SSoP Podcast Episode 48 Bookshops: Mostly Paper and Magic

SSoP Podcast Episode 48 Bookshops: Mostly Paper and Magic

Monday, 20 March, 2023

A bookshop is a special (maybe enchanted) place found all over the world and staffed by booksellers who seem to have a preternatural ability to put just the right book in your hands.

People have been buying and selling books since about 300 BCE. During the latter part of the Roman Empire, when all the best homes included a personal library, the book trade was boomin’. Back then, shops posted a list of titles for sale on their doors.

The kind of store we think of when someone says ‘bookshop’ was initially tied closely to printing. The first booksellers were also editors and printers who made the books, then sold them to the reading public. Eventually, those specialties split apart: Publishers worked with authors to create books, and booksellers placed them into the hands of readers.

And we’re all better for it.

In this episode, we talk about the world’s oldest bookshop and discuss some remarkable bookstores around the world, including a barefoot bookshop in paradise and another in Scotland’s National Book Town. We also learn about a shocking bookstore-related medical phenomenon! Then we recommend great books that took us inside the world of bookshops, including a haunting literary novel, a throwback detective story, two bookish miscellanies, a screwball comedy-thriller mashup, and historical fiction set in post-WWII London starring women with moxie.


Read the full transcript of Bookshops: Mostly Paper and Magic.

The Sentence

buy | read review

Booked to Die

buy | read review

Bloomsbury Girls

buy | read review

Bloomsbury Girls

buy | read review


buy | read review

Spine Poems

buy | read review

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy

buy | read review

The Shadow of the Wind

buy | read review

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

buy | read review

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

Perhaps you’d like to listen to enjoy the ambient sound of a bookshop while you browse these links.


bookshops 101

The oldest operating bookstore in the world is Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon, Portugal.

front facade of the bertrand bookshop with white and blue tiles at night
Bertrand Books in Lisbon, Portugal, the world's oldest bookstore. Photo courtesy of Cmspic/Shutterstock.

The Best Bookshop in Paradise: The open-air bookshop at the Soneva Resorts. Here’s the scoop on the barefoot booksellers, plus the barefoot booksellers blog and Instagram.

grass huts and a boardwalk over the turquoise blue water in the maldives with a tuktuk on the boardwalk filled with books

Spookiest Bookshop: Butcher Cabin Books in Louisville, Kentucky. Here’s the website, Instagram, and a news story about the opening.

small cinderblock building with a black roof, white walls, and red paint that looks like dripping blood with a white banner that says butcher cabin books

Bookshop Most Likely to Offer You a Mince Pie: Typewronger Books in Edinburgh, Scotland. Read our love letter to Typewronger Books.

rows of window panes painted green with books visible inside

Bookshop That Can Make Your Dreams of Owning a Bookshop Come True: The Open Book in Wigtown, Scotland. Here’s the Airbnb listing for the Open Book, and the waiting list where you can add your name. Perhaps you’d like to visit the Wigtown Book Festival! Here’s our photo album from our stay in Wigtown and Anne Bogel’s interview with a Wigtown bookseller on the What Should I Read Next? podcast.

a white building with a green door that says open book

Happy World Storytelling Day! More info here.

two truths and a lie

  • Statement 1: After entering a bookstore, some people feel the overwhelming need to poop. The phenomena is called Reader’s Digestion. Read more about the Mariko Aoki Phenomenon on Wikipedia and Men’s Health.

  • Statement 2: There’s a bookstore in Japan that sells one book a week. Read more about Morioka Shoten in The Guardian and the design firm Takram.

  • Eva Green is the beautiful, talented actress we cast over and over in our imaginations as a character in books:

photo of eva green wearing a black dress and red lipstick

  • Louise Erdrich is the author of The Sentence, and her bookshop is Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In this video, she discusses her novel with Ann Patchett, also a novelist and bookshop owner (Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee).

Congratulations! You made it to the end. Here are your rewards:

headshot of hilary mantel with the quote I am very happy in second-hand bookshops would a gardener not be happy in a garden?


Welcome to the Bookshop by Jen Campbell

  • Hello, explorer.
  • Hello, time traveller.
  • Hello, wordsmith and translator.
  • Hello, learner and watcher.
  • Hello, listener and grower.
  • Hello, librocubicularist.
  • (That’s those who like to read in bed.)
  • Here’s a map.
  • Mind the gap.
  • On the first floor, there be dragons.
  • On the second, flying lessons.
  • On the third floor there’s a forest.
  • On the fourth, a choir of sonnets.
  • On the fifth, if you’re quick,
  • you can discuss politics
  • with any character from history.
  • On the sixth, let’s solve a mystery.
  • When you’re done, pull up a seat,
  • we’ll have some cake and drink some tea.
  • Check for crumbs, crack that spine,
  • choose which words to underline.
  • Hello, you.
  • Hello, reader.
  • Welcome home.

Jen Campbell is an award-winning poet and author of 12 books including The Bookshop Book and Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores.


And this is the quote that inspired the title of this episode:

headshot of carlos ruiz zafon with the quote I stepped into the bookshop and breathed in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling




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Forget the hard sell. A few key phrases will probably prove this delightful adventure is right for you: 24-hour bookstore. Mysterious library. Secret society. Loyal friendship. Flirty romance. Extreme bookishness.
Typewronger Books in Edinburgh is the bookish retreat of our dreams: a cozy shop that only has the good stuff with a literary magician behind the counter. He looks into your soul and gives you the right book.
It's a readers' paradise: buttery scones and shortbread and tea, a windy landscape with the scent of the sea, and bookshops. Oh, the bookshops! Every genre, new and used, and a bookstore cat. What else could you need?
One of the treats of travel is browsing the shelves of a bookstore in a far-flung locale. It feels both completely foreign and blessedly familiar all at once. Add Atlantis Books on Santorini to your must-visit list.
What makes an already fantastic place even better? A bookshop, of course. And when it's a lovingly preserved historic shop with a friendly bookseller (in tweed) with stunning views out the windows, we're all in.
The Brattle Book Shop has been in business since 1825, and today, the unassuming three-story brick building is packed with more than 250,000 used books, maps, prints, postcards, and other paper collectibles.
The Waterstones in Bradford, England is a cathedral of books. You can browse the stacks of carefully curated books under soaring ceilings and stained glass windows, then enjoy a cuppa in the balcony café.
If you're looking for a zine about awesome pizza, indie magazines, or a Q&A with your favorite graphic novelist, Quimby's Bookstore in Chicago is your kind of place. Fulfilling all your weird book needs since 1991.
Daunt Books Marylebone is like Strong Sense of Place became sentient and took up residence in an Edwardian bookshop. Its collection of curated books, stained glass window, reading nooks make it a must-visit bookshop. is a new online book retailer that shares its revenue with local, independent bookstores. It's bridging the significant gap between online sales and the neighborhood bookshop (you love) down the street.
One of our favorite ways to mingle with locals in new-to-us cities is among the shelves of a neighborhood bookshop — it's even better when they include English-language books. These two in Stockholm are must-visits.
Pssst... how'd you like to sleep INSIDE a bookshelf?! That's exactly what you'll get to do at Book and Bed Tokyo, a collection of six hostels devoted to reading (and a little bit of sleeping).

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