Where do you get your fiction fix – the library? The local bookstore? Online? Well, it’s time to step it up a notch: sometimes the shop itself is as fascinating as the titles you’re there to purchase. Just look at Venice’s Libraria Acqua Alta, pictured above! Here’s five more weird bookshops from around the world that you’ll give your first editions to visit…
Singing Wind Bookstore, Benson, Arizona
Congratulations if you’ve heard of this one, because it doesn’t have a web-presence at all, and yet – despite contemporary PR wisdom – it’s still going strong four decades after it first opened. It’s not in a town, but on a farm – a real, functioning cattle farm – almost four miles from the nearest settlement. That town, Benson, provides travel info on its website, though even that’s a little scant, and even if you do find the store, you better hope it’s open, because there aren’t any official hours, and you better bring cash because they don’t take credit. But the three-room store is well worth the adventure: the browsing is excellent.
The Book Barge, various locations, UK
This nomadic independent bookstore housed on a 60’ cruiser stern narrowboat is small, but gorgeous, and its stock is really well-curated by the live-in owner, Sarah Henshaw. The boat is generally moored near Lichfield, but since it started out in 2011 it’s roamed all over the county and has been used as a gig venue and a video set. Henshaw accepts goods for barter as well as hard currency, so prepare to bargain!
Baldwin’s Book Barn, West Chester, PA
Books in a barn! A five-story eighteenth century barn, to be exact, full of rare and antiquarian books as well as maps and prints and non-antiquarian books for those of us on a budget. The stone walls, the arched doorways, the creaky staircases and the comfy seats and the cats – if you got in there, the apocalypse wouldn’t lure you back out.
Kid’s Republic, Beijing, China
If your offspring are reluctant readers, get them to Beijing immediately: this stunning bookstore is both gorgeously and playfully designed so that it’s as much a joy to look at and sit it as it is to browse. With teeny little elevated round booths for the little ones to lounge in as they read, and shelving systems that double as walkways, it’s like the a Bauhaus version of Bilbo Baggins’s hobbit-hole.
Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore, Maastricht, Netherlands
This isn’t the only former church to have been converted into a bookshop, but it’s seriously the most impressive. The addition of shelves doesn’t detract or distract from the original pillars or gobsmacking ceiling paintings: kudos to the designers, architectural firm Merkx + Girod, for pulling off this truly awesome stylistic mashup. It might be a chain store, but, man, what a chain-store… And the books, of course, are excellent too!
We know you’ve got your own favourite, so whether it’s a home-town treasure or Paris’s deservedly famous Shakespeare & Company, spill!
Image credit: Annabel Vita
Valerie O’Riordan is studying for a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. She edits both The Manchester Review and Bookmunch, and her chapbook of microfictions, Enough, was published in 2012. She runs regular workshops on fiction writing and also works on a freelance basis as a video editor for Belle Vue Productions, following half a decade as an editor with the BBC. She blogs at not exactly true and can be found on Twitter too.