Shop here: Skoob Books, London

Skoob Books
66, The Brunswick, off Marchmont Street, London
www.skoob.com/

Skoob Books was another one of those places that popped up on my Sygic Travel app while I was looking at other things in the area. It was described as a “second-hand bookshop boasting a huge selection of academic and art books.” Count me in – I was hoping there’d be more than just university text books in there.

Enter at street level and down the stairs you go, like Alice down the rabbit hole. I can see how some people might find the dingy, windowless basement vibe a bit claustrophobic and uncomfortable, but I instantly felt right at home in there. Because in that dimly lit basement, there are books everywhere. So many that the divine smell of musty old pages hits you before the sea of paper fills your vision.

This shop is filled to the brim with books. Crammed onto the shelves, piled on the floor, tucked under tables and falling out of boxes. They claim 55,000 books in a 186 square metre shop – that’s 295 books per square metre. That’s heaven. And it turns out they have a lot more than academic and art books – their range is probably the best I’ve ever seen in a used book store. Everything from philosophy and science to religion and history is covered in an atmosphere that can only be described as semi-organized chaos.

Possibly the best part is that the books are actually really reasonably priced, and they are constantly getting new books in (unlike some used bookstores that just have the same ones in stock for months on end because they’re too overpriced for anyone to purchase them…); they have a warehouse where they have over a million (!!!) books ready to replenish the shelves.

It’s a scary time for us bookworms; one day we read that book sales are up again, the next they’re closing bookstores as more people favour electronic devices to read from. But visiting Skoob gave me a bit of hope that maybe places like this can survive. Its the kind of place you immediately feel a kinship with the other patrons, where you get the feeling that the staff are there because they want to be and actually read, too. A bookshop where things are disordered enough that you feel comfortable being in there, but at the same time, the books are treated with the care and reverence by the types of people who understand that they’re not just books. This is the kind of bookshop that I really hope will never die out, because it’s a place that actually inspires you to pick up a book and read.

Shop here: Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

Libreria Acqua Alta
Where? Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5176/B, 30122 Venice
When? Open daily 09:00 – 20:00

If you’ve ever been to Venice in the colder months, you’ll have no doubt seen what looks like trestle tables stacked up in random corners of the city (go on, Google it – I’ll wait). The city is not perpetually prepared for a giant street party; it’s ready for acqua alta.

When the tide rises, the waters of the Adriatic Sea come roaring in, and poor little Venice dips even further under water for a while! Those trestle tables go up to be used as elevated walkways (called passarelle), and everyone tries to keep their belongings and merchandise dry.

Luigi found a novel solution for the bookshop he named after this natural inconvenience, which he opened in 2004 – he put his books in water proof bins, small boats, bathtubs, even a gondola, parked in the middle of the store. When you open a store full of books on an island that’s slowly sinking, you have to take some extreme precautions!

It’s a haphazardly arranged shop with both new and old tomes, a fire escape that leads to a canal, and a stairway to heaven made of old books with one hell of a view from the top. The staff member I spoke to, while not terribly friendly, did speak English and was able to point me in the right direction. There are some books in English, French, Spanish – mostly they’re in Italian, though. There’s really not much else to write about this place that other bloggers haven’t already So, here’s another set of photos from this little piece of heaven, because how could you possibly get sick of looking at these?!

Shop here: Strand Bookstore, New York City

Strand Bookstore
828 Broadway, New York
http://strandbooks.com

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Hope you’ve been enjoying your virtual trip to New York so far this week 🙂 If you’re a bibliophile like me, chances are you may have heard of Strand Bookstore; it’s renowned for being home of almost 20 miles of new, used and rare books. No mean feat when real estate is such a precious commodity in NYC!

A family business (like so many are) started back in 1927, Strand now has over 2.5 million books to choose from with staff who are not only knowledgeable about what they’re selling, but also big readers and book lovers themselves. Instead of the standard hovering and annoying staff you often find in big stores, these guys are actually really helpful in finding what you’re looking for (and in a store this big, the help is much appreciated).

Strand has become a bit of a city institution, and now not only sell books, but also host a range of events such as book signings and readings, book swaps and Q&A panels. Go with an empty carry bag and a stacked wallet, because with that many books, it’s impossible to leave without a few!

Shop here: Idlewild Books, New York City

Idlewild Books
12 W 19th St, New York
http://www.idlewildbooks.com

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I fell utterly and completely head over heels for this place… to think I almost didn’t get around to it! I’d had a few bookstores I wanted to check out in New York, and with only a few days left, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to Idlewild. As it turned out, we were in the right neighbourhood anyway and I had the address saved on my phone – we arrived just on opening time that particular morning.

Idlewild is the bookstore wanderlusters dream about. Up a few stairs and onto a creaky wooden floor, and you’re surrounded by book after book covering every corner of the world. The best thing I found about this place was the way the books were organised; every book pertaining to a particular country in the one place. That meant that under Italy, for example, you could find guide books, languor guides, travel writing and novels set in Italy. It made things soooo much easier to navigate than having all the guide books in one area, then all the travel writing in another, etc. Absolutely loved that concept! It also got me thinking more about the notion of letting travel books and novels themselves act as a guide more so than the traditional guide book; how fantastic to read a novel set in New York City while travelling through the city itself! The prices of the books were very reasonable too – sometimes specialty bookstores like this feel justified in marking their prices up exponentially, but I found them to be more or less the same as I’d find online, which made it easier to justify buying another book to add to the pile I’d already purchased on my travels!

Idlewild is also incredibly popular for the language classes they offer, everything from Arabic to French, which is a really great idea to attach to a travel bookstore. While we weren’t there long enough to partake, it certainly gives you something to think about for when you get back home.

If you’re travelling to New York, or even if you live there and didn’t know about this place, and you have the travel bug like me, I can’t recommend highly enough taking a visit! And if that’s not reason enough, you can get a donut from Dough next door while you’re out that direction 😉

Shop here: City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco

City Lights Bookstore
261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco
http://citylights.com/

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As you may have noticed last week, I love my books, and am taking great pleasure in filling my book nook. And filling that space has been a culmination of visits to a lot of bookstores around the world; here’s another one I’ve visited. City Lights is an interesting combination of independent bookstore and publishing house, living on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown, and next door to Jack Kerouac Alley. Having been expanding continuously since it’s founding in 1953, City Lights now has three floors worth of books to browse through, with a heavy emphasis on world literature, poetry, the arts and political reading. The store also achieved infamy in the 1950’s when founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti was arrested after publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl & Other Poems on obscenity charges, which you can read a little more about here.

Politics aside, I really like this place; it had a warm, cozy feel, more books than you could poke a stick at, and staff who actually really knew their stuff and were ready to point you in the right direction. A must visit for fellow book nerds and literary lovers – while you’re there, you can also visit Kerouac’s favourite café, Vesuvio, and the Beat Museum!