Beautiful And Bizarre Bookstores Of The World

bookstores
Wherever I travel, I always find myself drawn to bookstores. They’re a pleasant comfort zone when far from home. I love hunting for local authors and books of local interest while chatting with the people who frequent these places. I’ve found that bibliophiles are pretty much the same whether they’re American, Ethiopian, Arab, Tibetan or whatever.

One bookstore I haven’t shopped in (but would love to) is the Shah Mohammed Book Company, the subject of the famous “Bookseller of Kabul.” Yes, books and adventure travel go together, as Peretz Partensky showed when he took this photo. I’ve been to plenty of other bookstores in out of the way places, though, and enjoyed them all, like the dusty bookshop in Harar that saved me with some timely Tolstoy when I’d run out of things to read, or the Tibetan bookshop in McLeod Ganj where the owner holds forth on Asian politics. Whenever I’m in a bookstore, I feel at home.

Of course, I also frequent bookstores when I really am home. One favorite here in Santander in northern Spain is Librería Gil. Like all good indie bookshops, it has a knowledgeable staff and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. The kids’ section is well stocked and as soon as we enter my son grabs a book and plops down in the little red plastic chair in the corner, only to emerge when we tell him we’re leaving. The bookstore hosts lots of readings and even had a guest appearance by Geronimo Stilton, a time-traveling mouse detective who is hugely popular with Spanish kids.

Upstairs is a large exhibition space filled with customers’ photos of bookstores around the world. Some are old, some are ultra-modern, and then there’s that one in Indonesia that’s floating on a barge. The best of the ever-growing collection are being turned into posters and make for a fun viewing. You can see the world of readers all in one room. It inspired me to scour the web to bring you a gallery of beautiful and odd bookstores from all around the world.

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Do you have a favorite bookstore I missed? Tell us about it in the comments section. To navigate the world of books, there’s a handy online Bookstore Guide that has plenty of good, detailed reviews of stores in more than a hundred cities, mostly in Europe. They’re always looking for new additions, so tell them too!
bookstores
[Photos by Sean McLachlan featuring some of the posters in the exhibition]

Overlooked London: The Bookshop Theatre At The Calder Bookshop

LondonWelcome to “Overlooked London,” the first in an occasional series on the lesser-known sights of one of the world’s greatest cities!

Anyone who loves theater will love London. From glitzy musicals to serious drama or weird experiments, London’s theater scene has it all. One place that has become a shrine of sorts for alternative theatergoers is The Bookshop Theatre. By day it’s the Calder Bookshop, stocking fiction, philosophy and plays. At night, the stacks are cleared away and it hosts plays, movies, lectures and other events.

The space is tiny. When I attended a play by Samuel Beckett, the 25 or so people in the audience filled the back room. The actors were so close I could have touched them. It was like being part of the performance.

The theater was founded by John Calder, who has been at the forefront of London’s theater and independent publishing scene for decades. Through his publishing company he helped popularize Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs and many other leading figures in the literary and theater world. On more than one occasion he had to fight for the right to publish controversial authors – fights he always won.

His theater reflects that scrappy, independent outlook by hosting experimental plays, lectures about avant-garde literature and, to commemorate the anniversary of the Falklands War, a documentary on British Imperialism.

The Bookshop Theatre is located at 51 The Cut, near the more famous theaters of The Old Vic and The New Vic. It’s served by Waterloo and Southwark Tube stations and there are plenty of dining opportunities nearby. So if you like your theater experience a little more intimate, check out their website and see what’s on.

Will Christopher Robin’s bookshop be saved?

Christopher Robin, Pooh
A couple of days ago we reported that a bookshop once owned by the real Christopher Robin was closing.

The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, England, was opened in 1951 by Christopher Robin Milne, son of Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne. The author used his son as a character in his books. Christopher Robin died in 1996, and rising rents and a slump in sales are forcing the current owners to close in September.

Now the local paper Dartmouth Chronicle reports that people are rallying to save the shop. The Dartmouth and Kingswear Society, a heritage preservation group, is suggesting the bookshop be continued as a nonprofit community enterprise. Considering the shop’s historical significance, they might be able to get some government funding, although with the current fiscal situation that will be a tough fight.

TV personality Jonathan Dimbleby has also joined the growing call for the shop to be saved.

I hope they succeed. Independent bookshops are places for readers to mingle and discover titles they didn’t know they were looking for. They add character to their neighborhoods and can be a significant tourist draw, as The Harbour Bookshop was. I’ve seen way too many beloved bookshops close. New York City in the 1980s was filled with funky little independents, now mostly gone due to the Big Apple’s soaring rents. Here in Oxford, Waterfield’s closed. They still have an online presence but it’s not the same as popping in before a day’s work at the university. It’s been replaced by Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe. I wonder if the tourists who swarm in there realize this “Ye Olde Shoppe” is less than two years old!

It’s not just bookshops that are affected. Small businesses on English High Streets are dying and being replaced with chains, homogenizing and depersonalizing the places where people live and shop. Here’s hoping the campaigners can preserve some of Dartmouth’s character.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Christopher Robin’s bookshop closing

A bookshop opened by the original Christopher Robin of Winnie the Pooh fame will close, the BBC reports.

The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, England, was opened in 1951 by Christopher Robin Milne, son of Pooh author A.A. Milne. The bookshop became a destination for Pooh fans, even though Christopher Robin often hid from visitors. He died in 1996, and the current owners say that a slump in sales and a rise in rent has led them to close.

This sad story is being repeated in bookshops all over Europe and North America. As sales move online, bookstores are having a tougher time dealing with the economic crisis than most businesses. Many towns are being left without an independent bookshop, as indeed Dartmouth will be once The Harbour Bookshop shuts its doors. Some towns don’t have any bookstores left at all. Earlier this year, Laredo, Texas, with a population of a quarter of a million, saw its last bookstore close.

That’s sad. Bookstores add to the cultural value of their neighborhood and can even be tourist attractions. Gadling’s own David Farley has written about why bookstore tourism matters. Books make great souvenirs or gifts. Looking through my own shelves I often recall the trips where I bought certain titles.

So the next time you hit the road, please, drop into the local bookshop. You’ll be doing good for the local economy and you’ll bring home a nice memento of your trip.

[Photo of courtesy Celine Nadeau]