Ah, bookstores: the scent of paper, glue and ink hanging heavy in the air. The millions of words-turned-ideas neatly tucked under inviting covers. The hushed tones and focused energy, like in a church, of reverential patrons.
There’s just something about being in the presence of so many books representing so many synapses of thought that is so viscerally unique. But with Amazon’s continued reign, and a President that proudly declares he doesn’t read, will the species of physical shops selling bound words finally go extinct?
We say hell, no. So yeah we’re obsessed with bookshops, even if they are on decline, especially because of these incredible bookstores to get lost in.
Prepare to have your faith restored once again in humanity’s insane ability to create.
CAFEBRERÍA EL PÉNDULO
Mexico City, Mexico
Go for the huge selection of English titles and awesome architecture. Stay for the literary-themed cocktails and live music or poetry readings at Bukowski’s Piano Bar inside the Zona Rosa location (Calle Hamburgo 126, Cuauhtemoc).
SHAKESPEARE AND CO.
Besides being featured in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris flick, Shakespeare and Co. is probably the ultimate ‘holy land’—kind of like the Kaaba or Vatican, but for literary icons. From Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein to modern day Zaide Smith, this Left Bank bookstore has been a bohemian refuge since 1960. Sunday tea, as well as regular book readings and writers’ meetings, are offered.
BOOKS FOR COOKS
Consider yourself a foodie? This indie bookshop is your literary paradise. The chef-owned Australia’s Books for Cooks offers a mix of out-of-print classics, celebrity-chef recipe books and foodie biographies and travelogues. So, whether you’re in the mood to make a New Mexican or a Newfoundland dinner, you’ll probably find a cookbook to satisfy those cravings.
Because this bibliophile’s collection was so huge, Richard Bartinsale started storing (and selling) his books on shelves outside his home in 1964. This evolved into America’s largest open-air bookstore. The elaborate maze of mostly used books is fun to browse while getting your daily dose of Vitamin D. Are many of the jacket covers sun-bleached? Yeah, but that’s all part of that cool factor of scoring a book at Bart’s.
Even if you’re not the spiritual type, this bookstore is a religious experience. Set in a former 13th century gothic-style cathedral, Dominicanen, with its giant stone pillars, alcoves as reading nooks, and cafe set in the choir well, is a…heavenly experience.
EL ATENEO GRAND SPLENDID
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Formerly a theater that hosted tango performances of greats such as Carlos Gardel, El Ateneo now sells tango music and books—many by local poets and writers. The art deco architecture—ornate ceiling, dramatic balconies and red curtained-stage (now a cafe)—encourages quiet reflection, be it reading or just admiring the space.
THE LAST BOOK STORE
Los Angeles, CA
What career do you turn to if you’ve only sold stuff on eBay? Well, of course, a bookstore. In 2005, Josh Spencer decided to focus on hawking his true passion. Located in downtown LA, The Last Bookstore—inside a former bank— is now the largest independent bookstore in California, selling everything from rare vintage books to records. And even if you don’t read, the shop has plenty of Insta-worthy book sculptures.
LIBRERIA ACQUA ALTA
No need to worry, this shop will go under from the city’s one-day apocalyptic floods. Acqua Alta (high water) keeps their books in bathtubs, canoes and gondolas. They sell both American and Italian classics, both used and new condition, in genres such as comic books, art, cinema, sports and food. Don’t miss taking the staircase made of books for a sweet view of the canal.
A former bomb shelter, Avante-Garde has a serious collection of humanities and social science books, a coffee shop and plenty of chairs (over 300) to pull up and plop down for some R(ead)&R. It’s a hotspot for tourists and local students alike…but don’t expect a ton of non-Chinese language books.
CITY LIGHTS BOOKS
San Francisco, CA
Founded in 1953 by college professor Peter D Martin and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights Books is legendary for two reasons. One, it was basically the social club of the Beat generation authors (Kerouac and Ginsberg) and two, it’s the first all-paperback bookshop in the U.S. Don’t miss a stop at Vesuvio Cafe across the street—like the Paris’ Café de Flore, a historical writer and artist hangout.
Armchair journeyman or modern day Columbus, this Covent Garden bookstore, opened in 1853, is for all those wandering-but-not-lost souls out there. It has maps and maps for days—from huge National Geographic maps spanning the floor on all three levels and vintage maps dating back to the 1800s. Plus, there are plenty of travel books, magazines, guides and travel writer talks. After all, it is the world’s largest map and travel bookshop.
POWELL’S CITY OF BOOKS
Out of sheer size (and cool factor), we can’t leave out the largest indie chain of bookstores on the planet. Grab a free map provided by the shop to navigate the collection that spans several floors and an entire city block. Don’t miss some damn fine third-wave coffee at the cafe and the “vintage” computers exhibit.
This might be the only bookstore in the world with the bolas to charge an entrance fee. But hey—the century-old neo-gothic bones are amazing. Plus, the shop allegedly inspired J.K. Rowling to write Harry Potter. Be prepared to line up and pay five euros to darken their doors. Or, conjure a cutting-in-line spell and book in advance online.
New York City, NY
Possibly the world’s only speakeasy bookstore, Brazenhead Books is hidden away in an apartment—albeit different ones, due to evictions, over the years. You either know the whereabouts or you book an appointment through the website’s contact form (be very persistent). However, it’s worth doing some sleuthing to tour Michael Seidenberg’s home and bookstore filled with rare, pristine books. Check out Brazenhead’s Instagram to find out when the next poetry night is.
Bonus: If you happen to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina, look for a tank-turned-library. Usually parked in neighborhoods that don’t have access to education or libraries, the art installation, by Raul Lemesoff, is called,Weapon of Mass Instruction. Books are free, take or donate what you will.