Jorge Carrión’s Bookshops takes you on a captivating journey across the world, from one beautiful literary destination to another.
If you are a bibliophile, this book is your tarte Tatin.
I know gastronomic analogies sound weird, but this book deserves such exaggerations. Dotted with pictures and inundated with stories of bookshops from all over the world, this book is an aphrodisiac for a book lover’s mind.
Born in the Catalonia region of Spain, Jorge Carrión writes in Spanish, and Bookshops happens to be his first book. The prominent translator Peter Bush deserves praise for so accurately translating Carrión’s work that it retains its spirit from the original.
“Every bookshop is a condensed version of the world,” remarks Carrión as he starts off the first chapter. The moment I read the line, I picked up my pencil and wrote in the margins, Wow! yet to find a better description of a bookshop.
I must tell you that after Umberto Eco’s books, I think it’s Jorge Carrión’s Bookshops which I turned into a scribbling art book.
Jorge Carrión writes a panegyric to all beautiful and historical bookshops
Ask any bibliophile where they like to go to after they land in a foreign country, and invariably, you’d get a flurry of names of libraries and bookshops. Jorge Carrión is no different.
In fact, I can deduce that he drew the inspiration to write Bookshops from traversing numerous literary destinations over the years.
If you are someone working on a list of the historical and resplendent bookshops from around the world, this book can be your handy companion. Shortly, I would publish a list of all bookshops that feature in this book.
Speaking of exotic bookshops, there are some usual suspects – names that you would expect to feature in a book like this. So you have Shakespeare and Company from Paris, Livraria Lello from Porto, Acqua Alta from Venice, Foyles from London, and more.
However, it’s the fantastic stories of those lesser-known yet mythical bookshops that make this book a worthwhile read. I came across so many hidden gems from Turkey, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Portugal, Argentina, etc.
Riveting stories add to the engrossment quotient
Carrión’s wonderful book brims with interesting insights and several historic accounts. Of all, three particular stories that would stay with me are the following:
a.) The accounts of two Parisian bookshops – Shakespeare and Company and La maison des Amis des Livres (now defunct), their glorious yet intricate pasts and the chemistry between their eccentric owners – Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier.
b.) Accounts of Stalin, Hitler and Mao and how these once avid booklovers turned into sinister bookburners – a transformation that went in tandem with their descent into madness.
c.) The description of Tangier – the surreal Moroccan port city and its mythical bookshop – Librairie des Colonnes. Carrión details the place in such a way that it’s impossible to not evoke the images of what it could have been like living there.
Bookshop vs Library
Libraries are widely given the status of being reading meccas. If libraries are reading meccas, then bookshops are no lesser places of worship either.
Jorge Carrión brings to the fore the tantalizing interplay between the bookshop and the library.
In his opening chapter, he describes Bookshop and Library as a two-faced Janus, with the library signifying the past and the bookshop the future.
There is no doubt that both entities are pivotal to modern society. But, when it comes to holding cultural importance, the library has always edged the bookshop.
I found myself in agreement with the author here. See, regardless of the era, the bookshop has always had to fight a lonesome battle to make a mark, whereas its more illustrious cousin – the library – found support in government funding and local institutional support.
Unlike the library, the bookshop weighs under the burden of having to generate a profit. Further, it is never extolled in the doctoral theses, essays, and critiques as a potent cultural instrument that reflects and affects the zeitgeist of the day.
Carrión notes, “...the balance of history always inclines towards the library.” His book, however, accomplishes a commendable effort of upending the uncelebrated status of the bookshop.
If I have to describe Bookshops in one sentence, I would say, it’s a delectable fusion of Carrión’s literary pilgrimage across the world entwined with engrossing stories of bookshops and their owners.
Carrión is a master storyteller. His writing piques your imagination and makes you conjure up stuff – transporting you into different eras as you read this book. He also keeps the chapters short and the sentences spring-loaded.
In the end, there is so much to like about Bookshops and so little to criticize. For the obvious bibliophiles and amateurs of world literature who are reading this review, Jorge Carrión’s book will be a welcome addition to their bookshelves.
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