Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Postcard: Atlantis Books (or, Raise Your Hand If You Love Independent Bookstores)

Friends, as you may know, I took a little break from this blog to travel for a few weeks with my husband, photographer Charlie McComish. We spent part of our time in Greece, and one stop was the well-known island of Santorini. Santorini was much of what we expected--we found amazing scenery, great food, and clear water, all of which we enjoyed (thankfully!) without the summer crowds. What we didn't expect to find on such a trendy tourist island was Atlantis Books, an independent/co-op bookstore/living space tucked into the basement/wine cellar of a classic Venetian-era Santorinian cave-style "mansion." (Not sure which building on top was the original mansion.)

Now, in the interest of transparency, I must tell you that we did read about Atlantis Books in our Lonley Planet guide, and so were certainly looking for it, but the pitch in there focuses on the travel books side of Atlantis's business, and leaves out all of the wonderful LITERATURE, in so many languages, that one can find in this tiny, literal hole in the (rock) wall. I got to chatting with one owner, Craig, and expressed my surprise to him, and he said the underwhelming description in LP "helps to keep the riffraff out."

Riffraff indeed. Turns out Craig isn't just any old Craig (please see The Rumpus), and Atlantis Books isn't any old bookstore. For one, they've got a shipping network that spans the world (turns out that on a trip I made in 2005, to Krakow, Poland, I visited one of their former partner stores, Massolit Books, which is a large, meandering Harry Potter-esque bookstore with floor-to-ceiling shelves and ladders on casters--so fun!--and of course we all know and love City Lights...to name just a couple). Atlantis is staffed by serious readers and/or writers who are all volunteers (see photo below, of signatures of all past staffers on the concave ceiling of the bookshop; interested and have 3+ months to contribute? Contact them through the website). The store offers all kinds of interesting items, including their own new postcard books from in-house Paravion Press (that's right--it's a book that's a postcard--don't worry, there's a space at front labeled "For your correspondence," and it comes with envelope and postage and the return address of the shop in the town of Oia, Santorini, Greece; the one I bought was the story "Feuille d'Album" by Katherine Mansfield). I asked Craig about the inspiration for these, and he said, "Why send a postcard, when you can send a book?" Fair 'nuff.

As I meandered around the store, we discussed Bay Area writers, writing programs, local restaurants and the time of happy hour (for which we never made it back--sorry, guys!), and I picked up a mutli-genre anthology of contemporary Greek writing in translation (when I travel, I try to get an anthology from every country I visit) called Modern Greek Writing, ed. David Ricks. You can see it in the photo below. We also picked up an anthology of contemporary Greek poetry.

You might wonder why I mention all of this. Well, in part I wanted to show you beautiful photos (thanks, Charlie!) of a lovely space filled with old and new books that made me just so excited. But what really makes me excited is the particular way that independent bookstores keep the world together. You can find them in every major city, and lots of minor ones, the world over (for example, I have anthologies from independents in London, Stockholm, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Krakow, Berlin and now little Oia--and from stores in U.S. cities too, like Point Reyes Books in Point Reyes Station, CA, who kindly support us at The Tomales Bay Workshops each year--and I can only imagine the stores that await in Istanbul, Nairobi, Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Tokyo--!).

When you go into an independent bookstore, you are speaking with people--staff and customers alike--who value independent thinking, creative thinking, honest thinking. They are the people who will support you in your own writing as you begin to publish, to give readings and make your voice heard, and they will make a place for you to support the work of others like you, others who could become your friends. Independent bookstores keep moving us forward by showing the way to new ideas, new places, new ways of being in the world; also, they can help us trace the history of today by procuring for us the lovely and moldering books of generations past. Indpendent bookstore owners know all the best places in town to eat, to drink, to sit with a coffee and a book, where to watch and enjoy something beautiful--be it art, song, or one sunset, one moment of time passing into the deep blue beyond cliffs created by the explosion, many years ago, that sank the city (perhaps) that gives Atlantis Books its name.

To read is to think, and if--as they say--thinking is being, is living, then reading and thinking with books from independents is to live abundantly!

Yours in reading & writing,


P.S. If you love an independent bookstore, tell us which one (or ones)--we want to show our love, too!


  1. Kate, your trip sounds lovely! I can just imagine how excited you were to find that bookstore/hole in the wall (hehe).
    Shannon Ander

  2. Shannon, I am glad you enjoyed this post! It was a great store. Makes me want to search out more awesome little indi stores here in the U.S.!