If you’re an avid reader, chances are you love checking out different bookstores. It doesn’t matter if you’re annoying your significant other by aimlessly wandering through every aisle of a Barnes and Noble, or just losing yourself for hours while sifting through dusty boxes of paperbacks in the basement of a rundown secondhand shop. As long as you get to check out a bookstore you’ve never visited before, you’re happy.
There’s something about us readers—a type of wanderlust strictly reserved for the perusing of independently owned bookstores—that causes us to get lost amongst the endless racks of books. Those books, like portals to worlds of endless possibilities, adventure, and dancing sparks of imagination we could only dream of. Those things remain dormant in those rows of books—waiting for us to find them—to have our imaginations release the story within.
While we may find ourselves awestruck at the vast reading selections of our local libraries—or enamored by the colorful rows of shiny new hardbacks, proudly erected on display in the windows of one of those chain bookstores on the outskirts of some commercial shopping complex—it’s the small, independently owned bookstores which holds that tiny bit of magic we seek.
Like the cool waters of an oasis hidden in the scorching desert, these little bookstores bring us a sense of relief. In stark contrast to the chaotic world outside, we know we can find momentary peace nestled between those shelves. So, if you will, take a trip with us as we explore 13 of the most incredible bookstores from around the world.
13. Caliban Book Shop, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania
To start off our list, we’re going to DPW’s favorite local bookstore, Caliban Book Shop. Located in North Oakland Pittsburgh near Carnegie Mellon University, this quaint little shop is brimming with great finds—having over 40,000 books stacked floor to ceiling. That is if you even make it through their bargain book bins; which are often sitting outside of the store entrance.
As soon as you enter Caliban, you’ll see a collection of rare books cased in glass to your left, as well as on display under the register to your right. The main floor consists of thousands of hardbacks categorized by genre. There’s also a separate room for art books and a corner called Desolation Row Records (a small, independent record shop) dedicated to old records and cds for music enthusiast.
If this isn’t enough to satisfy your book lust, there’s an inconspicuous door which leads to a basement room; which is completely filled with paperbacks. Down here you’ll find shelves full of great science-fiction books, fantasy, adventure, and plenty of classic literature. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to go into this shop and not find something great.
Of course, on the off-chance you decide you’re in the mood for easy reading such as comic books, you’ll be pleased to know there is a Phantom of the Attic Comic Books store directly across the street. Also, if there’s a book you’re looking for but can’t find at Caliban, they’ll be sure to order it for you with a smile. They also have a warehouse nearby where they store extra stock (around 150,000 additional items, which you can schedule to tour). So, there’s really no way you won’t get what you need from these guys.
12. Zhongshuge Bookstore, Hangzhou China
Going from a bookstore which prides itself on old, rare books, we’ll now be heading to the most modern bookstore on this list. Zhongshuge Bookstore located in Hangzhou China, looks like something out of a futuristic science-fiction movie.
With stunning architecture, it’s hard to tell if this place is an actual bookstore or art exhibit. They used mirrors, amazing room structures, sharp angles, modernistic furniture, and splendid color schemes to make the store look like an artists’ digital rendering of a bookstore rather than a place you can actually visit.
This is the newest shop on our list, and it certainly shows it with its modern design. With an appearance like that of a crazy playhouse, we figure the best way for you to appreciate this one is with two separate slideshows.
As you can see, the shelving structure is quite unique: with them taking forms of a pirate ship, Ferris wheel, roller coaster, and what looks like a living arcade. It’s amazing to think this is a place people actually go to read. We can only imagine what it must be like to visit Zhongshuge in person.
11. City Lights Booksellers, San Francisco California
Leaving China, we now fly across the Pacific Ocean where we’ll hit the sunny streets of San Francisco in search of one of the area’s local treasures, City Lights Booksellers. Founded in 1953, this Bay Area bookstore is a true classic. With its historic past and timeless storefront, City Lights has become popular among locals and tourist alike. One aspect that really sets this place apart from other local bookstores is how it doubles as a non-profit publisher.
Focusing on progressive works and local authors such as Allen Ginsberg, the writer of the famous Howl and Other Poems, City Lights makes sure to always give back to their creative community. So, if you’re ever in the area, make sure to support this great shop by purchasing one of their local author recommendations. Or just come in to listen to a book reading. The important thing is to show them how much value they bring to the literary community.
10. Scorpio Books, Christchurch New Zealand
How about another trip across the Pacific? This time, we’re headed to New Zealand in search of the very unique, Scorpio Books. If you’re a sci-fi and or fantasy fan, this is the bookstore for you as it has over a million titles! Yes, you read that right; a million. With a building made from an old shipping-container, Scorpio Books is located in the seafront city of Christchurch New Zealand. And if you’re wondering why a bookstore would be made from an old shipping-container, don’t worry, there’s a logical reason.
You see, in 2011 this region of New Zealand was hit with a massive earthquake; which damaged many of the buildings in the area. So, being the clever bunch they are, it was decided to rebuild with alternative materials such as cardboard and, you guessed it, shipping containers. Aesthetically speaking, this is a very unique looking bookstore indeed.
9. Livraria Lello & Irmao, Porto Portugal
While Scorpio Books is a sci-fi enthusiast dream shop, this bookstore might be you Harry Potter fanatics cup of tea. Traveling to Porto Portugal, we find the old hangout of J.K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter. For a time, J.K. Rowling lived and taught English in Porto. And she once famously stated, “And the idea of just wandering off to a cafe with a notebook and writing and seeing where that takes me for awhile is just bliss.”
Well, one of those cafés just so happened to be the beautiful, stained-glass upstairs café of Livraria Lello. It was in this café where J.K. Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter series, and the shop itself may have been one the inspirations for the series’ settings; with its breathtaking Art Nouveau and Gothic Revival architecture. This beautiful shop is perfect for a day of reading while drinking some delicious coffee.
8. Ler Devagar, Lisbon Portugal
While were in the area, let’s travel south of Porto to Portugal’s bustling capital of Lisbon. Ler Devagar (Translates to Read Slowly) is a café, concert venue, local art gallery, and bookstore. This is a perfect place to relax, pick up a new book, and sip an espresso in style.
While you’re here, you should take in some of the local art that covers both floors of Ler Devagar. And if you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch an art exhibition in progress, or maybe stay for one of their popular poetry readings. This shop definitely has a lot going for it and is a wonderful supporter of the arts.
7. The Strand, New York City New York
Heading back to the United States, we enter this 86-year-old rare used book store in New York’s East Village. A major attraction for both tourists and locals, this shop has a rare book room, deal bins, and “Strand”-branded memorabilia such as tote bags and shirts. After all, it wouldn’t be a New York shop if it didn’t have merchandize for tourist to take home.
The Strand is famous for holding various events like art shows, book signings, conversational classes, and readings, just to name a few. Another amazing fact about The Strand is that they are home to 18 miles of books, which figures to about 2.5 million. And this isn’t even counting the quarter of a million books housed in their Brooklyn warehouse!
This kind of makes you wonder why New York even bothers to have other bookstores. Regardless, a lot of these books are rare, which means they can get pretty pricey. And they don’t just dabble in rare books; they have some of the most valuable books in the country. For example, one such book is a James Joyce signed Matisse-illustrated copy of Ulysses which has an asking price of $45,000.
Of course, the average reader isn’t looking to spend a fortune on reading material. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find more affordable collector’s items. You can get your hands on a first-edition copy of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves for $200. Or if you want to spend a little more money, (but not new car money) they have books such as a first-issue copy of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which sells for $2,000. No matter what you’re looking for, this place is perfect for the valuable book collector.