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West on Books: Europe’s Best Bookshops


Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

By Richard West

Finally in our hotel room in Rome. Unpacking the luggage, all seems well –camera, return-flight valium, phone recharger. Wait! The books. No books.

Good to learn early what’s been forgotton, the books we planned to guide and amuse us through Rome-Venice-Vienna-Lucerne-Paris. Luckily, however, we did print a recent story from Everett Potter’s Travel Report blog on finding English-language bookshops in, what a coincidence, the very same cities on this trip. Ah, here it is:


The Lion Bookshop (Via dei Greci, 33/36): Stroll a hundred yards north of the Spanish Steps on Via del Babuino, turn left on quiet, cobblestoned Via dei Greci, and there it is on the right, Rome’s oldest bookshop (est. 1947). Inside, book-buyer/manager Mark Davison’s ready to point you to the city’s largest number of sci-fi and books for kids amidst his 30,000 titles as well as well-stocked Italian history and fiction shelves and a special section on Rome. Each month, a sale on a different genre of books. Afterwards, treat yourselves to a bella vista at the Hotel Eden’s rooftop bar behind the Spanish Steps where legendary film director Federico Fellini once held his press conferences.


Libreria Mondadori (Salizzada San Moise 1345): A handsome bookshop close to St. Mark’s Square with a small-but-intelligent selection of English-language books, including, of course, the insanely-popular mystery series set in Venice by Donna Leon featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. On the spacious second floor where readings are held, computers with Internet connections where foreign periodicals can be downloaded.

Libreria Acqua Alta (The High Water Bookshop) (Calle Longa Formosa 5176): The eikonoklastes, the image breaker of bookshops everywhere. Off a small courtyard, a low building presided over by owner Frizzo Luigi crammed with stacked used books on every level and subject: filling bath tubs, small boats, an anchored gondola in the front room near the erotic section (“The Big Book of Legs,” “Tom of Finland”) that includes Casanova prophylactics for one Euro; all this close to the “Fire Exit” that, if taken, drops you in a canal. Need a room? Ask about the adjacent Bed & Books, surely the cheapest stay in the sinking city, 15 Euros for a single bed (surrounded by books) with tiny shower/kitchen/laundry. More room desired? Signor Luigi will direct you to the 4th floor’s spacious, airy rooms opposite the courtyard, a real Venetian apartment for 70 Euros per. “Wacky” is too Calvinistic a word to describe this very amusing book experience. Not to be missed.

Next: Vienna and Lucerne


RICHARD WEST spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.

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