Anyone who loves books loves bookshops (right?). When I was young a favourite bookshop was simply one with a lot of books. Probably my favourite growing up was “Read ‘n’ Return” in Exeter – a small second-hand shop where you could return the book after you’d read it and get half the price refunded. I spent many an hour in their basement scouring the stuffed shelves for cheap science fiction. Sadly they closed down just recently.
Second hand bookshops always seemed more fun than shiny new ones. There was the thrill of discovering a bargain amongst the disordered piles, and the musty smell which is so much more romantic and evocative than new book smell. Probably the most romantic (and romanticised) bookshop I’ve ever been to is “Shakespeare & Company” in Paris. It’s a lovely warm, welcoming place to while away a few hours, although, as I say, the young staff are often overly keen to regale you at length with the place’s history and legends.
Brussels has a few good spots too. Sterling Books (English books only) is cosy and friendly and has nice comfy chairs. Filigranes (mostly French, but a lot of English stuff too) has recently expanded and has a new café, a piano player on Sundays, wine tastings, a children’s play area, as well as a very good selection, especially in art. It’s also one of the few places open on Sundays (Brussels is quite traditional in this respect, which is fine by me – I don’t need Sunday to be a second Saturday), and in fact it’s open 365 days a year.
Up until very recently Filigranes was my favourite, but then I found Cook & Book, part of the new Wolubilis arts centre.
Like Filigranes, this is “more than just a bookshop”. As the name suggests, it’s part bookshop, part restaurant (well, several restaurants – there’s a variety of eating areas, dotted throughout various sections). Open 7 days a week and until midnight at the weekends, it’s a fun place to hang out, full of wacky design features (cars, trailers, lamps made from soup cans and bottles) and funky book-related gifts. Take a look for yourself at the flickr album.
I especially like this couples’ reading armchair in the English section. I can imagine curling up in this with a good book and Kate Winslet my wife sat opposite me…