Review: Browse: The World in Bookshops

“We become the person someone imagines we are…” – Dorthe Nors from “Intimacy”.

Bookshops are magical places. If this isn’t the first article you’ve read on this blog, you’ll see my affinity for books. The love of bookstores is just as great as my love for books. In fact, browsing the shelves of a bookstore is one of my de-stressing strategies. Seeing all the spines lined up is both relaxing and stirs up my curiosity. There is much potential in an unopened book. Whether it’s a local or chain store, I love walking among the shelves. But there is a special magic in the small, unique store. When I get the chance, I will visit Left Bank Books, St. Louis’s best independent bookstore. When I saw an Advanced Reading Copy of Browse: The World in Bookshops, it piqued my curiosity. This collection of essays released by Pushkin Press features fifteen authors writing about their favorite book store memories. It appeals to the nerd in me.

TL;DR: If you like personal essays and love bookstores, this book is for you. These excellent essays show the diversity of bookstore experiences connected by a common love of books.

From the publisher:

A celebration of the greatest kind of shop in the world, by an award-winning cast of writers including Ali Smith, Michael Dirda, Elif Shafak and Daniel Kehlmann.

A cabinet of curiosities, a time machine, a treasure trove – we love bookshops because they possess a unique kind of magic. In Browse, Henry Hitchings asks fifteen writers from around the world to reveal their favourite bookshops, each conjuring a specific time and place. These inquisitive, enchanting pieces are a collective celebration of bookshops – for anyone who has ever fallen under their spell. Contributors include Alaa Al Aswany, Stefano Benni, Michael Dirda, Daniel Kehlmann, Andrey Kurkov, Yiyun Li, Pankaj Mishra, Dorthe Nors, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Elif Shafak, Ian Sansom, Iain Sinclair, Ali Smith, Saša Stanišic, and Juan Gabriel Vásquez.

A dazzling collection of original essays about the bookshop by fifteen bestselling international authors.

This excellent collection, edited by Henry Hitchings, brings together a diverse set of authors from all over the globe. The essays range from a shopping trip before inclement weather to a place of inspiration for children to a meeting place to change the world. Alaa Al Aswany’s “If You Wound a Snake…” details a bookstore in Egypt during the uprising against Mubarak. He uses his book signing to show the atmosphere prior to the demonstrations. Yiyun Li’s “All the Offers a Happy Ending Is a Fairy Tale” shows us China’s problematic treatment of intellectual property. But her pursuit of literature winds its way through Western culture. Pankaj Mishra’s “A Bookshop in the Age of Progress” takes us to post-Soviet India, and Dorthe Nors “Intimacy” shows the importance of bookstores across the generations.

Many of the essays are translations for which I was grateful. Before this, I was only familiar with three of the authors. The introduction to new non-US authors is enough to recommend Browse. Reading diversely exposes one to the variety that humans are capable of, and yet these essays bridged the cultural gap through the experience of shopping for books. While I’ll never get to any of the stores described in here, I feel like I’ve already been to them.


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