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    The 10 best independent bookshops in the world

    A readers’ favourite ... Customers outside the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, Paris. Photograph: Annah Legg/GuardianWitness

    A readers’ favourite … Customers outside the Shakespeare and Company bookshop, Paris. Photograph: Annah Legg/GuardianWitness

    Wherever you are in the world, visiting a bookshop is always a treat – but with their numbers dwindling, independent stores that offer something unique are increasingly becoming a destination in themselves. Last year we rounded up some of the world’s most weird and wonderful bookshops – from a bookshop opened by Alice Munro in the 1960s to one in the island of Santorini started by drunk Oxford students – but here’s a selection of favourite bookshops from our readers, together with our own picks.

    1. Powell’s City of Books, Portland (Oregon, USA)

    This legendary Portland shop is the world’s largest used book store – the jewel in the crown of what is claimed to be the largest independent chain of bookstores on the planet. Powell’s even provides a map for customers. “It is amazing! It is a whole city block with several floors of books. Unlike ordinary bookstores, Powell’s has a huge selection of every book imaginable. I took my retired English teacher father there and he went crazy. It also has a cafe and a selection of antique computers. It is an absolute paradise for bibliophiles!” said John R. Ewing Jr.

    Paradise for bibliophiles ... A corner of Powell’s. Photograph: Amanda Katelin/GuardianWitness

    Paradise for bibliophiles … A corner of Powell’s. Photograph: Amanda Katelin/GuardianWitness

    2. Acqua Alta, Venice (Italy)

    In Acqua Alta (high water), boats, gondolas and canoes act as shelves of sorts for new and used books. “A mix of new and second-hand books jumbled over every surface and up every wall, and occasionally turned into part of the furniture, including a staircase of ancient encyclopaedias that provides views over the canal at the rear. And when that rises and floods the shop, at least the books in the retired gondola will be saved,” sharedpeternh. “Glorious chaos, Margaret Pinder called it.

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    3. El Ateneo, Buenos Aires (Argentina)

    An old theatre turned into a bookshop in downtown Buenos Aires, El Ateneo still keeps much of its former grandeur. Designed in 1919 by architects Peró and Torres Armengol and turned into bookshop 81 years later, readers can still see the high painted ceilings, balconies, carvings and even the theatre curtain. “Inside El Ateneo clients are respectfully quiet, just like an audience right before the start of a show. Sit in the cafe, order a ‘cafecito’, leaf through a Buenos Aires city guide and enjoy the majestic uniqueness of this book haven!” said canaria. The stage is used as a reading area and café, with the former theatre boxes available as tiny reading rooms.

    Photograph: Bruno Guerra/GuardianWitness

    Photograph: Bruno Guerra/GuardianWitness

    4. City Lights Books, San Francisco (California, USA)

    A destination in its own right for any visitor of San Francisco, City Lights was founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D Martin, and it was not only a place of congregation for authors of the Beat generation but also featured in many of their works. The first all-paperback bookshop in the US, City Lights has always published as well as sold, a tradition it maintains to this day with more than 20 new titles published each year. You can also pop across the street to Vesuvio Cafe where Kerouac, Ginsberg and co used to hang out.

    From left to right: Bob Donlin, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Robert LaVinge, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti stand in front of the City Lights bookshop in 1956, owned by the latter then. Photograph: Allen Ginsberg/Corbis

    From left to right: Bob Donlin, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Robert LaVinge, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti stand in front of the City Lights bookshop in 1956, owned by the latter then. Photograph: Allen Ginsberg/Corbis

    5. Shakespeare and Company, Paris (France)

    I created this bookstore like a man would write a novel, building each room like a chapter, and I like people to open the door the way they open a book, a book that leads into a magic world in their imaginations.

    But its inspiration was to honour Sylvia Beach, another American bookseller who had run a store with the same name in 1919 (“a gathering place for the great expat writers of the time – Joyce, Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Pound – as well as for leading French writers”, according to the website). She was forced to close it during the second world war, after refusing to sell to a Nazi officer. Reader Annah Legg said:

    With buskers outside, it gathers quite a crowd. Inside, bookshelves are crammed up to the ceiling, with young volunteers manning the shop. Upstairs is a children’s book area, a reading area, and a piano. Where there aren’t books lining the walls, there are handwritten notes professing love for places, people and literature. You can’t leave without a book, and a feeling of a very special, magical place where digital is completely irrelevant.

    6. Strand, New York City (New York, USA)

    It’s almost a crime to visit the Big Apple without stopping at this magnificent independent bookstore next to Union Square. With exquisitely curated aisles and shelves, a great selection of both new and incredibly random second-hand bargains, rares and collectibles, and a wonderful programme of events, this is a New York institution to treasure.

     Photograph: Marco/flickr

    Photograph: Marco/flickr

    7. Wild Rumpus, Minneapolis (Minnesota, USA)

    This recommendation might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Jen Campbell is clearly an enthusiast: “Wild Rumpus is filled with books … and animals. Tilly and Pip are two little rats who live under the floorboards in a glass cage, so you can watch them running around. There are also two chinchillas, Amelia and Mr Skeeter; two ferrets, Doodle and Ferdinand; three cats, two doves, three cockatiels, two chickens, a lizard called Spike and a tarantula who goes by the name of Thomas Jefferson. Oh, and the bookshop door has a purple, child-sized door built into it, so children can let themselves in!”

    Here’s Amelia for you... Photograph: wildrumpusbooks.com

    Here’s Amelia for you… Photograph: wildrumpusbooks.com

    8. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath (UK)

    This indie bookshop in central Bath not only has a great selection of books, a cosy atmosphere and comfy armchairs – it also offers services like bibliotherapy and “reading spas”, during which staff engage in one-on-one conversations with readers over a mug of coffee and recommend books they think are especially suited to that person.

    Photograph: danniroo/GuardianWitness

    Photograph: danniroo/GuardianWitness

    9. Word on the Water, somewhere on the London canals

    Going, going, gone … If you’re not quick, you might miss this one. We were delighted when this book barge stopped for a while next to the office. Since Paddy Screech quit his former job in 2011, this floating store has been around London’s Regent’s canal – mostly next to Paddington station. Don’t be put off by its seemingly small size (it can’t be that small – it’s also his home!) – there’s a wide variety of books on sale inside, as well as cats and excellent music. They recentlyannounced that they have been offered to take up permanent residence next to Granary Square, in King’s Cross. As Screech said: “It’s a symbol of independence. Bookshops are culture, and independent bookshops aren’t struggling because people don’t want them – it’s because of this mad property market. Beyond that, living on the water, below the city, is sane-making.” But we shouldn’t forget other book barges, of course, like the Book Barge, which floats near Lichfield.

    Word on the Water last time it stopped at King’s Cross, on Regent’s Canal. Photograph: Marta Bausells

    Word on the Water last time it stopped at King’s Cross, on Regent’s Canal. Photograph: Marta Bausells

    10. Bookshops on four wheels

    In a similar vein to little free libraries, these mini-bookshops bring reading everywhere. Our readers stumbled across the folks from Arma de Instrucción Masiva (“weapon of mass instruction”, a project of Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff) in Argentina – and we hear they are now in Belgium. We’re also fond of the book van of Tell a Story, and the folks at Dylan Mobile Bookstore. Do you know of any other great mobile booksellers?

    The Guardian

    Posted by on 1. May 2016.. Filed under Stories, Poetry, Travels. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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