It actually began as a joke,” says Craig Walzer of Atlantis Books, the iconic shop he and five friends founded in the town of Oia, on Santorini, in 2004. An American studying abroad, Walzer, together with his friends (“someone I’d met in Oxford, along with a Cypriot/Brit who served as our local connection”), visited the picturesque Greek island off‑season and mused half-seriously about starting a store full of the literature they all loved.
Thus, what began as a pipe dream – one pieced together using shelving scavenged from Santorini’s beaches and junkyards, and books left behind in various hotels by travellers – is now a bibliophiles’ destination. “The only common denominator at Atlantis Books is that everything is arbitrary,” says Walzer of the wide-ranging inventory. “Whether they’re new or used classics, historical novels, art tomes or works of poetry or drama, they are books we deem to be great. It’s very subjective.”
Based in a 100-year-old classic Venetian captain’s house, the shop is a study in Cycladic perfection: whitewashed walls with azure-blue details outside and floor-to-ceiling shelves inside, crammed to capacity to maximise space. An earthquake in 1956 brought down the building’s top floor and the space that was left now serves as the shop’s terrace; painted milky blue and white, it’s the perfect spot for reading Faulkner or just taking in the spectacular views of the Aegean and the caldera beyond.
These days, the books are sourced from all over the world, the selection designed to entice serious scholars as well as tourists who aren’t necessarily bookstore regulars. There is, of course, a sizeable Greek-interest section, leveraging the country’s rich poetic and literary tradition, from original CP Cavafy manuscripts (€300) to English paperback versions (€10 to €15), from beautiful cloth-covered editions of The Odyssey (€22) – “on an island in Greece, it makes perfect sense,” says Walzer – to Ancient Greek volumes (from €700) from the 17th and even 16th centuries. There are works thematically related to the sea, including a complete translation of Plato’s Republic (€1,000) – “Not sure why you’d pick this up on holiday,” adds Walzer wryly – as well as a rare first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (£1,600).
Walzer and his uniformly passionate colleagues all derive joy from “getting people excited about books as mementos”, he says. The shop is a genuine tourist draw, albeit one stocked with a first edition of The Hobbit (€15,000), a copy of Breakfast of Champions (€1,250) signed by Vonnegut, and an original printing of The Great Gatsby (€4,500), which, if it weren’t missing its dust jacket, says Walzer, would be worth “a fortune”.
During the annual Caldera Arts & Literature Festival, Atlantis also plays host to acclaimed writers such as David Sedaris and Billy Collins. Film screenings and open-air concerts all take place on the atmospheric rooftop, but it’s the books that remain the thing. “The world is better with books,” says Walzer. “Nothing gives me greater pleasure than selling a book to a person who doesn’t normally read. I believe a good piece of literature shows rather than tells, and hopefully this is true of Atlantis Books too.”