Some of the bookshops that inspire me

I love Blackwell’s on Broad Street but I am in no way immune to brilliance of other bookshops around the world. Indeed, the best of them give me ideas, inspiration and solace that quality bookshops will be a part of our society for a long time to come.

Bookshops can be brilliant for a variety of reasons – culturally significant; influential for a community; visually stunning; quirky and engaging; compendious; authenticity

So long as a bookshop is world class in one of those areas it has a chance for a long and profitable future – to be at the top of the tree in multiple categories is something that only a few bookshops in the world can aspire to. My hope is that Blackwell’s in Oxford will be one of them.

If we could be an amalgamation of the following great bookshops then an incredibly special place we would be:

To be as culturally significant as City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco; to be as influential for a community as Shakespeare and Co in Paris, to be as visually stunning as El Ateneo in Buenos Aires; to be as quirky and engaging as Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland; to be as compendious as Powell’s Books of Oregon and to be as authentic as Hatchards of Piccadilly

City Lights remains true to the principles on which it was founded in 1953 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin  – to be a literary landmark for the alternative culture. ‘Howl’ was published from this shop and their active reading and events programme is infused with the ghost-like presence of Kerouac, Kesey, Cassidy et al

A community influencer need not be solely geographic – Shakespeare and Co has held a place of huge affection in the writing community worldwide. “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be angels in disguise” was the motto by which George Whitman ran the shop, giving a bed for writers who would work in the shop. Whitman and Ferlinghetti were friends who believed that the importance of free-thinking bookshops could not be overstated – both of their shops are beacons to the fact that great bookshops still matter.

There are a number of bookshops that could claim the crown of most visually stunning – El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Livraria Lello in Porto and Selexyz in Maastricht are the most commonly cited. Of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I would challenge any book-lover not to be blown away by the beautiful bookshop at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy – classical elegance, absolutely scrumptious

Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland is famous for a number of things – it is where the original Keep Calm and Carry On poster was found, it is a converted railway shed, it was founded on the concept of book swapping, it has open fires during the winter and a beautiful writers mural As a professional bookseller I wonder how this whole enterprise ever came to pass, as a fervent book and bookshop lover I thank the stars that it has.

If I absolutely had to find a book on the same day high on my list would be Powell’s of Portland, Oregon, veritably a City of Books, with more than a million new and secondhand volumes in stock. Despite the scale it manages to be superbly well connected to the local community and has many passionate booksellers who happily recommend their favourite reads.

The oldest continually trading bookshop in the UK is Hatchards of Piccadilly. Whilst it is now owned by Waterstones it retains it’s characteristic green livery and still feels like an independent. An independent with three royal warrants, mind. It is the favoured bookshop of the aristocracy and if you want to judge the authenticity wander down the street a couple of hundred yards to Waterstones flagship shop that is more than twice the size but half the bookshop

Now I am not given to false modesty – I know that our shop is top notch, but I am also acutely aware that we need to improve all of the time. It is these bookshops, and others like them, that will help to guide and inspire. To those bookshops mentioned I doff my booksellery cap.

If you enjoyed this post then you may like to pop over to our Pinterest board where we are putting together our list of the great bookshops of the world

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4 comments

  1. The ‘keep calm and carry on’ poster caught our eye when Christmas shopping in Australia towards the end of last year. We both reflected on the wisdom and then realised its real context. The discovery of the original in Barter Books Alnwick, Northumberland must have been a real buzz for the person involved.
    The overlap between bookshop discoveries and travel, weaves together in this itinerary. To be inspired by bookshops is certainly a living art.
    Choosing a book in a classic bookshop can be all the more memorable and meaningful.

  2. Thanks for the comment sto2n – I am an inveterate ‘collector’ of bookshops. Not only will I always check out the bookshop scene in any place I visit I will also plan trips to see particular bookshops that I have heard a lot about. I like your phrase ‘to be inspired by bookshops is a living art’, it certainly chimes with me

  3. You are so cool! I don’t think I have read through anything like that
    before. So great to find somebody with original
    thoughts on this topic. Really.. thanks for starting this up.

    This web site is something that’s needed on the web, someone with a bit
    of originality!

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