For some reason, brick-and-mortar bookstores just won’t die. Sure, Borders has gone the way of the passenger pigeon to be extinct, more or less, but some bookshops keep clinging onto life, even though avid readers have now embraced digital reading devices and reading apps like Kindle and the paperless reading experience. Regardless, community-based indie bookstores — with actual paperback and hardcover editions on honest-to-goodness tactile shelves — have been making something of a surprising comeback. It seems folks still need a hip place to drink their java, listen to a chic new (or old) author talk about his or her writing experience and envelop themselves in a warm and inviting atmosphere, complete with individual, non-digital, multicolored-covered book spines.
We’ll see how long this bookstore renaissance lasts in the face of the mighty e-book. In the interim, let’s take a look at some of coolest bookstores that can still call this planet home.
1. Livraria Lello & Irmão, Portugal
Livraria Lello & Irmão is a gorgeous bookstore, located in the city of Porto in northern Portugal. The spiraling, main staircase is a marvel to see. Word on the street has it that J.K. Rowling of “Harry Potter” fame, who lived in Porto for a time, got much of her inspiration for the central staircase at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the red stairs she ran into at the art nouveau and neo-Gothic Livraria Lello & Irmão.
2. Powell’s Books, Oregon
The headquarters of Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., is a regional bookstore legend. This massive book space, which specializes in “used, new, and out of print books” is often billed as the “largest independent bookstore in the world.” Taking up a full city block, Powell’s definitely doesn’t skimp on size or stock. While the behemoth has had to downsize some in light of the popularity of digital and online book sales, the store is still a fun destination to spend some time in, as well a major cultural icon.
3. Strand Bookstore, New York
If you know New York’s East Village, then you know the Strand Bookstore. The Strand is the “oldest family-run bookstore in New York.” That means a heck of a lot of charm, good literary vibes and plenty of famous authors stopping by to talk about what they’re up to. With “18 miles” worth of books on hand, chances are you’ll find something here to grab your interest. It’s a wonderful spot where you can easily while away an entire afternoon — which is the call sign of any great bookshop worth keeping around.
4. Shakespeare & Company, France
Shakespeare & Company is, without a doubt, the bookish joint you want to head to if you’re looking for some good reads in English while in Paris. The bookstore, which first opened in 1919 and changed location and owners after World War II, boasts a fine literary pedigree. Once upon a time, the likes of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William S. Burroughs hung out here.
Just in case you’re interested, you can also browse — or buy — an awful lot of books here or listen to some pretty well-established authors read a little from their own pages.
5. El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Argentina
Well, we’ve hit English and Portuguese and a bit of French (kind of sort of), so let’s not forget our Spanish-speaking brethren out there as well. (Fear not: Almost all bookstores in non-English speaking countries have English language book sections.) If you dig Español and happen to find yourself in Buenos Aires, you should swing by El Ateneo Grand Splendid.
This magnificent bookstore, voted one of the most beautiful on Earth, was converted into its present incarnation out of a former theater. The theater, in its prime, hosted some of the biggest names in Argentinian tango. These days, El Ateneo Grand Splendid houses a ton of books, all displayed in a splendidly (and literal) theatrical setting.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.