We started our Madrid bookstore quest in a bookstore with a very promising name - Bookworld and our initial expectations were only confirmed even before actually entering the bookstore. At the time of our visit, the featured book which the bookstore was promoting and which occupied one full shop window was Paul Auster's latest novel - Man in the Dark. Encouraged by this demonstration of interesting taste we entered and we have to say that the positive impact of this first impression carried on through the whole visit. Bookworld is not a one of a kind second-hand den full of surprises and unexpected finds, it's a well-organized bookstore which only sells new books. And we were really impressed by the fact that, to put it simply - they're really good at what they're doing. By then, we had seen many bookstores in the past days, and sometimes it could happen that some of them just ended up as a blurry memory, because nothing specific made them stand out. We remember Bookworld because of its added value - the friendly relaxed atmosphere, a great selection of nicely-displayed books, special offers for very friendly prices and all these features rank it among the bookstores that really pleased us.
The second bookstore we visited was of a completely different sort than the first one. Petra's International Bookshop is the right place for all those bookstore explorers who find pleasure in browsing through piles of books with the hope of finding some rare gem. Petra's is not a place where you can just drop in for five minutes find the book you were looking for and leave. It is one of those bookstores where the search becomes an equally important part of the whole experience. And the fact that Petra’s Bookshop has been around for quite some time becomes more than obvious even before you spot the old pictures and cut-out newspaper articles displayed on a special notice board, because it’s reflected in the bookstore’s stock. Older second-hand bookstores tend to have a stock consisting of several layers, which, to an experienced eye, can serve as an indication of the bookstore’s age. Of course, this gives the stock a specific character, and the browser an opportunity to find titles long out of stock at regular bookstores. Most of the titles are either English or Spanish but, if you're lucky, you might even be able to find some rarer languages such as Russian, Polish and even Serbian.
The next place we’re about to describe - J&J Books and Coffee, is definitely the most hip place with English books we found in Madrid. Suffice to say that our visit, which was a part of one of our long night strolls through the streets of Madrid, took place way past midnight. As the name suggests, J&J doesn’t only offer books – in fact, upon entering you’ll find yourself in a regular bar. However, there’s a small stall with several staff-picked titles near the entrance which you can’t miss, as well as an arrow directing you down to the underground bookstore. Due to the late hour, we found ourselves all alone in the spacious basement filled with English titles. The white shelves lining the walls are filled with all sorts of English books, and we have to add that, for Madrid standards, they come at very affordable prices. There’s even one separate smaller room where all the books are offered at significantly reduced prices. So by the time we climbed back up to the lively ground floor where the barman was still serving drinks, we had our hands full of books.
The next day, we actually managed to wake up early enough to visit the next bookstore on our list - Booksellers before the afternoon siesta. Maybe it was caused by the fact that the whole city still seemed to be mostly at sleep or that we ourselves were rather burned out, but this bookstore hasn’t left such a deep impression on us. The place was empty during our visit and for some reason it seemed a bit sterile, meaning that it seemed to lack the usual specific atmosphere of a bookstore where the books are worshiped both by the staff and the visitors. We tend to believe that this feeling was just a matter of the bad timing of our visit. When it comes to the stock at Booksellers, it’s definitely the best place to go for those trying to improve their English language skills, as the offer of ELT materials, dictionaries and all sorts of course books was definitely the best one we’ve seen in Madrid. There also is a considerable fiction section and a few shelves of non-fiction titles, but we found this selection rather narrow, although sufficient to provide the customer with all the latest bestsellers and interesting new releases.
It would be rather harsh to say that La Libreria de Lavapies turned out to be a disappointment, especially since we’re talking about a very nice independent bookstore located in the multicultural and extremely lively neighbourhood of Lavapies. It’s just that this bookstore is not among your top options if you’re looking for English books. We loved the atmosphere of this place and we’re pretty sure that when it comes to books in Spanish, Libreria de Lavapies is the place to head to in this part of the city. However, the English section doesn’t match the rest of the bookstore’s offer neither in quality nor in scope. It’s concentrated in a small room and it consists of a rather poor selection of a few shelves filled with second-hand titles. But let us stress once again, that if you’re looking for a quality selection of titles in Spanish, you will surely appreciate this pretty independent bookstore a lot. The small square with a nice fountain right next to the bookstore is a great place to flip through the pages of the newly acquired books.
As our stay in Madrid only lasted for five days and there are simply too many attractions that this city has to offer, we weren’t able to see all the bookstores we intended to visit. However, from what we did manage to see, we can conclude that Madrid offers several interesting options to those searching for books in English. Whether you’re looking for a specific recently released title or you just feel like trying your luck on a random browse through piles of second-hand titles, we hope that our report will help you get a better idea as where to turn.
Check out our Reports from other European cities.