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World Book Day 2018: 10 of the best literary cities, from Paris to Seoul

From Lagos to Dublin, the cities every reader should want to visit

Lilit Marcus
Thursday 01 March 2018 14:18 GMT
The reading hall of the National Library of France (Bibliotheque nationale de France) is a thing of beauty in Paris
The reading hall of the National Library of France (Bibliotheque nationale de France) is a thing of beauty in Paris

If you went by the contents of the average library bookshop, a book is just something you use to keep you occupied on a long flight. But if reading is as much a part of your holiday as a nap in a hammock or a cosy dinner under the stars, keep these cities in mind for literary destinations. To make it even easier, we’ve paired a book with each.


Paris has a huge literary tradition (Alamy)

The image of the writer as romantic, tortured artist was born in Paris, and the legend continues to this day. The best way to follow in the footsteps of Parisian luminaries like Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus, and Victor Hugo is to literally walk – or, rather, flaner (stroll). Begin at the stalls selling paperbacks along the Seine, have an afternoon tea at Montmartre’s Museum of the Romantic Life, which was once the home of George Sand, then pay your respects at the graves of Oscar Wilde and Gertrude Stein at the famous Père Lachaise cemetery. Bonus points for having drinks at Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots, both of which played host to many of the biggest literary names of the 1920s.

Book: Janet Flanner, Paris Was Yesterday

Mexico City

Mexico City has long doubled as the capital of Latin American literature (Alamy)

Mexico’s capital is also a longtime capital for Latin American literature. Chilean Roberto Bolano and Colombian Gabriel Garcia Marquez both made their homes here, and Leon Trotsky came to Mexico when he was exiled from Russia. Café del Cazador was the Cafe de Flore of Mexico City, and though it no longer exists a plaque at its former home on Calle Madero pays homage to its literary history. To soak up both the local cafe culture and the literary scene, head to the posh Polanco neighborhood for an afternoon at the lovely Cafebrería El Péndulo bookstore, and work on your Spanish with some Octavio Paz poems.

Book: Roberto Bolano, The Savage Detectives

Los Angeles

New York may be America’s cultural capital, but LA is showing it has as much to offer on the page as on the screen. Contemporary writers like Aimee Bender, Miranda July and Francesca Lia Block bring LA’s odd, magical, and sometimes absurd neighbourhoods to life, but if you want to take a more retro tour of the city, don’t miss a stop at The Polo Lounge (a major set piece for Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero) at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The city is home to several important independent bookstores, notably Book Soup in West Hollywood, the Iliad in North Hollywood and The Last Bookstore downtown. Still, the truest way to experience Los Angeles is by car, so get an audiobook of Joan Didion’s The White Album or James Ellroy’s LA Confidential and let the road take you where it will. (Just not the 405. Never take the 405.)

Book: Eve Babitz, Sex and Rage


Seoul has a growing literary scene (Alamy)

While K-Pop and panda face masks may cause people to think of South Korea as the land of joy, its literary tradition has a much moodier undertone. Get started at the enormous flagship Kyobo Book Centre, where you’ll find a wide selection of English books, plus office and school supplies, stationery, and anything remotely book-related you can think of – you’ll want to read your book over a steaming bowl of chicken and ginseng soup, which is popular during end of term when students swear it makes them more intelligent. Also on the list: the Yun Dong-ju Literature House is a small but carefully maintained literary museum, and the Seoul Metropolitan Library, which is housed in the former city hall.

Book: Han Kang, The Vegetarian


Ireland’s history of brilliant writers is so well known it’s almost a cliche – the city even has a Writers Museum dedicated to that very subject. Every 16 June, bookworms from around the world arrive in Dublin to follow in the footsteps of Joyce’s hero Leopold Bloom, but even if it’s not Bloomsday you can stop by some of the famous sites minus the crowds: pick up a bar of lemon soap at Sweny’s chemist, then have a pint at Mulligan’s bar. Beyond Joyce, you can visit the birthplaces and graves of many famous Irish writers, from Oscar Wilde (born in a Georgian townhouse on Merrion Square that now has select reservations-only tours) to Jonathan Swift (buried in the cemetery at St Patrick’s Cathedral). To put it all in context, you can visit the Book of Kells, the world’s oldest printed book, at Trinity College.

Book: James Joyce, Dubliners


Lagos has arguably the finest literary scene in Africa (AFP/Getty)

Nigeria’s vibrant film scene, known as Nollywood, has become a force to be reckoned with, and its literary scene is arguably the finest in Africa. The Association of Nigerian Authors holds regular talks and readings from local writers, while the CRIMMD centre is a library and bookstore highlighting African work. We’ll let Lagos’ biggest literary star, National Book Award winner Chimananda Adichie, sum it up: “It is a city full of dreams and distrust, Lagosians have big dreams and big ambitions, and the first instinct of a Lagosian is to distrust the next person and the next person’s motivation. And yet it is a city full of kindness and warmth.”

Book: Chimananda Adichie, Half a Yellow Sun

Tel Aviv

Many streets in Tel Aviv are named after famous writers (Alamy)

Israel may be a young country, but the People Of the Book take pride in living up to their name. The great poets Rachel Bluwstein (generally just referred to as Rachel, or Rachel the Poet) and Chaim Bialik lived here, and many streets are named after famous writers. The Eretz Israel Museum highlights the best of Israeli culture from writers to artists in a series of rotating exhibits, while Bialik’s former home (on, you may have guessed, Bialik Street) is a regular stop on city tours. The best place to read, though, is unquestionably on the beach – in a warm city, it’s even better than cafe culture, and several beaches have lending libraries of books in multiple languages. Any Israeli writer pairs nicely with a limonana (lemonade with fresh mint).

Book: Etgar Keret, The Nimrod Flipout

São Paulo

Brazil is known for its sporting culture, having recently hosted both the 2016 Olympics and the 2014 Fifa World Cup. But the literary scene is impressive in its own right, with Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist landing on favourite reads lists around the world and beloved-by-locals Clarice Lispector’s work becoming increasingly popular in translation. The Museum of the Portuguese Language used to be the place to get the basics, but it’s currently being reconstructed following a fire in 2015. Instead, the beautiful Livraria Cultura bookshop is as much an Instagram destination as a bibliophile one.

Book: Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear

Castries, Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia was the home of Derek Walcott (Alamy)

The small Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia, sometimes known as the Helen of the West Indies for its beauty, has more than just beaches and hikes: it was home to Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott, who died in 2017. The beloved native son was buried at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the capital of Castries, located in – appropriately – Derek Walcott Square. He grew up around the corner, and the island’s biggest library is across the street – in other words, you can get your culture fix in a single afternoon if you’re having trouble tearing yourself away from the sand and surf.

Book: Derek Walcott, Selected Poems


Times of strife and conflict can often result in great literature. In the 20th century, few places exemplified that more finely than South Africa, where writers like JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, and Alan Paton came of age. In Johannesburg, museums like the South African National Museum and the Nelson Mandela Centre examine the role that writing played in the country’s independence and liberation movements, Collectors Treasury is believed to be the biggest used bookstore in the southern hemisphere, and contemporary bookstores like Book Circle Capital and Bridge Books focus on African and diaspora authors.

Book: Thabiso Mofokeng, The Last Stop

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