Bahnreads Overseas: My Favorite Bookshops

It’s good to be blogging again! I returned a few days ago from a long trip overseas, with stops in London, Dublin, Rome, Venice, and Florence (with a tiny stop in Keflavik). While I didn’t do any sort of comprehensive tour of libraries or bookshops, I did my best to visit and explore them when I could. In this post I’m going to share my favorite bookshops I found while traveling. In a later post, I will share about other literature-related places I visited, including a certain fantastic library.

London

IMG_7828Okay, it’s not technically a bookstore, but the Globe Theater gift shop sells a lot of books by William Shakespeare. The theater is a reconstruction of the Globe Theater that Shakespeare worked in and wrote his plays for. We were able to do a tour as well as see a show. I highly recommend the experience! As far as books are concerned, the gift shop sells many different editions of the plays and sonnets, including big fancy folio-like reproductions.

I also managed to visit Forbidden Planet, which has been on my list for a while. If you like science fiction or fantasy, this is a magical place. The ground floor is entirely non-book nerd gear: toys, games, shirts, etc, from alllll the franchises. The Star Wars wall was really delicious. The basement floor is all books! They had many signed editions, along with a fantastic selection. Yay Forbidden Planet!

Dublin

Manor Books Limited in Malahide (just outside Dublin) was a fun little shop. They had a lot of Ireland-related books and books by Irish authors. What I love about independent bookstores is that I discover books I would never otherwise know the existence of. I bought a book here titled How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of The Crossroads (by Daniel Cassidy). I haven’t read it yet, but our tour guide at Malahide Castle mentioned quite a few common expressions that supposedly came from Ireland, so I’m very intrigued!

The Winding Stair Bookshop was one of my favorite finds on the trip. It’s pretty small, but very carefully curated to include both new books and used, with an emphasis on feminist books and Irish authors. I found a tiny little book titled A Little History of Dragons by Joyce Hargreaves, but there were a bunch of other books I wanted to carry off with me.  It’s also right next door to The Winding Stair restaurant.

I went into at least one branch of the Dubray Books chain. Besides being a decent all-around bookstore, they always had sizeable displays on Irish authors and Ireland-related topics, which, as a tourist, I really appreciated.

Rome

So the thing about Italy is that they speak and read Italian there, and I don’t. We went into a couple of little bookshops but the only place I bought books was actually the Colosseum gift shop, where I found a delightful little book called A Journey to Rome that had beautiful watercolor illustrations paired with quotes from famous literary people who visited Rome. Not to worry: I definitely plan to visit Rome again and next time I will plan my bookshop visits a little better.

Venice

Okay, first of all, Venice is surreally beautiful and probably not even a real place. Second, it contains a bookshop called Alta Acqua that is also probably not real. I have photographs of it and I’m still not sure. They keep many of their books in waterproof flotation devices, whether it be a gondola, a bathtub, or a canoe. I didn’t actually buy any books here, although they did both English and Italian. Enjoy the photos, and visit this place if you can.

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Florence

Right outside the Accademia Gallery (which is awesome, you should go there) is a bookshop called Libreria Gozzini. I definitely only saw like four rooms when I was there, so I was surprised to look it up online and be told there are multiple floors and 23 rooms! We really missed out. However, we did find a few shelves of English books and I found a couple of tiny old copies of Shakespeare plays, one of which I took home with me (Romeo and Juliet). Besides beautiful shelves of books, there were many old prints and drawings, which were fun to look through.

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Overall, I really enjoyed my trip. But being in a strange place can be disorienting, and it’s always very comforting to hang out with books in between eating delicious food and seeing the sights. What are your favorite bookshops you’ve found while traveling?

Author: bahnree

just a simple girl trying to read my way through the universe

7 thoughts on “Bahnreads Overseas: My Favorite Bookshops”

  1. Favourite bookshops I’ve found while travelling? Let me just… *cracks knuckles* get started.

    First travel bookstore, light of Southern California, it’s San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy! Merc and Sparky showed me around there first, while I was still jet lagged and wall-eyed, and crying just a little at the very idea of a bookstore that focused on science fiction and fantasy. There were so many books! So beautiful! Plus when the proprietor heard that I was attending Clarion that year, he said he looked forward to being coming back on my book tour. I will never forget that.

    Second, (these are coming chronologically, not in order of preference) Kinokuniya, in KL’s Suria KLCC. Imagine, if you will, you were jet lagged to a level you still hardly believed possible, you left your hotel in the red light district to wade through traffic that all seemed angry at you personally, you got lost in the train station because you were just finding out what it was to navigate a city you didn’t speak the langauge of, you took a crowded train to what you were told was a mall but just seemed to be a city underground, you walked an endless corridor and emerged into a wildly coloured five story mall full of luxury shops and Magnus Bane staring at you from billboards, you went to the top of the mall to look around, clumsily walking around elegant and stylishly women carrying Louis Vitton bags and wearing either tiny miniskirts or hijabs, there seems to be no middle ground, and there, gloriously, is an English bookstore with Rick Riordan, Sarah Rees Brennan, and John Scalzi in the window. Also it’s two stories of goodness including a stationary section I still lust over at night.

    Thirdly, whoooo BOY do you know how long I went on the Europe trip without access to English reading material I hadn’t schleped along with me? It was almost five weeks. Turns out if you deprive a jasmine of English books she gets a bit STIR CRAZY at week three, and the crazy just kept stirring. We were in Vienna when I finally saw the sign for an English bookstore, in a tight crowd. I literally don’t remember what happened next, I just remeber staring at the sign and then being about 20 feet closer, with my travel buddy yanking on my shoulder bag to slow me down. I don’t remeber the name of it. It was a classy bookstore in the type I’m not usually into. I don’t care. I love it so much. I bought six books, essentially their entire SF section.

