Admit it, we have it good. From the Upper Radcliffe Camera’s elegantly sweeping ceiling to the futuristic maze of tunnels in the Bodleian – Oxford is an idyllic reading space. However, beyond the city of dreaming spires’ confines lies a myriad of bookshops, offering the opportunity to uncover an obscure 18th century tome in a gondola, or browse best-sellers in what used to be a civil servant’s parking space. So, next time you are compiling a travelling itinerary and deliberating between the Louvre or Notre Dame, spare a thought for the humble bookshop.
1) Liberia Acqua Alta, Venice. If you are a fan of Borges’ “The Library of Babel”, then you will find this bookshop’s labyrinth of interconnected rooms enchanting. Overflowing with titles which peep up from inside gondolas and plaster the walls, this eccentric reading-space is a kaleidoscope of colour, a microcosm of the city’s dreamy aesthetic.
2) El Ateneo, Buenos Aires. Originally built as the teatro Grand Splendid, this magnificent theatre-turned-bookshop is adorned with draping red curtains and an intricately frescoed ceiling. Whether browsing the theatre boxes for Decadence literature or just simply admiring its majestic interior, the store brings Shakespeare’s line – “All the world’s a stage” -to life.
3) Librarie Avant-Garde, Nanjing. In a complete antithesis to El Ataneo’s opulence, visitors to this site are confronted with a harsh yellow-striped road. The building, which has been used both as a bomb shelter and a government carpark, is now transformed into a bookshop. Never has a place been more apt to read modernist classics by T. S. Eliot and Nabokov, within an architectural design that (just like the avant-gardes) recycles old worn material for new meaning.
4) Shakespeare & Company, Paris. The motto “Be Not Inhospitable to Strangers Lest they Be Angels in Disguise” placed above its reading library makes this revered bookshop a haven for the weary and homesick traveller. As well as the shop’s ramshackle assortment of antiquarian collectibles and overhanging chandeliers, it is a patron of impoverished artists. Writers are to be found sleeping in beds tucked between the shelves, in exchange for helping out around the store.
5) Topping and Company Bookseller, Bath. If the £2.78 left in your student account after an expensive term won’t quite stretch to international flights, then Topping and Company provides a local experience of literary heaven. With quaint wooden ladders, freshly-brewed coffee and shelf after shelf of novels, this quintessentially English store is the perfect place to pick up a copy of Pride and Prejudice in Austen’s adored city.