Ibtisaam Haswarey takes us on a tour of the best bookshops in Cape Town, South Africa. If there’s a bookshop that you think others should visit in a particular city, further information about contributing follows this article.
Cape Town – the city at the southernmost tip of the African continent – has a landscape as diverse as its inhabitants. From the vineyards to the vibrant houses in the old Malay Quarter, both locals and visitors find themselves moving through what feels like different countries while travelling around the peninsula. It is a place of inherent contradictions, but the one constant is the warmth and resilience of its residents. While Cape Town is better known for its beaches rather than its book scene, scattered all across the city are bookshops that cater to the diverse taste of its ardent bibliophiles.
Despite its iconic status (and very Instagrammable exterior), The Book Lounge retains a cosy feel with friendly staff and a little coffee shop in its basement. Located in the Eastern precinct of the city centre and close to the Parliament buildings, it also serves as a favourite book launch venue for South African writers. As an independent store, The Book Lounge manages to secure international releases before many other bookshops and you’ll find a beautiful display of South African and international fiction near the door. Venture downstairs to pick up poetry, memoirs, plays and a great selection of non-fiction.
Kalk Bay Books
Situated only a few metres away from the Atlantic Ocean, Kalk Bay Books has recently moved around the corner from its former location – but don’t worry, you can still smell and see the ocean from its verandah. The inside is deceptively small, but alongside new fiction releases there is an impressive selection of non-fiction as well as a corner dedicated to a variety of secondhand books. The stone building was once a hotel, but the more colourful anecdote is that it was, in fact, a brothel – highly possible given that the South African Navy’s Naval Base at Simon’s Town is just further along the False Bay coast.
Established in 1956 on Long Street (where it remains today), Clarke’s is the best place to find books related to southern Africa. A collection of out-of-print and contemporary African scholarship is accompanied by general fiction, books on African art and maps, which are all for sale. A sanctuary in the midst of a busy Cape Town street just around the corner from the High Court, Clarke’s two-storey bookshop makes for an interesting visit, especially if you’re in search of antiquarian books and books that were banned during apartheid.
Note: This bookshop guide gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics. Thank you to Ibtisaam Haswarey for providing the images of the bookshops included in this feature.
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If there’s a bookshop that you think other students and academics should visit, then this is your chance to tell us all about it.
As part of a regular 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, secondhand outlets or connected to a university. We’d like to cover all world regions too and are particularly keen to feature cities outside of Europe and North America.
If something comes to mind, we’re looking for around 150 words per bookshop, detailing why each 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: email@example.com