLARKE’S BOOKSHOP
Southern Africa’s bloody and turbulent history has been chronicled with great eloquence by its authors and historians. Clarke’s Bookshop, established in 1956 at the height of the apartheid regime, offers its visitors an opportunity to learn about this history, with its fascinating collection of regional fiction and non-fiction. It has a breathtaking range of new and second-hand books and is unashamedly specialist in its orientation, with an excellent range of out-of-print titles and books on Southern African art. Learn about the culture of individual countries, such as Namibia or Zimbabwe, or discover the hidden history of South Africa’s Jewish and coloured populations.
Visit: 211 Long Street; www.clarkesbooks.co.za
5 SAN FRANCISCO CITY LIGHTS BOOKSHOP
Follow the steps of Ginsberg and Kerouac and head to City Lights Bookshop in the Italian-dominated Mission District of San Francisco.
City Lights is known for its leftwing leanings and passion for literature. Books are classified under novel headings such as Commodity Aesthetics and Ruritarianism. It also has a large spirituality section, a hangover perhaps from San Francisco’s hippy heyday.
Fiction-lovers are well-catered for, with a selection of authors from various ethnic groups. As you browse, literary types float by with flyers advertising local events. City Lights is a big shop full of corners and you should be able to find one to lose yourself in. Chairs are dotted around the shops, with signs inviting you to take a seat and read. This gives the shop an inviting atmosphere, despite its size. The exchange rate against the dollar may have weakened, but you should still be able to find a paperback for around €10.
Visit: 261 Columbus Ave; www.citylights.com
6 SINGAPORE BASHEER GRAPHIC BOOKS
This lovely shop is a feast for the eyes. It’s full of the sort of lavishly illustrated books that look impressive on a coffee table.
Basheer was an itinerant bookseller who brought his books directly to his customers. Now the shop is based in the heart of Singapore’s shopping district, but it has retained its independence of spirit. You can pick up a book on any aspect of the visual arts, from photography to Chinese calligraphy. Singapore’s ‘East meets West’ vibe is reflected in the range of artistic disciplines featured at Basheer’s. You’re likely to find a book on Tokyo Shinzu Graphics nestling beside a tome on the true colours of France. Bring a fat wallet though — titles can cost as much as €67.
Visit: Units 04-19, Bras Basah Complex, BLK 231, Bain Street, (also has stores in Malaysia and Indonesia; www.basheergraphic.com
7 NEW ZEALAND OCTAGON BOOKS
At Octagon Books, dust dances in the air. A cuckoo clock chimes the hour. The shelves are full of comfortably musty tomes, solid to the touch, with stitched spines. The history of New Zealand is covered region by region and considerable space is also dedicated to the classics and to military history. If you’re interested in sampling New Zealand fiction by authors such as Emily Perkins, there’s plenty to choose from. Despite the broadness of the selection, the shop is easy to navigate, with the books neatly shelved in serrated rows.
Octagon is full of curios — one book I picked up was bookmarked with a greeting card from April 1956. A trip to Octagon is like stepping back in time, to a 50s English village. Yet, despite its antique feel, Octagon has only been open since 1993. There are plenty of bargains but, be warned, this shop closes at 2pm on Saturdays.
Visit: 32 Moray Place, Dunedin; a short film about Octagon can be seen on http://dunedin.busine ssonfilm.co.nz/clients/octagon books/
8 LONDON REVIEW BOOKSHOP
If you like to combine a love of food with a love of literature, the London Review Bookshop is the place for you. Set in the heart of Bloomsbury since 2003, it stocks a wide range of fiction, non-fiction and rare editions. Bloomsbury has a long reputation as a hub for bohemian, high-brow types. You can browse through books on literary criticism, gender and racial equality and folk tales. While you read, sample a slice of delicious fig tart from the in-store cake shop, or mingle with like-minded booklovers at their late-night wine evenings. Visit: 14 Bury Place; www.lrbshop.co.uk
9 SYDNEY/ MELBOURNE BOAT BOOKS
Boat Books has a strong whiff of the outdoors. It’s an unpretentious place where rugged, nautical types feel at home. It stocks a comprehensive range of books catering for beginners and professionals alike. There are some tales of adventures at sea, but the emphasis is on the craft of sailing. If you decide you want to explore the Australian coast, the shop has a range of comprehensive maps to guide your path. It also has posters showcasing Australia’s rich wildlife.
There are some very expensive toys here, such as model ships and compasses, but the books themselves are reasonable.
Visit: 109 Albert Street, Brisbane; 214 St Kilda Road, Melbourne; 21 Albany Street, Crow’s Nest, Sydney; www.boatbooks-aust.com.au
10 NEW YORK STRAND BOOKSHOP
The Strand Bookshop, located in the now-gentrified Greenwich Village, promises 18 miles of books and some of the best bargains in the world.
Shelves of books, stretching as far as the eye can see, soar up to the high ceilings. Every discipline of the arts is catered for, from ceramics to industrial design. There is a wide selection of Americana and books from every period in history. The classical music in the background adds to the cool grandeur of the atmosphere. When you’ve handed over your bucks, they’ll pass you your books in a custommade Strand canvas bag. Every book is reduced, most to half price. Carts outside offer quality books for 48c and $1. The bouncer-style security guards will ask you to remove your backpack because of the narrowness of the aisles.
Visit: 12th Street and Broadway; www.strandbooks.com