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Beautiful bookshops
February 17, 2012 1:05 AM   Subscribe

With Amazon slowly taking over the publishing world and bookstores closing left and right, things can sometimes seem a little grim for the brick and mortar booksellers of the world. Before they go completely, here's a list of the 20 most beautiful bookshops in the world.
posted by PeterMcDermott (30 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've walked around to every one of those at lunchtime looking for a fresher copy of William Hazlitt's essays and they were all "Who? Lol sorry we only sell Hunger Games and those cheap Penguins but they aren't in order...none of us can be bothered. I'm only lunch now anywayz lates."

(Kidding...these are gorgeous.)
posted by tumid dahlia at 1:38 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've actually been to two of those bookstores (Cook & Book in Brussels and Shakespeare & Company in Paris), and already heard of a few of the others, like Livraria Lello in Lisbon...although I sadly hadn't heard of the SeleXYZ in Maastricht when I was there. I don't know whether this means that I'm a true bookworm or rather reflects the diminishing numbers of bookstores...

In any case, several of those bookstores reflect their current quandary. Cook & Book, for instance, is only accessorily a bookstore: it's mainly a restaurant with books thrown in (although it does have the most amazing comic book section). It also benefitted from a sweet rent deal with the local authority, which caused some scandal.
posted by Skeptic at 2:21 AM on February 17, 2012


Independent bookstores are thriving, I guess, just not in the US.

The last time I was in Mexico city, I was charmed by Conejo Blanco in the Condesa area. Now I read that they've opened two more stores in DF. So, they're expanding.

El Pendulo, which is one the top 20 most beautiful bookstores in the list, I also visited. Back then, though, they were in a smaller space. So, they're expanding.

We totally missed Rosario Castellanos but thats probably because we spent too much time in Calle Donceles, an entire street full of bookshops.
posted by vacapinta at 2:39 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also its nice to see Ler Devagar in Lisbon (Skeptic: Lello is in Porto)

Two Portuguese bookstores made it to the list!

Ler Devagar is actually part of a complex in Lisbon called LX Factory - it is a converted factory now full of design studios, web startups, and funky shops and bars and clubs. Well, worth a visit if you are in town.
posted by vacapinta at 2:45 AM on February 17, 2012


My personal favourite (not on the list) is Akateeminen Kirjakauppa in Helsinki, designed in 1962 by Alvar Aalto.
posted by daniel_charms at 3:21 AM on February 17, 2012


Here's a quick little video slideshow of Selexyz, and a shaky cameraphone vid that still gives a good idea of the layout and feeling.

But just because it's beautiful doesn't mean that horrible, horrible things don't happen there.

(Also of interest, from July, another post featuring books and Flavorwire: 10 Unconventional Bookstores For Your Browsing Pleasure.)
posted by taz at 3:26 AM on February 17, 2012


(Skeptic: Lello is in Porto)

Yeah, stupid mistake (especially as Porto dwellers, for whom Lello is a local treasure, don't generally carry Lisbon in their hearts).
posted by Skeptic at 3:41 AM on February 17, 2012


Independent bookstores are thriving, I guess, just not in the US.

The first one, Selexyz in Maastricht, is in fact part of a chain. A chain that is struggling, I might add.

I don't feel particularly sorry for them though as they've somehow gotten into the habit of leaving their more expensive books wrapped in plastic. Which defeats the whole purpose of going to a bookstore.
posted by Sourisnoire at 4:08 AM on February 17, 2012


Yeah, Selexyz can die in a fire as far as I'm concerned: over priced, doesn't have anything worth having, depressing to browse in.

Nice to see ABC on the list though, even if I still liked their old, cramped Kalverstraat store they used to be in more. Their selection has gotten worse over time.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:48 AM on February 17, 2012


My store didn't make the list, but that's cause it's only beautiful when I'm there.
posted by jonmc at 5:24 AM on February 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have a problem with book stores that look like art galleries. They make me feel like they regard books as something to be admired rather than read. Okay okay, so I do go on about books as material and aesthetic objects - but books are meant to read rather than displayed.

My personal favourite book stores are the old Paludan bookshop in Copenhagen, Denmark and the marvellous Voltaire & Rousseau in Glasgow, UK. Paludan's ground floor is now a horrid coffee shop (the coffee's crap) but last time I checked the basement was still a labyrinth of shelves with odd Found Art objects scattered about. V&R is a big, idiosyncratic pile of books with a housecat glaring at you as you attempt to find anything. Neither book stores are pretty nor of architectural value, but they inspire me to read books.
posted by kariebookish at 5:24 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


My personal favourite book stores are the old Paludan bookshop in Copenhagen, Denmark

Yeah, I was going to say that Paludan is unfortunately more cafe/restaurant than bookstore though it is pretty. Not to mention the laptop crowd.

My favorite bookstorebookstore is probably Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, UK. Comfy couches, great, lovingly curated selection of books, knowledgeable staff. Pretty and quirky too. Just a real pleasure of a bookshop.
posted by vacapinta at 5:35 AM on February 17, 2012


Going by my opinion that it's the great books in a store that makes it beautiful, here are some very beautiful spaces I've enjoyed in the U.S.: Tattered Cover (Denver), Powells (Portland OR), Strand (NYC), Elliot Bay Books (Seattle), Open Books (all poetry, Seattle), Seminary Co-Op (Chicago), Grolier (all poetry, Cambridge), St Marks (NYC), Small Press Distribution (Stockton, CA), Bear Pond Books (Montpelier, VT), Autumn Leaves (Ithaca, NY), Buffalo St Books (Ithaca, NY), Berry Hill Books (Deansboro, NY), Phoenix Books (Ithaca / Dryden, NY), Books End (Syracuse, NY), After-Words Books (Chicago) -- they may not have been designed by fancy architects, but they have the goods. Special RIP for Gotham Book Mart (NYC) and Wahrenbrock's (San Diego).
posted by aught at 6:38 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


What a range.

