There’s something about independent and secondhand bookstores in India (and abroad) that add so much story to your pages. We’re not sure if it’s the towering piles of books organised by nothing but whims and fancies. Or the keen shop-owners who readily list out recommendations like a human Goodreads. Maybe it’s the smell of time-old books that sink into your clothes, or the little notes and dedications you stumble upon in much-loved classics. Whatever it is, the bottom line is that indie bookstores have much more than just books to offer.
If you’d rather spend the monsoons with your nose buried in a much-loved novel with warped pages, we’ve got your back. Here’s a handy list of much-loved bookstores in India. We’ve also added international ones that we’d wager you’ll love to visit someday.
The Bookworm features recesses full of books and a kind owner ready to find the perfect book for you even if it means upsetting some towering piles. The 18-year-old Church Street bookstore is a much-loved haunt for many Bangaloreans (including the one writing this). It sells new and pre-loved books from popular, lesser-known and highly obscure authors. The deeper you go, the more likely you are to find some gems. These include a 20-year-old copy of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and a beautifully bound Shakespeare. The devoted owner, Mr Krishna Gowda, has over 20 years of experience in selling books. So you’d best believe he’s the one to run to if you have to find a book stat. In short, it’s one of those bookstores in India that are an institution, really.
Pro tip: The Bookworm has also opened virtual doors to take orders for delivery in Bangalore. WhatsApp Mr Krishna on 98450 76757.
This library-slash-bookstore-slash-event space houses eclectic books across a number of genres. It’s a mixed bag here– you might not find the usual suspects (looking at you, Harry Potter). But you will find literary marvels, graphic novels, biographical tomes, science fiction books and slightly controversial paperbacks. Goobe’s also doubles up as an independent venue for talks and concerts. So don’t be surprised if you walk into great music when looking for a book you need for your shelves. Oh, and don’t miss the little joke in the name! Goobe means ‘Owl’ in Kannada and is an oft-used teasing nickname for those with noses stuck in books all day.
Pro tip: Goobe’s proudly favours the science fiction genre, spanning books, comics and classics.
This women-owned and run indie bookstore in India might be tucked away on a quiet side-lane but it’s well-known to literary enthusiasts in the city. The curated collection in both bookstore and library packs quite the punch when it comes to philosophy, poetry and everything in between. We love the cosy atmosphere that is made more inviting by floor cushions, quiet corners and a view of a towering avocado tree opposite the bungalow. Grab a bite to eat from the café unless, of course, you’re too busy devouring a book figuratively.
Pro tip: Champaca recently debuted a subscription service that sends you handpicked books, based on a theme and spanning genres, by mail.
This one’s for the kids. Lightroom is Bangalore’s favourite bookstore dedicated to children and young adults. The bright, welcoming space houses stacks and shelves of books. These include household names such as Harry Potter and Percy Jackson to literary game-changers such as Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and The Spindle. A few gems for accompanying adults are tucked here and there. We spotted Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.
Pro tip: You can order books from Lightroom. Have them delivered via a delivery partner or picked up if you’re in the area.
The most earnest of bookworms in Delhi swear by Bahrisons, a 1950s-era bookstore with as much history in its bones as in its books. The original clientele of the Khan Market establishment consisted of politicians, diplomats, government officials and secretaries. Today, anyone can walk through its doors and be treated to the casual conversations that have been Bahrisons’ USP since 1953. Their expansive collection spans a whole host of genres, from drama, crime and fantasy to anthropology, economics and pet care. Bahrisons continues to hold on to the legacy of books as intergenerational narratives that define a country.
Pro tip: Delhi folks can order books from Bahrisons on their website or by calling on 011 41757112.
Midland is an unpretentious book shop that makes up for its lack of frills by being a vital feature in Aurobindo Market’s landscape. The vintage bookstore packs to its ceilings a whole host of genres; literary classics such as Anton Chekhov fly off the shelves as do Urdu poetry books (the latter courtesy of the owner, Mirza Baig, himself). Although Midland has a few sister stores scattered across the capital city, none are as cemented in the hearts of bibliophiles as Midland itself is.
