El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires, Argentina
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Originally a theatre called Teatro Grand Splendid, this bookshop is all drama. Frescoes adorn the ceiling beneath which audiences of more than 1000 once gathered to watch tango performances, plays and eventually films after the building was converted into a cinema in the late 1920s. The ornate theatre became a bookstore and music shop in February 2000. Most of the seating was removed and replaced with bookshelves but the theatre boxes remain – the perfect spot to sit and peruse a new volume. Image: m4caque/Flickr
Strand Bookstore, New York, United States
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As American chains such as Borders and Walden Books have collapsed around it, Strand Bookstore remains standing. The East Village institution – Patti Smith worked here in the ’70s – has been in the same family since Ben Bass opened it in 1927. Across four floors, millions of new, used and rare books (at last count it was 2.5 million) sit waiting to be discovered anew. Open daily until 10:30pm, it boasts “18 miles of books” and regularly hosts book launches (Smith did a signing of her new book M Train recently) and events.
Carturesti Carusel, Bucharest, Romania
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Unlike many of these magical bookstores, Carturesti Carusel (the Carousel of Light) isn’t steeped in history, having opened in 2015, though the six-storey building that houses it is a 19th-century former bank that was, for a period, also a fashion emporium. The downtown Bucharest building lay empty, slowly decaying, for 20 years until Romanian book-chain Carturesti transformed it. Inside, the renovated store is thoroughly modern: in the basement is a multimedia space and on the top floor is a bistro. The first floor is a modern-art gallery/event space – and that leaves the remaining three levels for books.
Livraria Lello & Irmão, Porto, Portugal
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A young J.K. Rowling frequented this temple to reading while teaching English in Porto during the 1990s, when a certain young magician was just a twinkle in her eye – though it’s said she used the store as inspiration for Flourish and Blotts bookshop in Diagon Alley. The bookshop was opened in 1869 by Frenchman Ernesto Chardron and taken over by José Lello and his brother António in 1894. The current building on Rua das Carmelitas was built at the behest of the brothers Lello in 1906.
Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France
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When a booklover imagines heaven, surely it is Shakespeare and Company, a former centre of the bohemian expat milieu on Paris’s Left Bank. The narrow space originally functioned as a publishing house, library, bookshop and boarding house for poverty-stricken literary types and was owned by American Sylvia Beach. Ernest Hemingway made mention of it in his memoir A Moveable Feast and it’s currently run by Sylvia (named for the original owner) Whitman.
Bart’s Books, Ojai, United States
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Bart’s Books is one chilled-out bookstore. Firstly, it’s outdoors in Ojai, California, and secondly, it operates on an honesty system: there’s a coin-box by the entrance in which customers are asked to drop money for any books taken outside opening hours. The store began in 1964 when owner Richard Bartinsale’s personal book collection became too unwieldy and he began leaving them in piles on a footpath with coffee cans on top to collect payment. Now, the labyrinthine store of second-hand books also has plenty of places to sit with coffee, sunny courtyards and a cat for good measure.
Book Soup, West Hollywood, United States
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The celebrity’s bookstore, Book Soup is as Hollywood as they come: it’s the largest independent bookstore in town, it’s featured in loads of TV shows and films, and it regularly hosts big-name celebrities-cum-authors such as Howard Stern, Muhammad Ali and Paris Hilton. With its neon sign, the Sunset Boulevard bookshop fitted right in when it opened in 1975, flanked as it was by a strip club and a shop selling drug paraphernalia.
The American Book Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands
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American Lynn Kaplanian Buller, who found herself in the Dutch city in the 1970s and all out of reading materials, has been the director of ABC for more than four decades. The store has an incredible selection of English-language books spread over five floors and regularly hosts writing workshops, book signings and art shows.
Rizzoli Bookstore, New York, United States
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The original Rizzoli opened on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue in 1964. Owner Angelo Rizzoli was inspired by Parisian townhouses and had the interiors lavishly laid out in marble and oak, with glittering chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. The store, which specialises in illustrated works on architecture, fashion, food and art, moved to West 57th Street in 1985. When its lease expired, Rizzoli closed in 2014 and to the dismay of booklovers and preservationists, the building was razed to the ground. Rizzoli rose from the ashes, opening a new store on Broadway in the NoMad district. It has beautiful frescoed walls, wrought-iron chandeliers and elaborate timber bookshelves.
Foyles, London, England
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W & G Foyle Ltd (better known simply as Foyles) is now a mini-chain of seven stores, but the flagship Charing Cross Road shop is its best known. Brothers William and Gilbert Foyle established a second-hand bookshop in 1903 after realising there was a market for their old textbooks (they’d each failed their civil service exams). They moved to Charing Cross Road in 1906 where the business flourished. William’s daughter, Christina Foyle, established literary luncheons at which great figures of the time spoke. Though the luncheons continue, Ms Foyle’s tenure was otherwise not great for the business. Under her, workers were fired on a whim and modern conveniences were spurned to the point that the shop became an attraction for its idiosyncratic service rather than its books. Her nephew Christopher now runs the company, the flagship of which relocated to an adjacent building in 2014 – and is again prospering.
Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy
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Water is the enemy of books. Crumpled, stuck-together pages, mildew and ruined covers result – and that’s just if you drop one in the bath. Imagine, then, the dedication of the proprietors of Libreria Acqua Alta, the self-described “most beautiful bookstore in the world”. The shop is located in Venice where regular flooding has necessitated some creative solutions: piles of books live in (dry) bathtubs, crammed on high shelves and teeter in full-sized gondolas. Image: @floradallevacche/Instagram
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht, Netherlands
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There’s a feeling of solemnity in this Maastricht bookshop. It could be the weighty volumes within its walls, but it’s more likely the setting: a 13th century Dominican church. The beautifully restored church has a dramatic three-storey black steel book-stack in the nave and a busy café in the choir – and a visit is a sacred experience for bibliophiles.
Kay Craddock Antiquarian Booksellers, Melbourne
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Kay Craddock’s subterranean cave of literary treasures has occupied its Neo-Gothic Collins Street Assembly Hall abode for 26 years. Fans of valuable tomes, first editions and texts dating back to the 15th century frequent its stacks, which are filled with leather-bound tomes watched over by Craddock’s collection of wise owls. Barry Humphries is a regular.