Some might argue it’s all about online publishing, these days, but I know my life would be poorer without the wonderful independent bookshops that are still adding soul to our communities. If we lose them, they’ll be gone forever.
My two favourite bookshops – one in Greece and the other in Australia – both play a role in Just One Step:
I am thankful when I crest the final windswept hill, passing the path’s last glowing white chapel and heading down into Oia. Battling Santorini’s famous wind on the more exposed parts of the track has been tiring, and I am looking forward to a cold drink and – yes, you know me by now – something delicious for lunch.
I walk through the narrow main thoroughfare, enjoying the architectural effect of the village. I pass a shop set below the path with its name, simply Fashion & Art, picked out in blue against its dazzling walls. Four outdoor mannequins model flowing garments in red, blue, yellow, black and white, fluttering to dramatic effect against the backdrop of the rippling waters far below. A few minutes later I find the most delightful bookshop, Atlantis Books.
This bookshop is so strikingly decorated, inside and out, that it is a magnet for photographers. Its exterior is painted with depictions of gloriously shambolic bookshelves and a bold sign proclaiming “Rent A Cat”. At the top of a stone stairway, leading down to the bookshop’s entrance in a tiny courtyard, is a bowl of coins labelled:
Please feel very welcome to use your camera here.
Donations here will help us keep our lights on and doors open for all photographers and booklovers.
Descending, I enter a warren of shelves filled with an eclectic array, from valuable first editions to a section classified as “Greek Interest.” Stacks of books are labelled with handwritten staff recommendations: “The best Greek cookbook of all time!” and “The most unappreciated American novel of the last century? Read Stoner. Just read!” and “So good. And don’t worry, it’s not all depressing or anything.”
The walls are inscribed with quotes and, fascinatingly, a timeline of the owners’ lives, including establishing the shop, a first literary festival and, in joyous letters, a wedding. It also includes minor events, like the painting of the “Rent A Cat” sign by an eight-year old in 2012 (“It’s a joke, people”).
I take a few photos but I can’t stop to buy books. They’d be too heavy to carry and I couldn’t bear it if the remaining handle on my suitcase broke. Even though I’ve dropped some coins in the photography bowl, I’m embarrassed to be crowding the little shop, taking pictures, and I leave before I feel ready.
Later, I’ll check their website and find the history of the founding of the bookshop:
In the spring of 2002, Oliver and Craig spent a week on the island of Santorini. The land inspired them and there was no bookshop, so they drank some wine and decided to open one. Oliver named it Atlantis Books and the two laughed about how their children would run it someday.
One of my few regrets after leaving Greece will turn out to be that I didn’t spend more time browsing Atlantis Books, didn’t at least buy a book bag to support them. It’s only a tiny regret, but there it is.
In between my fulltime job and my regular Saturday morning volunteer gig walking rescue dogs, it has been a busy month.
After discussing travel dates with Adam, and negotiating them with my boss, my next step was sourcing a Lonely Planet guidebook from Book Bazaar, the only independent bookshop I know still operating in my area. (Yes, independent bookshops do still exist. And yes, they need our support. Frankly, there is also something rather charming about being able to request a book through a Facebook post, then have the bookseller drop it off at my office with a note letting me know I can settle her bill at our next book club gathering.)
With the help of the guidebook, tips from friends and a world of online information, I plotted my itinerary through Greece.
Do you have any favourite bookshops or other book-related businesses, whether in your local community or encountered through your travels? Feel free to give them a shout-out in the comments.