In the latest in our series on bookshops around the world that academics should visit, Teresa Segura-Garcia, a PhD student at the Faculty of History of the University of Cambridge, shares her favourite bookshops in Barcelona, Spain. If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, find more information about contributing below.
From the sixteenth century until only a few generations ago, Barcelona’s Casa de la Misericòrdia (House of Mercy) was the place where the unmarried mothers of the city would give up their babies to be raised by nuns. The institution’s chapel is now devoted to another purpose: it hosts La Central del Raval (Elisabets, 6), one of the four Barcelona branches of La Central. Since its beginnings in 1995 in Carrer Mallorca, this bookshop has enjoyed an excellent reputation with university students and academics in the humanities and the social sciences. La Central’s outpost in the lively Raval neighbourhood opened in 2003 after a thoughtful restoration of the mid-eighteenth-century chapel. The beautifully preserved architectural features overlook some 80,000 volumes, with particular strengths in poetry, theatre, cinema, design and architecture. Almost one half of the bookshop’s titles are international publications, so it has a very good selection of books in English.
The neighbourhood of Gràcia was an independent town until 1897 and it still retains a bit of a village-within-a-city feel. Its narrow streets and many squares are home to over 30 bookshops, from ambitious newcomers like La caníbal (Nàpols, 314) to more well-established names. Hibernian Books (Montseny, 17) falls into this second category. It is Barcelona’s finest English-language bookshop, as well as the biggest second-hand one. It opened in 2004 after its enterprising Irish owners boxed and shipped some 30,000 books from Dublin. It offers a wide range of fiction and non-fiction, from gender studies and sociology to books on theatre, art and design. Hibernian’s very affordable prices, as well as the staff’s willingness to source hard-to-find titles, made it my preferred destination to stock up on English fiction and literary criticism for the English literature courses I took as an undergrad.
Those lucky enough to be planning their next conference or research trip while they are still in Barcelona should head to Altaïr (Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 616). The largest travel bookshop in Europe spreads over two floors, with guidebooks, travelogues and maps neatly arranged by continent and country. Each section expands well beyond the travel theme by offering titles on history, sociology, anthropology and nature, as well as fiction, lavish photography books and language learning resources. With its knowledgeable staff and its inviting armchairs, Altaïr is a fine place to make travel plans for actual and imaginary journeys alike.
Academic visitors who are in Barcelona on 23 April may struggle to get to any of the bookshops mentioned above. Their way may be blocked by the hundreds of bookstalls that take over the streets for Saint George’s Day, a celebration of literature, love and the dragon-slaying patron saint of Catalonia. With the city turned into a giant outdoor bookshop, this is a day dedicated to the pleasures of open air book-browsing.
Teresa Segura-Garcia is a PhD student at the Faculty of History of the University of Cambridge, where she is writing a dissertation on Modern South Asia. Her research looks at the Indian princely states in the late colonial period. Before moving to Cambridge, she completed a BA in Humanities and a Master’s degree in World History at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. Teresa tweets @Teresa_S_G.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit when they’re undertaking research or visiting a city for a conference, then now’s your chance to tell us all about it.
As part of a new weekly feature on LSE Review of Books, we’re asking academics and students to recommend their favourite two or three bookshops in a particular city, with the aim of building an exciting online series for our book-loving community of readers the world over.
Bookshops could be academic, alternative, foreign language, hobby-based, secret or underground institutions, second hand outlets, or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too.
If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 100 words per bookshop, detailing why this place is a must-see. Our editorial team can then find suitable photos and links to accompany the piece, though you’re welcome to supply these too. We only ask that you focus on just one city or region, and two or three bookshops within it.
Email us now if you’d like to contribute: firstname.lastname@example.org