1. Zhongshuge Bookstore, China
Bookstores are rarely seen as a statement of art, but Chinese bookstore chain Zhongshuge has changed that perception with its cutting-edge store designs. A prime example is its branch located in Yangzhou city, Jiangsu province, which was designed by X+Living. Inspired by the flow of the mighty Yangtze river and its numerous arched bridges, the store’s main book display area features curved walls lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases and black mirrored floors that give visitors the illusion of stepping into a cylindrical vortex made out of books. The seemingly endless tunnel of books also pays homage to Yangzhou’s historical significance as a gathering place for writers and poets. Other sections of the library include the main reading room with its sculpted curved pillars; and a children’s reading room filled with whimsical, irregularly shaped bookshelves and a ceiling that resembles a starry night sky, created using LED lights.
2. State Library Victoria, Australia
Combining books, history and art in a central location, State Library Victoria on Swanston Street in Melbourne is one of the best examples of what a public library should be. Established in 1854, the library is the country’s oldest, and one of the first free libraries in the world. The facility has seven reading rooms, the biggest being the octagonal-shaped La Trobe reading room – a six-storey structure with a stunning domed ceiling. In total, the library has over two million books and 350,000 photographs, maps and manuscripts, with a particular focus on the history of Victoria state. Other attractions include the permanent exhibition of armour worn by the infamous outlaw Ned Kelly, and art galleries showcasing works by artists such as William Strutt and Juan Davila, as well as a roster of touring exhibits and year-round events.
3. Jimbocho, Japan
Tokyo is famed for its cutting-edge technology but for book lovers, the city offers another gem in the form of Kanda-Jimbocho in Chiyoda district. Commonly referred to as Jimbocho, the area is home to over 180 bookshops, selling everything from first edition books to manga comics and vintage fashion magazines. For serious bibliophiles, antiquarian bookseller Isseido has an impressive collection of rare books and manuscripts on various subjects including history, art and literature, as well as original Edo-period woodblock prints and antique maps. Another great space to spend an afternoon is Tokyodo, one of Jimbocho’s bigger bookstores that carries modern mainstream publications. Reading and browsing are encouraged at this store, which provides visitors a comfortable reading area and free Wi-Fi. For English language books, head to Kitazawa Shoten and Sanseido – both establishments offer a large selection of English novels, coffee-table books and academic textbooks.
4. Real Gabinete Português De Leitura, Brazil
Situated on Luis de Camoes Street in Rio de Janeiro, Real Gabinete Português de Leitura, or Royal Portuguese Cabinet of Reading, stands out as a literary and cultural icon. Portuguese immigrants established the cabinet as an institution dedicated to preserving their culture and heritage by bringing literature from their homeland into Brazil, and in 1880, construction work began on the library. Built in the neo-Manueline architectural style, its façade is complemented by sculptures of famous Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama and Pedro Álvares Cabral. The library’s interior features a cathedral-like setting, with a stained glass dome and large ornate bookshelves. Filled with over 350,000 books, the library houses the most extensive collection of Portuguese publications outside of Portugal, and scores of new titles are added to the collection each year.
5. Strahov Monastery Library, Czech Republic
Ardent fans of antique books flock to the Czech capital city of Prague to visit the Strahov Monastery Library, located close to Prague Castle. The monastery was founded in 1140, and its library is considered one of the world’s most exceptional, with its extensive collection of rare and ancient books, and hand-written manuscripts, some dating back to the ninth century. Through many periods of war, parts of the monastery and library were destroyed, and in the 18th century, it was re-modelled in the Baroque-style. The library is divided into two sections namely the Theological Hall, which features stunning frescoes with biblical themes, intricate stuccos and
over 18,000 rare religious books; and the Philosophical Hall, with its magnificent Intellectual Progress of Mankind mural that depicts the mutual impact of both religion and science on humanity, and a collection of over 42,000 publications.
6. Shakespeare and Company, France
This establishment on Paris’ Left Bank is more than just a bookstore as it also welcomes authors to use it as a base to write. The store has hosted some of the most prominent literary names in history including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
7. College Street, India
Nestled within central Kolkata, College Street is India’s biggest book market, covering an area of almost one million square feet. Some of the country’s biggest publishing houses are located here, alongside hundreds of bookshops and makeshift stalls selling everything from academic textbooks to popular novels.
8. Nguyen Van Binh Street, Vietnam
Avid readers who find themselves in Ho Chi Minh City should not miss the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere on Nguyen Van Binh Street, located opposite Notre Dame Cathedral. With a length of over 100 metres, this cheery book street is lined with small kiosks, shops and stalls selling both new and used books including novels, travelogues, poetry, comics and children’s books, among others, at reasonable prices. The street also has a number of cafés perfect for spending an afternoon in with a good book while sipping a cup of local coffee. At the end of the street, there is a public outdoor reading space where local book clubs often meet to socialise and discuss all things literary. The area is also used for related events such as art and cultural workshops, and book talks.
9. Starfield Library, South Korea
Few shopping malls in the world can boast having a sizeable library within its walls, but this is exactly what the Starfield COEX Mall in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, offers. Positioned in the centre of the mall, this library welcomes visitors with an airy and bright space to relax and read in amidst the hustle and bustle. There are over 50,000 titles to choose from here comprising physical books, e-books and magazines, from fiction novels to non-fiction on topics such as art, humanities and philosophy. Other features include docked iPads to read e-books, free Wi-Fi and ample seating space. The library, which spans two floors, showcases a modern, minimalist design and
is characterised by its majestic, 13-metre-high bookshelves filled with thousands of books. It is also a venue for literary events such as poetry readings, book signings and talks by visiting authors.
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