Before our trip, the list of Roman bookstores in Bookstore Guide was, and we must admit this, scarce. It consisted of only two shops and we were even starting to wonder about the offer of the eternal city since no one was recommending us any bookstores in or near this area. So after doing some pre-departure research, we actually found out that Rome did have much to offer - all we had to do was check out the scene. Luckily, the aftermath has, if nothing else, resulted in the saturation of our Rome bookstore list.
Bookstores located at airports, railway or bus stations usually consist of several shelves filled with books that the owners expect the bored travelers to read - mostly cheap thrillers, unoriginal romance novels or, in the best case, some of the latest bestsellers. Our first stop, right after our arrival at the Termini station - Borri Books - is a full-pledged bookstore with a vast and complex selection of titles which is very well integrated within the premises of Rome's lively train station. Completely a part of Termini with all the travelers, the rush and the special (though some not in a pleasant way) local characters and at the same time isolated in a world of its own, peace and calm of the thousands of volumes on the shelves - with only the transparent layer of glass separating these two different realities.
It is the kind of bookstore you can easily get lost in - vast amount of space (three floors actually) filled with books, although the first two floors are occupied by solely Italian books. The foreign language section is on the uppermost floor and it is an impressive one. We've had the opportunity to check this bookstore thoroughly, inside and out - Borri Books was the meeting point chosen by our friend from Rome, who warned us in advance that he's not the most punctual person, so we ended up waiting for almost an hour. However, Borri Books is a good place to wait.
Open Door Bookshop most definitely belongs to our favorite type of second-hand English language bookstores. Small, cozy, oozing with the smell of used books which lay in piles all around you. But that is not all, as sometimes books per se are not enough. They also have to be worthy of being read - such are the books which live in Open Door Bookshop.
Our main problem in Open Door was to resist buying too many books, since we knew we'd have to carry them for the rest of our trip, which was only at its beginning at that stage. We even considered putting the books in a package and shipping it back to Bratislava, so that they'd be waiting for us upon our arrival, but in the end we decided against it. Still, browsing in Open Door and leaving with two books has been a great experience - it is the only strictly second-hand English bookstore in Rome and we would definitely rank it among the best bookstores of this kind in Europe. It remains questionable whether the name of the bookstore was chosen for this reason, but visitors of this bookstore must really feel welcome, at least we surely did.
Almost Corner Bookshop is a cute little bookshop with an interesting name - to discover the whole story behind it, check out our regular post. This independent bookshop can be found in Trastavere, a lively part of Rome which has very much managed to maintain its authenticity and where you can actually see more locals than tourists. Almost Corner Bookshop, founded by an expat from Ireland, is a successful independent business that sets the standard for English language bookshops in Rome at a very high level.
Its present premises, although bigger than the previous ones, are still rather limited. However, this situation has produced a very positive side effect reflected in the bookshop's stock - even a short visit makes you realize that every single title on display has been chosen after careful consideration and that the people at the bookshop really know their stock very well. In contrast to our previous stop, Almost Corner Bookshop stocks only new books, which gives the owner a better opportunity to make the stock reflect his own taste. We're not completely sure if it was only caused by the accent of the owner's chatting in the shop, or by the general atmosphere of this bookshop, but we were leaving with the impression that it had a noticeable British feeling about it.
A very very useful resource for anyone seeking any books in English, located in a part of Rome which seems to be a beehive full of tourists. On the day of our visit the streets were even more crowded than usual, as a public demonstration against the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was taking place in the center of Rome. But still, Anglo-American Bookshop can be your refuge, a get-away-from-it-all where, behind closed doors, you can browse for hours. Although we were inside during the tourist rush hour, there were only few people inside but us.
This bookstore is one of those places where you can find almost anything you want and it is also a perfect place for students of foreign languages, university teachers and academics looking for harder-to-find titles by famous but also more obscure authors. This is perhaps why, together with its over 50-year long tradition and a very nice interior, Anglo-American Book & Co has managed to build such a good reputation and remains one of the favorite destinations for English literature among the people of Rome.
The Lion Bookshop has been included in Bookstore Guide for quite some time before we had the opportunity to visit it in person. When we finally entered the door with the logo of the red lion, we were positively surprised to discover the wide selection of books to be found in The Lion Bookshop. To sum it all up, this bookstore offers four rooms occupied by books in English - the regular fiction/non-fiction section, the ELT and childrens' books corner, the coffee table books section with several tables to browse through your picks and a small but very valuable section with discounted books (mostly guides for 5EUR, paperbacks for 2.5 and hardcovers for a 50% discount).
We have to admit that we ended up being lured into the mysterious discount section. It is well hidden in a small narrow room behind the children's section, but once you manage to find your way in, it's not that easy to leave - one wall covered with books ranging from the most obscure fiction and non-fiction titles some dealing with topics that can't be called anything else but absurd, along with books by well renowned authors whom you wouldn't expect to find there at all. We found this small room very interesting also from a "scientific" point of view - as it showed a sample of books which were labeled as impossible to sell at the original price.