Pro tip: Midland has signed up with delivery partner Dunzo to send its books to the homes of book-lovers who can’t cope with going cold turkey on literature.
This independent children’s bookstore in Mumbai’s upscale Prabhadevi takes pride in its rather unusual selection of books. Rather than stock household names, Kahani Tree brings in books from independent publishers in India. This catalogue includes a few delightful bilingual and regional language paperbacks. Their collections are divided according to age and feature authors including Shalini Srinivasan, Anushka Ravishankar and Payal Kapadia. Kahani Tree also hosts storytelling events, author interactions and book fairs.
Pro tip: The ‘Recommendations’ tab on their website is a good place to start for those unfamiliar with India’s children-centric book landscape.
This award-winning bookstore and cafe in an unorthodox way to spend a day in Goa– at least, where tourists are concerned. Locals, on the other hand, think rather fondly of Literati with its welcoming atmosphere and shelves upon shelves of books. You’ll find new arrivals and best sellers across fiction and non-fiction categories, and you’ll also likely unearth a few favourites. Literati has a whole section dedicated to antiquarian books for purchase– we spotted a 1923 edition of Hardy’s satires of Circumstance on the list.
Pro tip: The Literati Book Club holds monthly meetings to discuss the book of the month. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re keen to participate.
Bookworm Goa is as much a library and a bookstore as a space for creative learning geared at children. With over 25,000 books in its kitty, Bookworm attracts hordes of children, young adults and adults alike who are keen to devour a couple of books a week. Each book is carefully curated by one of the founders, Sujata Noronha, which makes the collections all the more special. The Bookworm Trust is one of the bookstores in India that does outreach programmes and creates libraries in schools expose young ‘uns to the pleasures of reading for the soul.
Pro tip: Bookworm hosts creative events for adults looking for an atypical way to spend time in Goa on a rainy afternoon.
Coffee, cake and a book? Sounds like a dreamy monsoon afternoon. Pagdandi stacks fiction, non-fiction and poetry for adults– a few that caught our eye are J.D. Salinger’s For Esme With Love And Squalor and The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. The cafe-slash-bookstore also has books for young adults and children as well as Hindi paperbacks. Check out their super-discounted titles for reads on a budget.
Pro tip: You might not be able to head to the bookstore cafe just yet, but you can still buy Pagdandi vouchers to treat yourself or someone you love.
First opened in 2009, GOHD at Burlington Square houses a prized collection of rare, antique and collectable books with the power to make bibliophiles swoon. We spotted plenty of drool-worthy first editions on their list, including a 1965 edition of Dune by Frank Herbert and an ornate copy of Anton Chekhov’s Eight Plays. Apart from dealing in rare books, GOHD also organises book launches, flea markets, art exhibitions, even a two-day punk music festival.
Pro tip: Since June, GOHD has moved operations online in light of the COVID-19 crisis. They have closed their Burlington Square address until further notice.
The smell of books – biblichor, if you will – permeates this iconic gallery in Brussels. The Rennaisance-era shopping gallery, which dates back to 1848, has long housed books and booksellers that the Bruxellois flock to on the daily. A stroll through the glass-domed passage reveals antique shops, rare booksellers, comic shops, printsellers and tables teetering with tomes from all ages. There’s also a contemporary art gallery nearby, which dedicates its walls every three weeks to a young and upcoming artist.
Pro tip: As much as you’d love to browse books all day, spare a glance for the detailed architectural details along the span of the corridor– they’re historic.
You might be a fast reader or one of those ‘tsundoku’ people who buy piles of books only to never read half of them. Whatever the case, these bookstores in India and abroad are worth turning turn to when you want to while away a rainy afternoon (or all afternoons, we get it).
Want more offbeat recommendations like this? The Urbanaut app is where it’s all at.