Around the world in bookstores
This coffee-table book is a bibliophile's output in passion and patience. "The classical and comfortable, the modern and innovative, small shops and large enterprises all have their places in this collection. Each shop is a paradise for the book lover." In hand is a remarkably immersive page-turner, prompting one to target a city, on the basis of the book shop covered in this global literary survey. The trek or track within an urban setting is located for the hard-core bibliophile. An Index of shops is available with snapshot, address and website. Travel destinations can take on a literary focus; as it may for iconic sights, culinary delights, sporting spots, water or mountain attractions or wellness being locales. Mentioned bookstores could be discovered gems in one's travel trail, providing instant pleasure and the release of pent-up wanderlust.
The introductory chapter traces the history of writing, books, publishing and a closing paragraph: "Whether one speaks in culturally pessimistic tones of the death of the classical book trade or whether and how books and the retail bookshops in conjunction with the new reading media and the online trade can survive remains to be seen." Any bibliophile reading this review will well ponder over these lines.
Looking backwards, London opened in 1828 the WH Smith chain of bookshops. Back in 1848, the firm set up its first railroad station bookshop and today operates at airports and railway stations globally. It was WH Smith which introduced the internationally recognized ISBN book numbering system. In 1903, the Foyles book chain opened in London. In Paris, Shakespeare and Company opened in 1961. Such matters included in the introductory chapter are nuggets of information for book lovers. Coincidentally, in September 2022, I happened to step into WH Smith and Foyles in London. In Paris, standing before the Notre Dame cathedral while taking in the sky-seeking twin towers and its magnificent frontage; one could only feel sadness and a sense of loss at the devastation of the April 2019 fire which destroyed its roof and spire. Across the River Seine on the Left Bank, I caught a glimpse of a favourite Parisian literary haunt—Shakespeare and Company. Time did not permit a visit, another loss. I managed the WH Smith bookstore on Rue de Rivoli near the Place de la Concorde in Paris. I have frequented this bookstore since childhood. Windows carried portraits of the recently deceased Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. These remain meaningful literary destinations.
The editor's selection may be divided into the 'Olde World' genre of conventional and traditional bookstores and those that are uniquely modern. Midway are some with osmosis of the new and classic setup. China and the United States host most bookstores, with six cities each featuring chosen locations. Chinese cities host most of the cutting edges in interior design. 'Apodon' in Xiamen appears stunning with its curved and slanting off-white bookshelves with trailing foliage dropping from top shelves. Beijing hosts 'Kubrick' where books appear in boxes and shelves, all in a colour palette of green and black. All remain stunning canvases in an innovative perspective. A paradise of play and learning, a riot of shapes and colour and unstructured space is 'Kids Republic.'
New York city has the most entries regarding coveted inclusion in North America. The Rizzoli Bookstore opened in 1964 in midtown Manhattan. It carries the classic charm of traditional book stores; wooden facades, shelves, columns and tables. Opening in 1927, is the legendary literary outlet Strand Bookstore which holds 29 kilometres of books on four levels. I think I did pay a quick visit some decades back. The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles is housed in a building constructed in 1914. Its appeal lies in its leather-worn sofas, more tables as display units than shelving and even gramophones occupying aesthetic space. To the contrary, Project Space in Vancouver, Canada offers "an artist-run center operating as a project space, bookshop, publisher, programming space and studio, examines, challenges and supports this redefinition process."
Spectacular is the bookstore in Buenos Aires El Ateneo Grand Splendid; a former opera house built in 1903 and now shelved with books in a massive remodelling exercise. The image alone leaves one speechless. To the contrary, Livraria Cultura in Sao Paulo offers contemporary technology and traditional books within a 4,200 square metre floor area. Its sighting is more akin to a museum than a bookstore with its "sinuous wooden sculpture snaking through the air, a checkerboard floor and colorful; beanbags ensure than no customer will ever be bored."
Beyond belief and sublime is the conversion of a 13th century Gothic church into a bookstore in 2006. At my first look at accompanying images, I did exclaim: "Oh My God!" In its centuries' long history, the Church in the centre of Maastricht, The Netherlands lost its ecclesiastical function in 1796 and served variously as a stable for horses, a concert hall and a Christmas market. The Selexyz Dominicanan stocks some 40,000 books. At the other end of the architectural spectrum, a skyscraper in Innsbruck, Austria houses Haymon Bookstore. Its multilit windows highlight the books from a distance—all within a stark black frame. The Academic bookstore in Helsinki, Finland interior is clean and uncluttered. And there I spot The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam amongst a panorama of 'New Titles.'
I picked up this bargain buy in a split second in the spring of 2022. Originally priced at USD 29.99, this book in mint condition was on sale at USD 9.99 at Half Price Book Shops in Berkeley, California. Maybe Angela Davis, the leading civil rights movement activist or Joan Baez or Bob Dylan (folk singers) or anti-Vietnam War dissidents in the 1960s had frequented this massive warehouse of reading material in the vicinity of the University of California at Berkeley, a socially progressive university in the United States. Those were the years when student activism led to hot-beds of dissent. Rapid social changes propelled civic unrest and political upheaval. This was the heyday of liberal activism and the Free Speech Movement. The Hippie culture supported LSD and drugs and the song 'California Dreamin' by The Mamas & the Papas contributed to the state's counter-culture. The site held as much attraction as the bought item. Easily succumbing to temptation, I quickly slipped the literary gem into my bag. I needed to deflect any comment on "More books? What about weight?"
Raana Haider is a browser of second-hand books.