    1. So then After Vienna I developed an English-bookstore radar, and learned to pull their location from the atmosphere around me, which led to a nice bookstore in Prague where they individually wrap your books, two wildly expensive kids bookstores in Dresden where I was not super impressed so I only bought one book at each, an architecture bookstore in Munich where I was very impressed and also sick and confused and bought nothing, a beautiful corner store in Zurich where I did the money conversion wrong and instead of going “oh 1 crown = 1.4 euros” I did “1.4 crown = 1 euro” and spent all the money I had mentally booked off for medically and then not spent cause Swiss Health care is amazing, no regrets, some regrets, Shakespeare and Co in Paris ,too full classics and priceless times, not enough trashy dragons, Paris is not my fave, nothing readable in tazie cause I’m lucky to have survived that alive and without self-harming, a book of ww1 poetry in the hidden English corner of a Ypres museum bookstore, and then FINALLY LONDON MAJOR METROPOLIS OF MY HEART.

      Ah, London, how I love thee. I went to Waterstones Oxford St just for the joy of it, which was fun but as with those stores above it was lifesaving but didn’t make my altime favourites. What DID make my list of favourites in London was the London Review of Books bookstore and tea shop. By this time I had strong opinions about tea/coffee shops, and swanned in expecting to be satisfied but not impressed. But I had forgotten the crucial factor— Tea. I had been drinking excellent coffee all over Europe, which was great, but I MISSED tea so much. And they had a menu of tea! And there were all so many good things I couldn’t decide! So I went with the recommendation of the waiter, and ended up with a delicate earl grey that was so good the colour seeped back into the world. Also I could taste Colour for a moment, which is fine, apparently when tea is a semi-sacred experience I get Synesthesia. Also fresh strawberries in a shortcake that was so delicious I ate it in a manner just about one point off “starving goblin”. It’s fine, they knew I was a tourist from my broken shoes and dead-eyed stare. So this rejuvenated and ready to consider the option that life might be worth living again, I wandered over to the bookstore, which was the most welcoming place that didn’t have a sf section is ever been in. Just a cursory browse immediately showed that every book on the shelves had been chosen deliberately, and because someone there loved it. There was none of this “bestseller” nonsense, it was all fascinating and throughtful non-fiction, beautiful poetry, literary fiction that exquisitely explores the human condition from a variety of angles, a “guilty pleasure” shelf of mysteries that you could just TELL had been gleefully read and recommended, and a basement full of classics and classic kids books. I normally walk into a classics section and immediately panic and flee, but this managed to emanate the aura of “every book here was formative to one of our employee’s lives, sometimes they come down here and just sigh in contentment to see them all together”.

      1. Forbidden Planet, store that makes me angry we don’t have a teleported at least once a month, joyous basement of delight. I don’t know how I knew that I wanted to go there. I think I’d been reading Kelly Sue’s Captain Marvel on the bus and knew that maybe I liked comics now? But I was walking around with cheap french shoes just streaming blood because see above, cheap and also french, desperately looking for a cobbler, and I walked past their storefront, double-taked so hard I hurt my neck, and hobbled on inside. It was cool. And fully of nerdy people with rainbow hair. And there was a sign saying comics were in the basement, so I struggled down the stairs, glimpsed not-comics to my left, and dove directly into a shelf of urban fantasy. I swear the emotional effect was roughly the same as returning home after months abroad. MY PEOPLE EXIST AND THEY HAVE MADE A STRONGHOLD HERE. I shelf read the entire left half of the basement, including the horror. I also I spent too much money. Objectively the wrong amount of money. It was a bad thing I did. I’m still paying for it. I cannot wait to go back and compound my bad decisions.

        1. And finally, Bakka Phoenix, in Toronto. Pretty much as long as I could remember, I had a pretty negative impression of Toronto. It’s one of Canada’s biggest cities by an order of magnitude, so it has pretty different priorities than a lot of the rest of the country, but it has so many votes that it (fairly fairly) does get politicians pandering to it. So you hear a lot of “nyah ugh Toronto Nyah ugh ruining everything ugh privileged doesn’t understand” etc. Plus I’d known a bunch of people who went to Toronto for work and just got chewed up and spat out, people who really loved the country and in living in the city saw Toronto as the representation of everything wrong with cities (loud, impersonal, crowded, overly-focused on work to the detriment of everything else, certain that they’re right), and people who thought Toronto was full of liberal values and would ruin their children. So in 2016 I was pretty sure the LAST part was wrong, but I still expected to go to the city and find nothing good. I was going to Fan Expo like I went to NYCC, in spite of the city, not because of it. But I had heard someone on twitter mention— I think jim Hines?— that Bakka Phoenix was his favourite bookstore in the world, and I thought I’d check it out. Well. It has the “everything in here was chosen out of love” atmosphere of London Review Of Books, the selection and focus of Hidden Planet, and multiplied by the fact that there are staff with actually good suggestions who manage to offer suggestions without being pushy (and I have a high sensitivity to pushy). This was only compounded by the fact that I went back with Bonny and Leah Bobet was working, and she gave us suggestions of all the good places in the city, of which it turns out there are a lot.

          So yeah. Bakka Phoenix. Sf/f and horror, urban fantasy, commentary, kids books including amazing picture books, used books in the basement, singlehandedly convinced me that Toronto was good, actually, and my favourite bookstore in the world.

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