There is no better souvenir than a book to mark your visit to a place. I for one collect books everywhere I go and especially love the hunt for a good book in second-hand bookstores. I always think of second-hand bookstores as treasure hunts for discovering literary gems. Having arrived in Cape Town five months ago, I had a strong yearning to uncover what literary spots the Mother City had to offer.
Here are things to do, bookstores to visit and other awesome literary spots for book lovers visiting or residing in Cape Town:
1. Attend book events and buy books at the Book Lounge
The Book Lounge should be a first stop for any book lover who visits Cape Town for a variety of reasons. They host book launches, seminars and story reading for children every Saturday morning and they have a lounge area downstairs where they serve delicious coffees, cappuccino, milkshakes, hot chocolate, herbal teas plus a small selection of tasty snacks. They have a fantastic selection of contemporary titles and classic texts at affordable prices. The serenity of being surrounded by books in this spot is so refreshing that you just want to grab a copy, order a milkshake or tea and let your mind wander into a fantastic book. They are open Mondays to Sundays. Look out for events on their website, they are always launching recent titles and hosting literary conversations with a variety of South African writers. Pop in to 71 Roeland street in the CBD or visit booklounge.co.za
2. Collect rare finds and Africana books at Clarke’s Bookshop
I walked passed Clarke’s Bookstore after a night out on Long Street and vowed to return for some book hunting. The bookstore has been running for over fifty years now and hosts a variety of books ranging from old Victorian texts to contemporary titles. The rates are suitable for a secondhand bookstore which mean that you can get a book for the price of a cheap drink with some finds going for R20. With R300 you can be well on your way to starting your own collection. They house some of the latest releases including My Own Liberator, a memoir by the former Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke if you are looking for contemporary titles. They also host a variety of discussions and books once in a while. For more information visit or pop into shop clarkesbooks.co.za
3. Dig up rare more finds at Select Books
The beauty about second-hand bookstores is the possibility of finding books that could possibly be out of print. At Select Books, they buy and sell titles that are out of print as well as offer some of the latest books. The genre ranges from Africana, the Anglo-Boer War, botany, fauna, furniture, classic texts, travel, hunting and sport. They are situated on 232 Long Street. Visit selectbooks.co.za
4. Enjoy coffee, collect second-hand and contemporary books at Blab café
This café in Observatory has a big collection of contemporary South African literature compared to a lot of the bookstores I visited. They are also known for their vast selection of left-wing books. This is a vibrant yet calming spot to enjoy coffee, cakes, muffins, fresh juices and shwarmas, all while browsing books. You can also grab a copy of the available reading material and have a pleasurable reading experience. You can also bring a book, order coffee, sit around and read away. They also have free wi-fi if you are looking to do some work on your laptop in an environment surrounded by books. Visit their Facebook page.
5. Antique shopping & vintage books at Proseworthy Collectables
Located on Long street is an antique bookstore with a variety of books hand-picked by the owner to inspire customers with her a selection of desired subjects. There are a lot of book vintage hardcover fiction books and other books with fine binding and brown paper with the strong scent of books. Call 0214233810.
6. Explore Pan-Africanism at the Chimurenga Book Store
Chimurenga is an online Pan-Africanist online publication that also runs a second-hand bookstore on Long street with a few Pan-African book titles. They also host a variety of Pan-African talks as well as writers. Visit chimurenga.co.za.
7. Give back by buying books at CAFDA Bookstores
This organisation was established as a commission of inquiry seeking to address poverty, disease, malnutrition and severe flooding homes in the Southern communities in the Cape Flats. The bookstore was opened in 1961 in Claremont and moved to Warwick Street in 1971 where it’s been located since. They have a variety of branches across Cape Town, from Seapoint on 18 Regent Road, to Fishhoek on the Main Road, Cavendish in Claremont. They sell a variety of secondhand books. All proceeds raised go towards fulfilling the organisation’s mission. Visit cafda.org.za for details of directions for a variety of their stores around Cape Town.
8. Watch a play & talk books at the Alexandar Bar, Cafe and Theatre
This is a vintage styled bar on Summerstrand street. If you’re looking for a conversation-friendly spot to discuss the book that’s been keeping you up (like Trevor Noah’s memoir) this might be the spot. Their environment is cool to meet up with a friend, a blind date or an acquaintance for an engaging or intellectual conversation about a book. They have a theatre upstairs where they often host drama, comedy, anti-theatre, stand-up, cabaret, burlesque, screenings, talks, workshops, live music, readings, poetry. Visit alexanderbar.co.za
9. Collect design, art and photography books at Bibliophilia
This boutique bookstore specialises particularly in graphic design, art, illustrations and photography books. They also have a small selection of local documentaries at affordable prices. Visit bibliophilia.co.za
10. Volunteer and book shop some more at St George’s Second-hand Books & Bric-a-Brac
This bookstore is part of St George Cathedral and hosts a vast array of literature and all proceeds go towards the Cathedral music programme, outreach programmes and other Cape Town based charities. They have interesting old titles, some of which have been professionally restored – their website says they currently have an early edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost! They welcome donations for books, kitchenware ornaments artwork and take in volunteers. To get in touch with them visit stgeorgesbooks.com
11. Choose from a bigger selection of books at Blank Books in Woodstock
This is a flagship bookstore part of the Blab café and Bibliophilia. The bookstore is found on Albert Road in the Salt Circle Arcade opposite Biscuit Mill. They sell fiction, non-fiction, collectables and a variety of quirky reading items. Open Monday to Friday 10am to 4:30pm and Saturdays 9am to 3:30pm. Visit blankbooks.co.za
Do you know of any other fantastic spots for book lovers we might have left out that are worth trying out? Feel free to share any spots or tell us about some of your favourite spots in the comments below.