Resisting La Feltrinelli in Rome was almost impossible, as we passed by one of their stores quite often. What we liked was that not all of their stores are uniform and that several of them are specialized in a specific field such as music or foreign language books. Not surprisingly, it was the foreign language store La Feltrinelli International which we decided to add to the Guide as we think that a list of English language bookstores in Rome wouldn't be complete without it.
Our visit of La Feltrinelli International took place in the period following the death of J.D. Salinger - one of the most enigmatic figures of American literature in the 20th century. It was nice to see that a special display in honor of J.D. Salinger was set up with his books exposed in prominent place. Of course, it remains questionable whether the author himself would appreciate this sort of exposure in such a place, but we still took it as a positive that the staff of La Feltrinelli took the time and effort to reflect the passing of a major figure of the American literary scene in their offer.
Bookabar has always been the question mark bookstore in our guide since the info we could find online was very scarce. Luckily, we had the chance of checking it ourselves. And although we must say we weren't impressed with its (almost non-existent) English language selection (save a couple of tens of books in English), we were amazed at the bookstore's interior. Perhaps the drawback of the lack of books in English can be waived since its selection focuses purely on art ( with here-and-there -work of fiction). We can only comfort ourselves with the fact that perhaps some of you there buy art books just for the sake of looking at pictures or perhaps some speak Italian and can fully indulge in reading books from Bookabar.
Either way, this bookstore should not be left out of your Rome bookstore browsing experience as it is magnificently beautiful and stylish and while there, you can check out the current exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. While we were there, we didn't miss out on the National Geographic's exhibition of photographs taken throughout the world. The visit of Bookabar is thus a truly artistic experience.
We were taken by surprise when it comes to Il Mare because we accidentally stumbled upon it while looking for another bookstore which we had previously found online. In the end, the search proved to be a worthy one, although we didn't find the bookstore we were originally looking for, as Il Mare can definitely be categorized as 'one of a kind' at least in Rome, if not throughout Italy.
As we think that the description of the bookstore in our regular post is quite exhausting and detailed, instead of adding more to it here, we decided to mention a very entertaining experience that took place on our way to Il Mare. We noticed an improvised street-art exhibition along a long fence, which served as the artist's gallery. Every few meters there was a small collection of objects on display (usually made up of recycled materials) along with a short funny description. Live rats were a part of the show as well. In the middle of the fence, there was a picture of an older man with the sign "double-take" underneath it and when we turned around (after a whistle) we saw the same man standing on the other side of the street in the exact same position as on the photo. That's how we met "Il Faust" an intriguing persona of the Roman street-art scene.
That is the case for the very perky and narrow Libreria del Viaggiatore, (unfortunately, we found no website) located in the very center of Rome (Via del Pellegrino 78, just a few short streets south-west from Piazza Navona). The name of this bookstore translates to 'the Bookstore of the Traveler'. So, needless to add, it specializes in travel literature. Now, although most of its stock consists of books in the Italian language, a few books in English and other languages can be found there as well. This little bookstore is literally packed with travel literature, maps, guides, etc. and it can certainly please almost every traveler. (Open Mon-Sat 10-14 and 16-20).
Mel Bookstore is a chain bookstore, with locations in Rome, Bolgna, Ferrara, Firenze, Novara and Padova. In Rome it is located in Via Nazionale 254-225. Mel Bookstore is large, as a matter of fact a huge bookshop in one of the main pedestrian zones, near the train station. Its Italian section is breathtaking and if you speak Italian, we're sure you'll be bound to find what you are looking for. Although Mel does have an English language section (consisting of mostly fiction literature), it is more of a wall plus one and when compared to the size of the whole premises, it may seem rather small and insignificant.
Altroquando is a cute little bookstore located in one of the narrow streets of Rome's city center in Via del Governo Vecchio near/at Piazza Pasquino. Lots of books on art and cinema, though most of its stock consists of books in Italian (though few English books are to be found here and there). Still, some artsy books can look good on your shelves or on your coffee table, regardless of their language. Open every day from 10:30am to 02:00am - so even if on a midnight stroll in this neighborhood, do drop in.
A very specific and peculiar specialty characterizes the last bookstore on our list - Libreria Griot, as it focuses on African literature. It is located in Via di S. Cecilia 1/A, in Trastevere and it stocks both fiction and non-fiction written by and of people of African origin. More than ninety-five percent of the stock is in the Italian language, which is quite a shame for the non-Italian speaking community since the offer is rather appealing. Some books in English and French can be found here and there. Another interesting thing about Griot is its interior, designed in a manner reminiscent of Africa - which comes as no surprise of course. Oh, and they also sell some jewelery, pots and magnets with African patterns and drawings. Definitely a must-see. Griot also serves as a cafe. (Open Tuesday to Sunday 11-23)
As the number of bookstores included in this report suggests, our trip has been a rather exhaustive one. We were really glad to evade the summer heat and besides filling the Guide with several new bookstore entries, we were also able to enjoy many famous but also less-known and less-crowded sights of the eternal city. Full of impressions and with the weight of several new books in our backpacks we headed off to Sicily.
Check out our Reports from other European cities.