READ ME LIKE ONE OF YOUR FRENCH GIRLS. The best bookstores in Rīga to find. UPDATED 02.09.2019

For 10 short days from 7 - 17 September Latvia will celebrate the national "Dzejas dienas" event. The "Poetry days" are held for 53rd continuous years (!), praising the art of verses and any art shape supporting it. It is unclear whether Latvians really dig poetry or do they really like socializing (what, Latvians?) in seemingly intelligent crowds, or maybe its the usual free-of-charge wine.
For some reason or other, it's only logical that CAPITAL R gives you an insight into several hottest and most foreign-friendly book stores in Rīga to visit during your stay whether you like poetry or whether you absolutely hate it.

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To be honest, majority of Latvians are very picky when speaking about literature. We do read a lot still, despite all the technological temptations that might lure us away from anti-socializing (the thing we know the best) and indulging into a good egoistic loneliness with ourselves and a written text. You can probably explain it with some pre-war or post-Soviet ideology, when 1) reading was what made us an intelligent nation first (Rīga was the Top 1 in literacy in Imperial Russia before WWI already reaching close to 90 % of inhabitants), and this obligation of reading successfully stuck to us, or 2) during the Soviet era reading and writing (especially censored/forbidden books) was a solid form of protest many practiced and secretly/openly praised.

Today reading is, of course, without any boarders, thus many do it because of any literature now being available everywhere. Also a lot of people, belonging to the middle or youngest generations, are involved in the nation-wide wave of creative industries and are enjoying texts of a philosophical, theoretical, professional background.
We sometimes paraphrase a quote by John Waters as ours - if you go to a date and your date has no book shelf, get the hell outta there!
Eventually, we might not read as much as we used to, and, despite digital devices, most of us still believe in a good piece of a printed literature. It might not be very zero waste, yet a good literature won't go to waste that easily. Even if it turns out to be a dreadful stuff, you can still use the book to start a bonfire (mostly it's Paulo Coelho, you can see monthly editions of him in the suburban dumbsters, ah, such a silly man).

ROBERT'S BOOKS
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It has been around 10 years since this "grāmatnīca" (bookstore in Latvian) was opened as the first English-only literature shop in the country, therefore it seems only fair to begin our list with Robert's Books. It was launched by an Englishman journalist Robert Cottrell, who then was writing extensively for The Economist. Soon after an extraordinary friendship began between Robert and his new colleague Edgars, who had no office for his travel company back then, and it served as a turning point - Robert gave the shop keys to Edgars, saying - "take care of the business, I'm moving to San Francisco", and the present era of Robert's books soon began its second life in the current location. It has slowly developed into a small democratic culture space now selling both eclectic selection of second-hand literature and fresh editions of the latest English-translated Latvian literature hits, as well as offering a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a vegan cake!


We bought: Mike Collier's (LV/UK) "Up the Baltick".
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MR. PAGE
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"We are not quite sure how old Mr. Page is since he visits us quite seldom," with tong-in-cheek says Alise, one of the founders of the newest book store of our list Mr. Page, still noting that "grāmatnīca" it self is 1 year old though. Yet it's only 1 year old as a physical spot. The spirit behind the secret dream of having a store of great books, still unavailable anywhere in Latvia, is more than 3 years older than the space, when it was initiated by Zane, the original owner of Mr.Page's idea. She was simply one of those many people buying tons of books abroad, including many for children, just because they could not be found in local stores, but also because they were a real piece of treasure. Thus the only way to sort out this inconvenience of heavy luggage and constant hunger was - their own foreign-looking Mr. Page.
"We really believe it's not only about the quality content we look for, it's also about the binding, the cover, the overall design of books, therefore we always display them the way people can see their faces," comments Alise. "And you can ask anything about all our assortment, we know each one of them because we picked all books personally."
And, when the face disappears from a shelve, there is a minor chance that there will be a second book of its kind - Mr. Page tries to order a handful of copies the maximum, that's the reason all of them can only be thumbed through in white gloves. Yet, in the end, any book is always available to be enjoyed by everyone, it's never backed or sealed, and every cover fits with the overall ambient atmosphere. "Books choose their readers. Happy to be your matchmaker. P." says at the bottom of their receipt. And that's about right - if there is a book at Mr. Page that might suit you, it will be a perfect fit.

We bought: Alfred Döblin's (GER) "Berlin Alexanderplatz".
Find Mr. Page on:
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BOLDERĀJA
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Without shedding a single sign that this might be an actual place (apart of a funny looking plush toy hanged above the door), Bolderāja represents the pure essence of Rīga's subcultural scene of young adults being hungry for thought and an unhistrionic, honest and unmerciful conversation. Named after the far north suburb located completely to the other side of the city, Bolderāja messes up with urban novices, quotes a famous Latvian multimedia creator Hārdijs Lediņš (1955 - 2004) and is full with top notch second-hand literature - philosophy, theory, essays, art and design books, full-blooded renowned fiction, and more.

The store somewhat represents a worldview of post-economical-crisis society taking place in many cities globally as well as in Rīga, when some things got bad, some people got poorer, but many things got thrown away and abandoned. Didzis, the founder of Bolderāja was one of many influencing a wave of new underground-revival places slowly popping up since almost 10 years ago. They were in cheaper suburbs, more particularly in the now subculturally-rich Avoti and in 100+ year old houses with DIY interiour the owners didn't find kitschy, but rather like a representation of real life, social history, or even as a protest for or out of anger against something. The overall hipster sanitation of the place never happened in those bars, cafes or culture spaces, yet the weakest elements of interior and furniture were replaced with rough, yet solid second-hand substitute, shaping a place so full of stories one could write a book about the bookstore itself. Eventually, Bolderāja was born and still grows as probably the most unique place for literature of its kind in Rīga.

We bought: Rebecca Solnit's (USA) "Wanderlust".
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MORE INFO 
Find: You can visit the official "Dzejas dienas"  web page for more info. Near total amount of events are free of charge and, if conducted in Latvian, still gather a good crowd of people (and, most presumably - free wine!).
How: You can reach all the bookstores by bike or any type of public transport of your choosing. The distance is also walkable.
NB: Try out the famous URBAN POETRY 2019 slam. The flow of real-time poetry battles with artists from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Russia and the overjoyed audience won't let you down.
What else: If you have a chance don't miss visiting 2 other places for a good piece of literature. 1) try the regular "Valters un Rapa" store at Aspazijas bulvāris 24 for a wast amount of translated Latvian and original English literature, guide books and REAL hot melted chocolate at the Reinzi cafe next door (Latvians quite hate Nesquik), and 2) don't miss the first charity shop in the country "Otrā Elpa". Try out their every store for a nice collection of second hand books you can also buy to help social projects being carried out.

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