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Around the world in bookshops

Although travel around the world and even within our own countries is rather limited at the moment, there is nothing to stop us reminiscing about the beautiful places we have already visited, or dreaming of new places. A few of our writers share their favourite bookshops, from London to as far as Sydney. 

Connie Bernardin: Word on the Water, London

Word on the Water is a bookshop like no other, embodying the elements of mystery and escapism that we search for in books. As if magically appearing at different hotspots across London, the shop is built on an old 1920s Dutch barge and lives on Regent’s Canal. It houses a vast array of literature from poetry and politics to classic and contemporary fiction, as well as nonfiction and children’s books on the lower decks. The unique shop attracts crowds all year round hosting a variety of events, from live music and poetry slams on its roof in summer, to lighting cosy wood-burning fires in winter.

The old boat takes you back in time, inviting passersby to completely escape from the corporate landscape of its current base in Kings Cross. Amidst its fame and success, the store has faced challenges along the way: on top of the trials of internet and corporate competition faced by any independent book store, Word on the Water has nearly flooded several times and faced threats of eviction from the canal. Conquering its obstacles, the store has become a floating emblem of hope for the longevity of all independent book stores and should definitely be on everyone’s list to visit.

Noah Keate: Toppings and Company Booksellers, Bath 

A bookshop I hold a great attachment to is the delightful Toppings and Company Booksellers of Bath. Located in a beautiful city, I have fond memories of visiting the shop one evening on holiday. What defined the location was its welcoming approach – I felt genuinely comforted and valued within the shop because of the deeply friendly staff. Shelves with ladders full of books reminded me of what I want my dream home to look like. Books were wrapped in the most beautiful covering to ensure they were protected and of pristine quality, regardless of how many individuals browsed over them. 

The best part of bookshops is the unexpected hidden corners. That was certainly the case in Bath. I never quite knew what I would find as my exploration continued. Toppings is an independent brand with only four branches around the country: the three I have been lucky enough to visit in Bath, Edinburgh and Ely are all a delight in equal measure. But it is in Bath where I had my first experience with the company. That is a moment that changed my life and will never be forgotten.

Lauren Nicholson: Shakespeare and Company, Paris

I stumbled upon this bookshop by accident while walking along the River Seine in Paris and was surprised to find that all the books inside were in English. Along the river bank there are also makeshift book stalls crammed with French books, and although I did come to Paris to experience another culture, something about this one drew me in more. It was as though it existed in a bubble, separate from the world around it. 

The store was crammed with books – everywhere you looked. Even the stairs had a bookshelf running diagonally alongside it. But this or the narrow corridors didn’t make me feel overwhelmed or confined – instead I felt at home and cosy. The comfy chairs dotted about the store and upstairs added to this as well. There was even a little part of the store dedicated to writing, with handwritten notes from visitors pinned up and a typewriter visitors could use too. The store perfectly combines reading and writing, something I don’t often see in a bookshop.

The best part of the visit had to be the stamp you get in any book you buy there. My copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray feels personalised now, and will serve as a timeless reminder of such a beautiful bookshop.

Alice Standen: Cafebrería El Péndulo, Mexico City

Cafebrería El Péndulo, (which translates as The Pendulum Coffee Shop), is a chain of bookstores in Mexico. Usually, I am driven away by chains as I prefer to get my books secondhand; however, the El Péndulo store in Polanco, the most fashionable neighbourhood in Mexico City, is simply enchanting. As its name suggests, these fashionable stores are part cafe and, more surprisingly, part forest.

Originally built in the 1940s, the bookstore retains some of its historical features, such as arched windows and spiral staircases. Along with ceiling to floor books, what really draws the eye is the mix of artificial and real plants that decorate the inside of the building, many of which seem to grow from within the shelves. Both new titles and classics are available for sale in English, as well as Spanish, and can be enjoyed with a coffee inside the store. Bookstores that provide reading nooks with warm drinks are a particular favourite of mine, as I often can’t wait to get home to dive into my latest purchase.

In addition to books, El Péndulo serves food and has live music performances three afternoons a week. One day, I’d love to visit for an afternoon or two and bury into a book, surrounded by plants and with a steaming cup of coffee at my side.

Fey Kapur: Sappho Books, Sydney 

I’d just said goodbye to one of my closest friends whilst on my year abroad in Australia when my travel buddies and I found this magical place. The sign read: “Sappho: Books, Café and Bar.” Combined in one store were perhaps my three favourite vices, yet nothing could have prepared us for what this place had to offer. 

Named after the Poetess of Lesbos herself, Sappho had a huge namesake to live up to. And it did not disappoint. Across the store, there were genres sectioned by areas a bookstore has never dared to showcase, from astrology and demonology to occultism and the supernatural. Searching through these shelves, it was like we’d found the classified books section within a forbidden library.

And that’s not even the best part. Sappho features a store cat. Charlie’s favourite things to do are to just crawl around, pose for photos, and hiss loathsomely at every overexcited cat-loving traveller.

If you’re ever in Australia, and you’re a fan of the mystic Sapphic second-hand bookstore vibe, you have to visit this store. Be prepared to lose all sense of space and time and have your friends collectively drag you out of the store, because you just cannot bear to part with such a magical bookstore. If you want to see more, have a look at my friend’s vlog from our time there.


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