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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Intriguing Independent Book Stores - those that remain - in Rome

English-language book stores (or bookshops, as the English call them) in Rome have dwindled over the years (along with map stores, to our chagrin) - I have an RIP at the end of this post for a couple of them.

Marcello at the desk of Anglo-American Bookshop, with his favorite book
(just kidding)
We unfortunately see the same trend in the US, as reading of books in print declines and screens and earphones take over. Yet, there are 2 older stalwarts in the independent book store market that remain in Rome, plus an upstart. These three are all appealing options for those looking for English-language books. We have personal ties of sorts to all of them (and they all carry Rome the Second Time and Modern Rome).

The most Italian of these is Anglo-American Bookshop at via della Vite 102, founded in 1953, when, as it says on its site, "This choice was very courageous as the English language was not yet considered a recognized language worldwide for any type of exchange (economic, cultural, tourist etc.)." Hmmm.  [The "Story" is still only in Italian on the site, but you can click your 'translate' button to get it in English.] 

We've always appreciated Anglo-American because our Italian friends shop for their English language books there, and because they sell more of our books than anyone else (except, unfortunately, Amazon). They are still ordering Rome the Second Time 10 years after its publication. Marcello, who manages the shop, is friendly and helpful. The location is ideal, very near the Spanish Steps. The shop is large, with lots of sections, magazines, and book paraphernalia.

The most American/English of the three is Almost Corner Bookshop in Trastevere at via del Moro 45. Owned for many years by Dermot O'Connell, who moved from Saudi Arabia in the 2000s to buy it (from the founder, who opened it in 1991), the bookshop recently was sold. It's tiny and chock full of books. You'll find Scottish patriot Anita Ross at the desk, as she has been for years; she's very knowledgeable and helpful.

Translator Frederika Randall and author Giacomo Sartori,
of "I Am God" at Almost Corner Bookshop.

We also like Almost Corner because of the events there, many involving our friends. Frederika Randall brought in now-Paris-based Italian author Giacomo Sartori, whose fascinating 2016 novel "I Am God" she translated and sheparded to US publication (named one of the NYT's best books in translation a year or so ago - look for a review in this space soon). 

And we had a terrific free trip to the nearby hilltown of Montecelio and its surprisingly excellent Archaeological Museum "Rodolfo Lanciani" (Museo Civico Archeologico "Rodolfo Lanciani") where Notre Dame (in Rome) Professor Ingrid Rowland gave a reading from her extensive scholarship on Italy (our favorite of hers, her book on Giordano Bruno). 

Ingrid Rowland being introduced at the Montecelio Archeological
Museum in an outing sponsored by Almost Corner Bookshop.
That day as I recall she read from her Pompeii book and talked about the mystic German monk, Athanasius Kircher, who ended up in the monastery, Santuario della Mentorella, well behind Tivoli (near Guadagnolo), which we hiked up to and almost killed ourselves hiking down from (it's on a precipice; we took the wrong path - and I hadn't read yet the part about Kircher's heart being burned in the church on his death - maybe that should've been an omen). Photos of our near-death trip and the sanctuary are at the end of this post.

In Montecelio's excellent Museo Civico Archeologico
"Rodolfo Lanciani."

The author readings and trip were all courtesy of Almost Corner. Again, great book store location, helpful and friendly staff. There's a nice story on prior owner Dermot O'Connell here:

The appealing entrance to Otherwise
Bookshop near Piazza Navona.

And then the upstart. To open an independent bookstore in these trying times is indeed courageous.  Otherwise Bookshop is just off Piazza Navona, in fact practically on Piazza Pasquino on via del Governo Vecchio.

Otherwise is across the street from its Italian counterpart, Altroquando, which has a pub and reading area in its basement. It was at that pub that we gave a talk on our approach to Rome - talk about the need for courage! - to Romans. Otherwise has a full schedule of events, including book clubs, poetry slams, and music.
Audience for our talk on our "second time" take on Rome at
Otherwise Bookshop's pub below its sister bookshop, Altrove.

Just before our talk at Otherwise began.
I also originally cited Feltrinelli International, which WAS an adequate bookshop selling books in languages other than Italian near Piazza della Repubblica - part of that immense publishing house and chain and soulless compared to these other three. Just before this post went live, Feltrinelli announced it was closing several stores, among them this international bookshop.

So the RIPs besides Feltrinelli International?  Among them, The Lion Bookshop, the grand dame of English-language bookshops in Rome, which simply closed one day in 2011. And, the Trastevere Open Door Bookshop which exists, but has turned into only a used-book store.


The rock-perched Santuario della Mentorella where
the philosophical monk Kircher hung out.

Taking the wrong path (the view down was precipitous). Note the path is marked (lower right) and there's a cable to hold onto, upper right--suggesting the steepness of the hill.  

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