The Language of Bookshops

In the latest installment of Three Buildings, a semi-regular series where I ask people from all over the creative spectrum to muse on a trio of buildings or spaces that they love, I got in touch with Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster's dictionary. Who better to give us an idiosyncratic take on the world's best bookstores than a true guardian of all those precious words? Here's what Peter has to say:

This photo, taken from designtaxi.com, shows off three views of Paris's Librarie la Hune.
This photo, taken from designtaxi.com, shows off three views of Paris's Librarie la Hune.

Librairie La Hune, Paris, France

I thought La Hune looked new when I first visited in 1990, but it was designed in 1949. It's still completely fresh: modern, urban, and precise. Steel and glass. There are no armchairs in French bookstores; one gets the sense that the layout is more for the books' comfort than for yours (Le Corbusier would probably have thought this appropriate). And yet it inspires a comforting thought: these books are so important that we should consider ourselves as guests in their space, not the other way around.

A charming spot in rural Western Massachusetts, the Montague Bookmill is as cozy as a bookstore gets. The last time I was there I picked up an edition of poetry from New Englander Donald Hall.
A charming spot in rural Western Massachusetts, the Montague Bookmill is as cozy as a bookstore gets. The last time I was there I picked up an edition of poetry from New Englander Donald Hall.

Montague Bookmill, Montague, Massachusetts

The Bookmill is warm, rural, and messy, like the attic of your aunt's country house. I love the rambling and friendly atmosphere. It's the comfort food of bookstores. This is a place where serendipity is the organizing principle; you always find what you weren't looking for among the used books. There are also two great restaurants and a good used CD store on the site -- and a beautiful waterfall! Their motto: "Books you don't need in a place you can't find."

Hennessey + Ingalls is a massive Santa Monica architectural bookstore.
Hennessey + Ingalls is a massive Santa Monica architectural bookstore.

Hennessey + Ingalls, Santa Monica, California

A modernist hangar that is a bookstore that feels like a museum. It's hard to believe that one can get lost inside a specialty bookstore -- the specialty in this case being art and architecture -- where every title deserves attention. There are few occasions today when we perceive the sheer physicality of so many beautiful books in one place. You can smell the ink used in four-color printing. Online, you simply don't feel the stacks as weighty and real. This place puts you in a universe of books. Or paradise.

 

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