17 Independent Bookstores That Are So Cool, You'll Hardly Believe They're For Real

May 2 is Independent Bookstore Day, so I figured I'd do two things: present you with this slideshow of 17 independent bookstores to knock off your socks, and tell you a little story about my own... shall we say "history" as an independent bookseller myself. Ready?

At age 5, with the blessing (or at least the blissful ignorance) of my indulgent parents, I gathered up the best our family shelves had to offer, created a stamp, mocked up my own membership cards, and officially opened up the Hannah M. Nelson-Teutsch Library. I got quite the kick out of noting down loans and returns in a little red notebook, but every so often one of my customers (and by that I mean one of my fellow kindergarteners) would make me an offer too good to refuse, and I would simply have to sell. Granted, although I'm not sure that a few un-taxable and vaguely illicit early sales (let's not get into whose books I was lending... and occasionally selling) exactly qualifies me as a genuine independent bookseller, it's a fun tale to tell.

I love thinking of myself as a bookseller, if only in my mind, because independent bookstores are amazing. Of course, not all are created equal. Surely my rinkadink basement operation can hardly compare to many of the more established options out there, but even within the realm of wholly legitimate professional operations, some shops that stand out above others. So, I humbly present 17 independent bookstores that will totally blow your mind.

Image: lukas_y2k/flickr

Libreria Acqua Alta — Venice, Italy

If a 19th century pirate opened a bookstore in his private quarters, Libreria Acqua Alta would be that bookstore, making it the perfect place to indulge all of your nautical fantasies while in hot pursuit of the perfect book.

Image: diegoperez74 / flickr

826 Valencia — San Francisco, California

826 Valencia is the brainchild of celebrated author Dave Eggers, and dedicated to supporting a non-profit that offers creative writing courses to inner city kids. And, if that wasn’t enough to sell you on the venture, the entire enterprise devoted to selling pirate merchandise, so if you’ve been waiting for the perfect time to buy that peg leg, that time is now.

Image: Scott Garner / flickr

Powerhouse Arena — Brooklyn, New York

Part event space, part innovation lab, and part bookstore, Powerhouse Arena is all Brooklyn, and all the better for it.

Image: Jorge Franganillo / flickr

Barter Books — Alnwick, England

If you’ve ever imagined what Costco would be like if it stocked only books, and was delightfully lit by a dedicated team of literary professionals, you owe it to yourself to make a trip to Barter Books. You will not be let down.

Image: Shinya ICHINOHE / flickr

Corso Como — Milan, Italy

Bringing the realms of art, architecture, and literature closer together, Corso Como is an airy, aesthetic wonderland.

Image: Salticidae / flickr

Bart's Books — Ojai, California

Bart’s Books is the world’s largest outdoor bookshop, so if you’ve got a hankering to unleash your inner hippie, pack those Birkenstocks and prepare for the perfect literary pilgrimage.

Image: Aquiles Carattino / flickr

Shakespeare and Company — Paris, France

Shakespeare and Company is not only one of the coziest bookshops you’ll ever set foot in, but also a Parisian institution — and in Paris, that’s saying something.

Image: Tiago Cabral / flickr

Livraria da Vila — São Paulo, Brazil

If you feel more at home among the steel and glass superstructures envisioned by the modernists, Livraria da Vila is the bookshop for you. Sleek, stunning, and stacked floor-to-ceiling with books, this particular shop is a contemporary masterpiece.

Image: WindChasing / flickr

Librairie Avant Garde — Jiangsu, China

Take the red pill and drop into the Librairie Avant Garde if you’re ready to meet the future of book-buying.

Image: Ricardo / flickr

Bookworm — Beijing, China

The English-language Bookworm in Beijing houses a library a bar, a restaurant, and an event space in addition to the main attraction — a shop that more closely resembles heaven than anything I have ever seen.

Image: Alexandre Duret-Lutz / flickr

Cook and Book — Brussels, Belgium

Witty, whimsical, and wonderfully odd, Cook and Book is the perfect merger of your grandmother’s living room and a magician’s parlor.

Image: Mykl i am / flickr

El Ateneo Grand Splendid — Buenos Aires, Argentina

Housed in a converted 1920s movie theatre, El Ateneo Grand Splendid brings a welcome dose of glamour to the act of book-buying.

Image: lukas_y2k / flickr

Selexyz Bookstore — Maastricht, Netherlands

Buying a book within the converted halls of a centuries-old Dominican church is nothing short of a religious experience. If modern architecture and Hogwarts had a lovechild, this exceptional independent bookstore would surely be that blessed babe.

Image: Gabrielle Ackroyd / flickr

John K. King Books — Detroit, Michigan

In true Detroit style, John K. King has taken up residence in an abandoned warehouse with 1 million books in stock and a staff of 20 employees, two dogs, and two canaries to manage it all… now that’s what I call epic.

Image: John King Used & Rare Books/Facebook

Cafebreria el Péndulo — Mexico City, Mexico

Like stepping into the world’s sexiest solarium, a visit to Cafebreria in Mexico City is an exercise in wonder. From the mile-high shelves to the gravity-defying botanical accents, there is absolutely nothing not to love about this airy literary haven.

Image: Cafebreria el Péndulo/Facebook

The Last Bookstore — Los Angeles, California

A little bit steampunk, a little bit Labyrinth, this Los Angeles landmark is the perfect alternative to the neatly ordered rows so prevalent in cookie-cutter shops found in malls nationwide.

Image: The Last Bookstore/Facebook

Livraria Lello & Irmão — Porto, Portugal

Legend has it that J.K. Rowling drew inspiration from Livraria Lello when dreaming up the magical environs of The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, making it unlikely that you will ever find a more magical bookshop.

Image: Livraria Lello/Facebook