The Best and Biggest Bookstores in the World
by Tom Ashford
Bookshops are great. Personally, I prefer visiting them when I don’t have a particular book in mind to purchase (or any book at all, in fact). That way I go in with no purpose or aim other than to wander through the aisles and shelves, discovering new titles and authors and, on occasion, a few surprises along the way.
And, of course, to make a beeline towards those authors of whom I’m a massive fan, to find out how big their selection is and to see if there are any books of theirs which are hard to come by anywhere else.
Some bookshops stand out amongst all others, however. We’re not talking about your run-of-the-mill Barnes & Noble or Waterstones here. We’re talking unique, notable and sometimes downright weird independent stores – some of which are featured in movies, some of which transform the act of looking for a book into something wonderful or weird.
I came across a couple on my recent vacation. Here are a few more to go with them.
Powell’s City of Books
When I first saw the sign for Powell’s City of Books (part of the Powell’s Books independent chain), I wasn’t too impressed. Based in the city of Portland in Oregon, it looked a little, well… small. Like a local library, the sort which counts a single atlas as its travel section.
Then I kept walking along the street towards its entrance. It took a while, because City of Books takes up an entire city block. It has its own car park, for crying out loud!
It turns out that Powell’s City of Books really is a city of books. In fact, with 68,000 square feet (1.6 acres) of floor space, it claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the whole world – a claim I’m quite willing to believe. It has nine colour-coded rooms (splitting the store by genres, and each room the size of most regular bookstores), 3,500 different sections, and its inventory lists over four million titles. The whole chain buys about 3,000 used books each and every day.
Although I didn’t see it during my recent visit, Powell’s City of Books has also been the home of an Espresso Book Machine since 2012 – a device that offers instant print-on-demand books, which I reported on in a Weekly Write Up a few months back.
The Last Bookstore
Though it is by no means as large as Powell’s City of Books, Los Angeles’ The Last Bookstore is the largest new and used bookstore in California. It’s perhaps even more wonderful, however – it’s designed in an enchanting, labyrinthian way that takes a new visitor constantly by surprise.
First of all, it’s worth mentioning that The Last Bookstore made an appearance in the film Gone Girl (watch the film and you’ll know which scene). What’s more, the building used to a bank, and they still use a couple of the vaults (complete with large industrial doors). One houses some old and dusty books. The other is for storing their horror section, which presumably might sprout tentacles and escape if not properly secured at night.
And that’s just the beginning. The upper floor starts off with a display of books fluttering out from a bookcase and a typewriter whose paper ream is spilling out above the staircase. There are tunnels made from books, and other hardbacks which have been arranged in such a way that people can poke their heads through the resulting circle for Instagram pictures (yes, I’m guilty of this). The sections that follow are easy to get lost in, and eventually emerge into an art gallery of all things, followed by a series of local art and craft shops (still within the bookstore). It’s utterly mad, and brilliant.
Now, Logos Bookstore in New York isn’t anything too remarkable in its own right (though I’m sure it’s just as impressive as most other bookstores)… but it is a little famous. That’s because the exterior and the front interior of the shop is used as Mooney’s bookstore in the Netflix show You. It’s worth popping over for a look if you’re a fan of the series… though perhaps don’t try going down into the basement (if for no other reason than because the glass cage scenes weren’t filmed on location).
Libreria Alta Acqua
Not actually a library but a bookstore, this shop in Venice, Italy has a very distinct water theme (which helps when it floods). If you want to buy a book here, be prepared to find it in either a boat or a bathtub (or as part of the furniture or staircase, for that matter). It’s kind of similar to a book shop called The Book Barge, which is an ordinary barge boat that sails through the canals of England and France whilst full to the brim with books.
Zhongshuge is a chain of Chinese bookstores, and each one is absolutely mad. Previous branches have included mirrored tunnels in which books seem to loop around browsers for infinity, insane mushroom-themed settings, and minimalist spaceship interiors. They’ve really outdone themselves with their newest store, however. With its mirrored ceilings and geometric staircases, it looks like something out of Inception. I can’t imagine it’s very easy to find the book you’re after, but at least it’ll be an experience like no other!
Of course, there are weird and wonderful bookstores all across the world (not to mention dozens that have turned in up various movies). Have you come across any bookstores that have taken your breath away? Let us know in the comments below.
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