Love and Lucre

Our odd, abiding affair with bookstores

In his introduction to Browse, an anthology of 15 international writers’ reflections on the bookstores that shaped them, editor Henry Hitchings stresses the importance of bookshops as havens and cultural venues, but also as “mustering points”—places of ideas “too strange or explosive” for mass circulation, centres of “dissent and radicalism.” This militant enthusiasm might seem at odds with images of cats sunning themselves on books in display windows, but it speaks well to a certain international perspective on the institution as represented in the anthology. When Yiyun Li writes of her initiation into English through pirated copies of Reader’s Digest bought from a back alley Beijing storefront, or Alaa Al Aswany recalls reading his collection, Egypt on the Reserve Bench, to a charged bookstore audience days before the uprising at Tahrir Square, it serves as a reminder that these spaces aren’t...