Some of these were gorgeous; some were not unlike a friend's basement.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:41 AM on February 17, 2012


Dallas is the homebase to the institution known as Half Price Books - a chain of stores that's spread all over the state. Once upon a time, these stores each had a character set all their own. Comfortable little overstuffed shops with chairs and unbelievable deals to be found, as you could get a book for half the cover price. As a youngster who had very little money and a good deal of trouble explaining to my parents (both avid readers, but very different tastes than mine) that there's books out there besides the branch library's new releases shelf, the dusty piles of material were alters to worship at.

These characteristics vanished, as each location spread out into the surrounding storefronts the isles became a little less crowded and the prices rose to half the cost of a new copy of the book, regardless the price on the cover. Sometime in the mid 90's their flagship location, a great beautiful maze of a store that one could easily lose hours in, moved to a giant prefab warehouse across the street. It's still possible to find many a decent book in there, but the charm is gone for good.
posted by item at 7:06 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


My store didn't make the list, but that's cause it's only beautiful when I'm there.

When I first saw this posted on a friend's Facebook feed, I did say that the Strand's high shelf space and low prices will always make it the most beautiful bookshop to me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:07 AM on February 17, 2012


Nice to see ABC on the list though, even if I still liked their old, cramped Kalverstraat store they used to be in more. Their selection has gotten worse over time.

Yeah, ABC has been one of my favourites since I shoplifted a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook out of there in '73 or '74. Completely agree about the selection though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:10 AM on February 17, 2012


oh dear god those must be hell to dust
posted by NoraReed at 7:15 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]



The first one, Selexyz in Maastricht, is in fact part of a chain. A chain that is struggling, I might add.


Yeah I happily went there when I was visiting Maastricht. It's lovely, but it would be a hundred times better if it was heaped with used books, and had a hundred years of dust and history stacked from floor to ceiling.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:43 AM on February 17, 2012


To me, a beautiful bookstore is one that has books stacked from floor to ceiling. That's it.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:00 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I did say that the Strand's high shelf space and low prices will always make it the most beautiful bookshop to me.

I was going to say that while all the featured spaces are beautiful - and this is a terrific post - only Shakes & Co appears to place the correct emphasis on nooks. Books need nooks. The Strand rates high on nooks.

Even nookier was the old Sam Weller's Books here in Salt Lake City. The picture doesn't do it justice. To get to the science fiction paperbacks was virtually an act of spelunking.

Its new location may have free parking - but without the nooks, it just won't be the same.
posted by Trurl at 8:04 AM on February 17, 2012


MacLeod's Books on Pender, in Vancouver, is a beautiful bookstore.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:11 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


KokoRyu that may be the most fantastic place on earth. I could get lost in there for days.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:15 AM on February 17, 2012


They have all sorts of cool stuff there. Closer to where I live, on Vancouver Island, there is a bookstore called the Haunted Bookstore in Sidney, BC that always seems to have whatever I'm looking for. What I mean is, I went looking for a pretty obscure book on an obscure topic, and I found it, and that's not the only time this has happened.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:28 AM on February 17, 2012


I was surprised to find Bart's Books in Ojai. It is the only one on that list that I have been to, and I think the setting, in Ojai makes it more special than the store itself.
posted by Danf at 8:48 AM on February 17, 2012


For a bookshop in a church I would recommend Leakey's in Inverness, Scotland (and perhaps the fabulously remote Achins Bookshop at Inverkirkaig).

For a great bookshop in France I would suggest the old bookshop in the village of Le Somail
posted by rongorongo at 9:03 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Somehow, I'd have expected a page about book stores to be a little more literate. "Santorini" is not a proper place name in Greece. It is a nick-name for the island Thira. (some sources will refuse to show you a place called "Santorini" in Greece at all).

Otherwise, hey. Thanks for the post. Some places to plan on seeing. Maastricht and Brussels should be easy enough.
posted by Goofyy at 9:10 AM on February 17, 2012


kariebookish: V&R is a big, idiosyncratic pile of books with a housecat glaring at you as you attempt to find anything.

I sometimes wonder how old that cat is – or rather if it's been more than one cat. I moved to Glasgow in '94, and probably visited Voltaire & Rousseau within the first couple of weeks, and even then it was a room full of tottering piles of books prowled around by a cat who evidently pissed where s/he wanted, so if it's been the same cat all along it must be positively geriatric by now, given that it was obviously very set in its ways by the time I got there.

The only thing that helped cover up the smell was the fact that, back then, you could smoke in there, which I spent plenty of time doing. There used to be ashtrays dotted about, in amongst the aforementioned tottering piles. How the place never ended up a smouldering pile of embers always amazed me.
posted by Len at 9:18 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Trurl: Some weird shit happens in those nooks, dude. I'm just saying.
posted by jonmc at 10:40 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Arghhhh. I was in Amsterdam a few months ago, and I thought my trip was perfected by my visit to their amazing, 10-floor central library. I wish I had known about the American Book Center, it looks amazing.
posted by Xere at 1:20 PM on February 17, 2012


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