I can't help it. It's the worst of my vices. A compulsion, an irresistible and unstoppable passion - and an expensive one. I've suffered from it since I was 14 or 15 and it's never left me. I'm talking about bookshops. I am drawn to them like a magnet. I can spend hours (and I mean "hours" literally) sniffin', browsin', readin' some pages or dreamin' awake in one of them.
I spent years on end buying comics, records, and films. I still do it, but there’s nothing I can compare to buying books. I’ve got so many books, that I can’t keep them in my own house, and I am forced to store part of my personal library in my old room at my mother’s. Due to my random reading order, I have read some of my books several years after coming home with them. Many still lay on my shelves, waiting for their moment. Books fascinate me; I like their content
of course but I love them as objects. And they don’t have to be illustrated, special or first editions for me to consider them special. My friends say they can’t think of me without a book in my hands. I always carry a book every time I go out. If I have to queue for five minutes at the baker’s or at the doctor’s, I read. If I take a train or a bus, I read. If I have to wait for my wife at the shoe shop, I read. If I take Fergus for a long walk, I read. I update my Facebook profile every time I begin a new book. I guess you already get the drift.
I don’t usually go to the public library; I prefer buying my books. I think I’ve ended up buying all the books I’ve ever borrowed from a library and liked. That’s how I’ve come across so many bookshops. They are fantastic places, especially the small independent ones. Those are the true last refuge of the old-fashioned professional bookseller; the one that knows his product perfectly well and who can guide and give advice to his/her costumers. I have nothing against those big bookshop chains, but some of them are just like supermarkets: they focus on soon-to-expire products. To them, the most important thing is amount, not quality. So if you are looking for something special, you have to go to the delicatessen shop. I have nothing to say against the convenience of ordering books on-line and get them at home in a few days. That is very useful, specially if you are looking for out-of-print or foreign books. But give me that bookshop around the corner, small, stacked with books and with a powerful personality. Give me those bookshops that keep long sellers and classics in store, and devote just the exact amount of space for junk novelties and the best sellers. Give me that shop and that bookseller who tries to find the book you want.
And now allow me to tell you about some of my favourite bookshops in Madrid.
On a recent trip, I came upon Tipos Infames in calle San Joaquín 3. The name says it all: books and books and more books and…a wine store where you can ask for a coffee, a cuppa or a glass of wine. You can take a look at their menu, which will help you choose the ideal bottle to read along with a selection of books. A brilliant idea and a nice place with an interesting décor.
Another great place is Eléctrico Ardor, in Calle Pelayo 62. What makes it special? Lots of things. They sell books from independent Spanish and South American publishers, and they know exactly what they do. When I visited them for the first time, I just wanted to browse from their shelves a bit. I asked the owner about the best names to get started in contemporary Argentinian poetry and she offered me a chair and a score of books to read for as long as I pleased. How can one resist that? I left the place with three books by three different poets which I only knew by name (Arturo Carrera, Leónidas Lamborghini and Héctor Viel Temperley) and that she recommended ardently. Eléctrico Ardor holds book previews, book signings with authors and literary séances. The place is wonderful and managed by a lovely and kind couple.
I’ve been a customer of Arrebato Libros since I lived in Madrid and had to look for the out-of-print books that I had to read for the Faculty of Philology in the UNED. Arrebato always had most of them, so I used to browse their website and I went to the shop to get those books and then some. Back then, the bookshop used to be real close to Plaza del Dos de Mayo, but recently, they moved in to new premises, close to the old place, in Calle de La Palma 22. They are also publishers and organize cultural events.
Tres Rosas Amarillas specializes in short tale. It has a great design and décor and they serve as a base for cultural events, such as book previews and miscellaneous literary events. The bookshop is named after the Spanish translation of a tale by Raymond Carver about the last days of Anton Chekhov (‘Errand’). A personal weakness.
There’s plenty more, of course. I could tell you about Hiperión, a paradise for poetry; Visor, Antonio Machado (one of them located really close to the LomoShop in Calle Argensola), but since at the moment I don’t have pictures of them, we’ll leave it for some other time.