It was my husband, a novelist and independent bookstore obsessive, who first took me to Libreria and rekindled my love of literary browsing. Like a lot of people, I’ve slipped into the laziness of buying online when it comes to shopping for books. If a review of something piques my interest, I head straight for one-click ordering and the book arrives the following morning, invariably discounted at the author’s expense. But at Libreria, off Brick Lane, things are different – this is a place to spend time and discover books you might never have otherwise heard of. There are no three-for-two offers, there is no coffee counter, and mobile phones are banned. It’s not a bookshop for everyone, but it’s the bookshop for me.
Instead of a straightforward A-Z arrangement of authors, or the familiar sections of fiction, history, biography et al, the team at Libreria curates constantly, changing sections with frequently offbeat themes: London; architecture; family; melancholy and recovery… Recent unheard of gems that have made it on to our bookshelf at home from Libreria include Horror in Architecture, by Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing, a study of disturbing forms in buildings, and Stephen Greenblatt’s fascinating exploration of medieval religion and Shakespearean mysticism, Hamlet in Purgatory. We would not have discovered these books without Libreria flagging them up for our attention.
Libreria is painfully hip – as you’d expect from a retail enterprise attached to Brick Lane workspace/cultural venue Second Home – but its innovative interior design is all part of the appeal. With undulating shelves and a mirrored ceiling and back wall, it looks more like a concept fashion store than a bookshop, while a few design-classic chairs add to the desire to linger. I can easily while away a solid hour in this place – before the radically changed shopping, restaurant and bar scene around nearby Truman Brewery beckon me beyond.