When buying books, my first port of call is usually Amazon. Being both a bookworm and an English student, acquiring books is something I have a knack for and I would be lying if I said that Amazon hadn’t contributed to the development of my obsession: the website is quick, it’s convenient and its got every book under the sun.
However, the disadvantage of using the Internet is that it’s a lot harder to browse. Sure, this could be a good thing for incurable bibliophiles, but I think I feel the same about shopping online as some people do about reading a Kindle rather than a real book: it’s doesn’t always feel quite right. Clicking “ok”, waiting for a confirmation email, and then being told to wait for 3-5 working days is all a bit dull and anticlimactic in comparison to picking up your book in a real shop, filled with hundreds of other books that smell of paper and dust. Often the bookshops themselves are old, pretty and quirky buildings. The five following examples I’ve picked out are not only testament to the joy of real book shopping, but also to my belief that Amazon will never quite manage to conquer the world. Or at least not entirely.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris
Established in 1951 by George Whitman, the Shakespeare and Company bookshop is something of a bohemian refuge for writers and literature lovers. The small wooden interior is lined from floor to ceiling with crooked book shelves and visitors browse in a maze of tiny rooms. Classes, workshops, Sunday tea meetings and poetry readings are held upstairs. With its chairs, antique mirrors, and even a wishing well, the shop seems to be crammed with more life than should be possible in a shop. Shakespeare and Company was originally manned by passing writers and artists, and as long as they read a book every day and worked a few hours in the shop, Mr. Whitman would offer them a bed for the night (tucked between the shelves of the shop) and sanctuary, so that they could write and mingle with likeminded people. Currently, the shop is run by Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, and although she has brought in effects that allow the bookshop to sit more comfortably in the 21st century, such as a card machine, telephone and a website, the shop has lost little of its old-fashioned charm. Where else could it belong, then, but the Latin quarter of Paris, a place known for its creativity and eccentricity.
Livraria Lello, Portugal
A five minute walk from downtown Porto brings you to one of the most ornate bookshops in the world. Most of the bookshops on this list are buildings that have been converted, but Livraria Lello was purpose-built from Day One to cater for the most ardent literature nerds. It may not have the history that shops such as Shakespeare and Company have, but it has been making up for this through its grandiosity since 1906, when it opened to the public for the first time. The interior is adorned with stained glass, carved wood and pressed copper, and the neo-gothic design is complemented by the winding, red carpeted staircase that arcs through the building. With the quantity of wood, copper and deep red colours around, the shop could have risked ending up being a bit dingy and dark, but thanks to the magnificent stained glass skylight the shop actually has a warm, inviting glow. Livraria Lello mainly stocks Portuguese books, but the shop is worth a visit even if you don’t speak a word of it, just so that you can admire the architecture on show that makes for an afternoon out in itself.