The story of Widener Library starts with a tragedy. Widener is not only a place of study and one of the largest reservoirs of books and periodicals in the world, it’s also a memorial. The act of devotion of a mother who lost her son in the Titanic shipwreck. A real Trauerarbeit. Harry Elkins Widener, Harvard class of 1907, loved and collected books. Upon his death, his mother decided to donate his enviable collection, plus a considerable amount of money, to build what today is Harvard’s most impressive library. Widener is both the geographical and symbolic center of Harvard University, and the building that every tourist wants to see. One cannot climb the thirty steps of Widener’s broad front stairs without having to dodge a tourist guide immersed in the act of narrating the tragedy of the … Read More »
Translated by Julia Ostmann
Chatting Over A Drink
Conversation in the Convent
Being, appearing to be, and running a bookstore in Mexico is a high art, not suitable for the lazy and much less for the novice. In a country where drinking is a national sport and where disorganized realities demand constant interpretation, the invitation to buy and read books seems at first like a mistake, then a deviation. In the end, it seems like a warm welcome.
For this reason, and so the endeavor bears fruit, a few daring people have put together—with distinct success—a fascinating hybrid that fulfills two essential needs: the bookstore bar, that is, the wineglass lubricated by books, a concept not far off from my idea of paradise.
Among the various options for getting hammered among a few though learned books, the most conspicuous, elegant, … Read More »
translated by Victoria Lampard
To Charles Coustille,
guilty of making me love France,
he who declares himself innocent of everything.
Libraries very much resemble churches: there are some that can make you feel even closer to God. There are so many libraries in Paris that it’s hard to decide which to visit on a daily basis. There’s your neighborhood library, your university library, your country’s library, the Scandinavian countries’ libraries—more modern—the Grandes Écoles, the famous ones like Saint-Geneviève, the cool ones like Beaubourg, and then there is the official, unquestioned Cathedral of French Wisdom, immense, solemn, silent: the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Against all expectations, the lofty, serious BnF is the only place in which someone as restless as myself is able to sit down and study.
Before the main branch of the library was at Richelieu, near the Opera and the … Read More »
translated by Julia Ostmann
My favorite bookstore is a ghost bookstore. It was called the Orellana and was located in the center of Valparaíso. It closed a couple of years ago. It just couldn’t hold out anymore. Its owners were an old couple that had been there since the mid-’50s or ’60s. He was tall and thin; she was tiny and wore thick glasses.
I never knew their names.
My grandmother had kept an account at the bookstore ever since it opened. My grandmother read a lot: in the house where I grew up, my parents’ books were mixed with hers. That library formed or deformed me. Many of those volumes came from the Orellana, easy to recognize thanks to a stamp on the first page. When my parents got paid at the end of the month, they would give … Read More »
translated by Sarah Bruni
Call it bookstore anxiety disorder. I know I’m not the first to suffer from this affliction, and I won’t be the last. This particular illness should be described in some list of new pathologies—at once intense and subtle, it can attack anyone wandering amid long shelves of shiny, attractive volumes. Nausea, maybe, an angst whose cause is difficult to name: it’s something in the exaggerated order of the books, their eagerness, something in their obvious hierarchy. The larger the store, the clearer its windows, the stronger the feeling—although even in airport bookstores, this malaise can be unexpectedly intense.
I’m sure that this phenomenon has spread to a hundred countries, but São Paulo is one of its origins. Forced to shop at big chains and impassable megastores, the city’s last remaining literate residents are … Read More »
By Marfa Nekrasova
translated by Nathan Jeffers
The word Hyperion has many possible meanings; it can refer to a book, a poem, a tree, a spaceship, one of the 12 Titans, or even one of Saturn’s moons. However, ask a Muscovite about Hyperion and the reply you will most likely hear will lead you to a bookstore. What you will find is not so much a small back-alley bookshop, stuffed from floor to ceiling with dusty books, but rather a straight up book megastore.
The fact that this bookstore is located in a former house of Culture (a Soviet institution used to host performances and other large gatherings) means it is doomed to have an enduring ‘underground’ vibe. The space of the house of Culture has been used over the past three years in an … Read More »
Translated from Ukrainian by Jennifer Croft
“No photos,” barks the geezer wearing the typically Soviet hat with the visor, synthetic leather sandals, an untucked shirt, and pants that haven’t been washed in ages.
He says it in Russian, but I answer in Ukrainian. “Too bad,” I say with a sigh and survey once more his wares arrayed across a sheet of pleather cast across the cobblestones: a shoddy photocopy of an abridged Mein Kampf in the very center, and next to it a treatise of similar quality on the Ukrainian liberation movement of the 1920s, both against the backdrop of a generous assortment of Komsomol, Young Pioneer, and World War II symbolism: badges, photographs, belts, and Soviet-style cockades. The selection on neighboring tables and mats is neither less varied nor less noteworthy. Soviet and Italian pop hits on … Read More »
For as little as $140, anyone now can now buy his or her own little bookstore—for that is essentially what an e-book reader is: a combination of book and private store, a boutique, almost, with minimal overhead and a vast selection, a distant warehouse’s franchise outlet, scaled for the hand, serviced by a single employee, who is also the owner and the store’s sole customer. And, contrary to inherited wisdom, the success of these handheld machines suggests that there are actually armies of people who have wanted to work in a bookstore, but had never before had the chance.
In the meantime, beautiful independent bookstores like Prairie Lights (est. 1978) have become multi-layered symbols: as bookstores, they resist the unwanted apotheosis of “book culture” into the cloud; as “independents,” they are the victims of the latest corporate assault … Read More »
Juan Soto Ivars
I used to live in Madrid, but now I only go when I’m able, and feel like it. When I get there I perform certain rituals, like a pilgrim arriving at Santiago de Compostela. One is to have a beer at a great bar called Pepe Botella, and another is to give in to the temptation of Arrebato (“Rapture”), a bookstore on La Palma street, right in the middle of Malasaña. It’s a second-hand bookstore, but that second hand has a soft touch. Pepe, the bookseller, finds objects of value to the literary sybarite and offers them up for sale instead of keeping them for himself, which is what I would do. It’s not like Tipos Infames, a nearby bookstore with a Michelin star for selling new work. It’s a space for exploration, a place where you never … Read More »
The fire began surreptitiously, away from the bar’s carousing punters, but soon crept into the kitchen. There it licked at the piled gas cylinders, unleashing a conflagration of such ferocity that in no time at all the store next door was engulfed. It was no ordinary establishment. Pilgrims Book House was perhaps the largest, certainly the most loved, purveyor of books in Nepal.
The owner came running, summoned the fire brigade and appealed to his neighbours to employ their buckets. It took 12 hours to tame the fire. There was relief that no lives were lost, that the inferno hadn’t spread through the tourist quarter of Thamel. But for booklovers across the Kathmandu Valley, this was a tragedy of Alexandrian proportions: tens of thousands of books on literally every subject in the cosmos lay scattered in a sodden heap outside the … Read More »