I have waxed lyrical about my Kindle, but there is one part of the ink-and-paper book experience that irreplaceable (OK, apart from the smell – we all love the smell): second-hand book shopping.
I hate shopping, but I’ll happily make an exception for browsing through second-hand bookshops. The experience always has the potential to surprise. In the megabookstores, you’ll find every publication under the sun, logically shelved according to their ISBN codes. Convenient? Maybe. Boring? Yes!
By contrast, shopping second-hand requires an eagle-eyed ability to filter through mounds of dusty tomes for the hidden gem buried beneath, as well as a large dose of luck. Whether you come across a copy of a book you’ve been meaning to read for years, or you take a risk and purchase an attention-grabbing title you’ve never heard of before, you know two trips will never be the same.
Even if you end up walking away with nothing at all, there is something beautifully romantic about spending a few hours reading the dedications on the inside covers of novels that were given as a gifts decades ago, or in trying to decipher the hand-scrawled notes in the margins of yellowing works of philosophy.
So, where can you get your second-hand kicks in Barcelona?
Forget what you may have heard about a shop called Elephant, which for some reason still pops up all over the interwebs. It has closed down. Instead, toddle your book-browsing feet into Gràcia.
Hibernian, on Carrer Montseny, is the only second-hand bookshop in the city to sell books exclusively in English . When I first poked my head in three years ago I was slightly disappointed with their collection, but I think their turnover of books has improved since then, and I’ve become quite the loyal customer.
Also worth a look is Taifa Llibres on Carrer Verdi. They specialize in poetry and stock both new and second-hand books. Most are in Spanish and Catalan, but they usually have a few works in English too.
The jewel in the crown of Barcelona’s second-hand book world, however, is El Mercat Dominical de Sant Antoni. You won’t find many English books here, but it is a treasure trove for works in Spanish and Catalan. It has temporarily been relocated to Carrer Compte d’Urgell with Floridablanca, but will be back in its traditional home once the renovations to the market are complete.
Here’s a mini documentary about the market to whet your appetite…