Written by Elizabeth A. Haas
Life in Bohemia usually catapults one´s reading habits to all-new heights. Many commence the expat existence on a meager budget and look to books to provide cheap entertainment. Teachers who spend what feel like entire days on mass transit, schlepping to and from lessons, would never leave home without a tome or two. Career cafe-goers feel quite naked minus some scholarly prop. Needless to say, one of the most pressing questions for the newcomer is Where can I buy books?
Everywhere, that´s where. Prague is home to a number of fine English-language bookstores, many attached to the requisite cafe, beckoning book lovers to while away a weekend sipping and reading, reading and sipping. Devoted bookworms can even keep their book collection current with bestsellers from home—most of the shops mentioned in this article will special order books from the U.S. and U.K. for no extra charge. (Delivery can take up to 8 weeks.)
For your reading pleasure, we´ve compiled an overview of the city´s best—but it´s by no means exhaustive. After all, discovering your very own nook for books is one of the joys of learning a new city.
Best Bargain Bins
Reminiscent of a Borders or a Barnes and Noble (minus the ubiquitous soft jazz soundtrack and stale Starbucks muffins) Neoluxor-Palác knih Luxor (Václavské nám. 41, www.neoluxor.cz) is one of the biggest book mega stores in central Europe. While most of its four floors are devoted to books, magazines and maps in Czech, the foreign language section on the bottom floor regularly stocks discounted English-language fiction (as well as bestsellers, classics, poetry and Prague-related tomes at full price). You´ll find the cheap books (ranging from 99 CZK - 199 CZK) in bins and on tables—the haphazardly organized piles can be tricky to manage but worth the effort.
TIP: We recommend a trip to one of the store´s many outposts around Prague. On a recent visit to the Chodov Centrum Luxor we uncovered a trove of rock-bottom-remainder treasures, including multiple copies of Anthony Bourdain´s Typhoid Mary and a number of titles from past Whitbread Award winners. Buy online and receive a 10 percent discount. Best Bookstore/Cafe Combo
The Globe recently set up shop at Pštrossova 6 (www.globebookstore.cz) but the change in address certainly hasn´t affected its lounge-y ambiance (overstuffed chairs and walls bedecked with student art) or tasty fare (dig into savory pasta dishes, homemade soups, bakery delights or weekend brunch). Live music every weekend, regular readings and cheap Internet access are just a few more reasons to rediscover this famed expat haunt. The adjacent bookstore boasts close to 10,000 titles including hard-to-come-by gay and lesbian works. The Globe also offers a handful of used books—and a trade-in option—but the real find here is the wide selection of international newspapers and magazines sure to induce a whole lotta lingering.
Best Secondhand Stuff
Bards in the making will enjoy Shakespeare and Sons (U Lužického semináře 10; Krymská 12, www.shakes.cz) wonderful selection of gently used poetry, plays and literary theory while those who secretly lust for V.C. Andrews won´t leave unsatisfied either. Their expansive selection of new titles covers everything from cooking to humor to film. For the avid reader who frequently refreshes her library Shakepseare´s will buy your old books in exchange for store credit or cash.
TIP: Don´t overlook the store´s web site. Shakespeare´s ultra-organized cyber shop provides a database of the current stock, highlighting new arrivals and staff picks, and a purchase feature that includes free delivery. (We still think it´s a shame not to visit—the Krymská location houses a cozy cafe and organizes regular readings.)
Best for Teachers
A goodly and quiet neighbor to raucous bars Chateau l´enfer Rouge and Fat Boys Bar, tiny Big Ben Bookshop (Malá Štupartská 5, www.bigbenbookshop.com) specializes in dictionaries, teacher resources and course books. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, staffers there speak impeccable English. You´ll also find an impressive selection of bestsellers, children´s books and plenty of Czech literature, history and local-interest titles. Rightfully touting themselves as a “customer service oriented” bookstore, your shopping experience at Big Ben is sure to be a pleasant one.
Also worth a look for the academically inclined is the on-line book warehouse Mega Books International (www.megabooks.cz). Their catalogue is rich with grammar textbooks, reference, easy readers and other ESL resources (languages include English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Portuguese) as well as fiction, travel guides and academic publications running the gamut from medicine to economics.
Best for Mining Gold
Sprinkled throughout Prague´s serpentine streets are a number of shops called antikvariát that specialize in rare and antique books. Window shoppers may be discouraged by the Czech language volumes on display but venture inside and you´ll find that many contain a small selection of reasonably priced used books in English. These shops are a browser´s paradise typically selling prints, old-time postcards and loads of other bric-a-brac. Antikvariát Valentinská (Valentinská 8, www.valentinska.cz) is one such goldmine. On a recent visit we unearthed a mint-condition, hardcover edition of Margaret Atwood´s The Robber Bride and a biography on Christopher Isherwood.
TIP: Because of its proximity to Charles University, semester´s end—when many students sell their books—is prime time for shopping here.
Best Eye Candy
You won´t find bestsellers or bodice rippers at the Kafka Bookstore (it´s one of the city´s many—we like this one best) but you will find stacks of glossy coffee table books, oversized art history tomes and classics from the store´s namesake and other Czech writers in handsome, colorful, modern editions. Located just off Old Town Square next to Týn alley, this unassuming shop also stocks souvenirs you´d be proud to take home like Mucha postcards, inexpensive Czech cookbooks (we found one for 70 CZK) and a variety of jazz and classical CDs performed by Prague-based artists. A lovely place for waiting out a rainstorm, picking up a last-minute gift or browsing to your heart´s content.
Best for Aesthetes
The shelves sag with treatises on philosophy, religion and art, the hipster staff spins the Postal Service and artsy magazines are stacked at the entrance of Anagram Bookstore (Týn 4, www.anagram.cz). This Ungelt mainstay also devotes a small corner of its shop space to used books—most of which are anything but high-brow. The knowledgeable/bilingual staff is quietly present but never pushy.
TIP: For a better selection of used titles visit the fairly new Anagram 2 in Vinohrady (Anny Letenské 18).