Do more than just read at some of the world’s best bookstores. They’re where local cultural communities are fostered, and where you can have an intellectual escape in a beautiful sanctuary. The best bookstores become spaces of learning. Here’s a round-up of seven around Asia and the Pacific worth travelling for.
ATTA GALATTA BOOKSTORE IN BANGALORE, INDIA
When husband-and-wife team, Lalitha Lakshmi and Subodh Sankar, opened Atta Galatta Bookstore in April 2012, they knew they had to do more than put books on shelves to sustain their business. So Atta Galatta became a community space for cultural events from the start, entertaining adults and children with book launches, poetry readings, film screenings and musical performances; where like-minded people could meet and contribute their art and ideas. These days, customers can count on catching five to eight events every weekend across the two floors of the 280 sq m shop. Comfortable sofas, tables and chairs on the first floor provide patrons with a pleasant place to read. When people started spending more time at the store, the couple opened a cafe and bakery onsite offering South Indian-style drip coffee, sandwiches, cakes and bread rolls. These have become so popular that the Atta Galatta brand of baked goods is now sold at most supermarkets in Bangalore. Still, the store’s focus on literature remains. Atta Galatta specialises in Indian-language books, carrying 12,000 titles in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and Bengali as well as Indian literature written in English.
LIBRAIRIE AVANT-GARDE IN NANJING, CHINA
An underground carpark is an unlikely location of what was dubbed China’s most beautiful bookshop by American news channel CNN in 2013. A pair of parallel yellow road markings remain and lead the way to a large black cross which dominates the wall at one end of a cavernous hall – the idea being that reading is a religion. Even the cashier counter at Librairie Avant-Garde is well read, given that it is made from thousands of old books. There is a sizeable collection of social science and humanities books, though they are largely in Chinese. For those who wish to linger in the 4,000 sq m space, there are plenty of seats as well as a cafe.
READINGS IN MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
Since the opening of its flagship store in the Carlton neighbourhood of Melbourne in 1969, Readings has been a beloved champion of Australian literature, starting from Helen Garner’s first novel Monkey Grip in 1977, to selling thousands of copies of The Boat, an award-winning collection of short stories by Vietnamese-Australian author Nam Le, in 2008. Though it has expanded to include five stores in Melbourne, with two more set to open later this year, Readings has maintained its independent bookstore vibe. Each shop has its own character and the books sold reflect the varied tastes and passions of its staff.
A Readings Monthly newsletter features staff reviews and author interviews, and three of its bookstores hold about 250 events a year such as book launches, panel discussions, musical performances and storytelling for children. In 2014, Readings launched the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and Readings Children’s Book Prize to recognise and promote exciting new contributions to local literature. In honour of its support of Australian authors and its focus on the community, Readings was awarded the Bookstore of the Year Award at the London Book Fair International Excellence Awards earlier this year.
DAIKANYAMA TSUTAYA BOOKS IN TOKYO, JAPAN
Sleek and modern in its aesthetic, yet decidedly retro in its tastes, Daikanyama Tsutaya Books updates what people loved best about old-fashioned bookstores in the present day. Outside, the store’s simple rectangular structure with a bright white facade of interlacing Ts belies the cosy, softly lit space within. Designed by award-winning Tokyo-based firm Klein Dytham Architecture, the store is split between three buildings which are connected at the ground level by a 55m aisle called Magazine Street. Six book departments – cuisine; travel; cars and motorcycles; architecture and design; art; and humanities and literature – extend off the aisle into wings where pristine rows and shelves of books are interspersed with deep leather armchairs for reading.
Thousands of music albums and DVDs are available too, with a dedicated concierge for specialised recommendations. Customers can sample more than 1,000 jazz, rock, pop and classical music albums at 40 seated listening stations in the store. If a classic movie title is not available on DVD, the concierge will make a copy for you. On the second floor, in the Anjin Library & Lounge, customers will find a salon where they can have coffee or a whisky from the bar and browse a collection of rare books and 30,000 vintage magazines from around the world. The store also offers a travel desk, a camera shop, a restaurant and a stationery department where customers can buy speciality paper, utensils and pens. Monogramming is available as a same-day service.