Soul of the City

7 December 2021

We are picking our favourite Cracovian bookshops for the fifth time!

How do you buy books in Kraków? Slowly and thoughtfully, or perhaps on a whim when a cover or title catches your eye? After a meeting with an author, or a long chat with the bookseller, or after browsing all bookshelves? One thing’s for certain: from one of the independent bookshops in the Old Town, Kazimierz, Podgórze or Nowa Huta! Between mid-November and 8 December, you can cast your vote – in person or online – for your favourite places on the city’s literary map as part of the annual competition for Bookshops of the Year. “The aim of the campaign is to promote independent and second-hand bookshops as perfect places for interacting with books and cultural institutions, and spaces for building social ties and developing common ways of perceiving the world. The competition has been changing and evolving from the very start. This year we are continuing the formula we developed last year by showcasing four equally important categories, and doing away with the standard division by first, second and third place. We reward bookshops voted by visitors as having the best range, best booksellers, best atmosphere, and best cultural event programme. We invest our energy in making sure that bookshops are widely discussed and that participating venues benefit from taking part,” says Krzysztof Żwirski, coordinator of the campaign representing the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature programme. We asked winners of last year’s competition for their tips on how to be voted a “bookshop with soul”.

Independent bookshops stock very different titles than those found at large chains or supermarkets. This is achieved by painstaking work by booksellers who carefully rifle through the thousands of new released published every month to choose the most fascinating books. Katarzyna Klimek from Karakter, awarded in the Best Books category last year, talks about the growth of the collection at her bookshop at Tarłowska Street: “First and foremost, we are guided by our literary passion and choices. Our tastes are also frequently shaped by our readers who suggest what books they enjoy, which we are happy to order for them. We are the outlet of our publishing house focusing on literature, non-fiction and books on design and architecture, so you will find plenty of titles on these topics from Karakter and other publishing houses. We also promote smaller publishers who aren’t afraid to speak up on important topics and explore niche subjects. You can approach us any time for recommendations, and we’ll find just the book for you.”

There are other reasons to visit bookshops: for their friendly atmosphere, delicious coffee and discussions on literary and other topics. According to Natalia Bała from Spółdzielnia Ogniwo, last year’s winner in the Best Atmosphere category, you need more than books to achieve the result. “First and foremost, we aren’t just a bookshop – we are a cultural centre bringing together myriad initiatives and projects from a wide range of fields. We are building a community of people who support us, visit us regularly and become friends. But far from being cliquey, we are open and always welcome new faces. We provide a platform for exchanging ideas and thoughts on the latest topics. And we try to do all this in a relaxed, natural way,” Bała explains.

Independent bookshops frequently host meetings which attract readers and contribute to local cultural life. Cafe NOWA Bookshop, last year’s winner in the Best Events category, is a perfect example. “The unique nature of bookshops is shaped by people – both booksellers and readers. You need to listen to your visitors to create a space which meets their needs and expectations. We are visited by many families with children looking for books and for ways of spending time together. We respond by hosting workshops for kids and adults inspired by books and literature. Adults come along to reading clubs, art exhibitions and concerts, with many ideas originating from suggestions from our guests. We are also proud to be a bookshop in Nowa Huta without any compromises or hang-ups about being outside the city centre. We want to be a destination for interesting people with their ideas and hunches. The starting point for discussion should be literature, and we host meetings with authors organised together with publishing houses. The formula allows us to invite authors from all over Poland to talk about their books, chat with the local community and get to know this beautiful district of Kraków,” says Jacek Dargiewicz from the bookshop at 7 Zgody Estate.

The Bookshops of the Year poll was first held in 2017. Since then, the Quality Mark of the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature programme and corresponding diplomas have been awarded to De Revolutionibus Books&Cafe, Kurant Music Bookshop, Massolit Books & Cafe, MUZA II Bookshop, bookshop of the WAM Publishing House, the Main Academic Bookshop, MOCAK Bookstore, Szafa Pełna Książek (which has since moved all its activities online), and the abovementioned Karakter, Spółdzielnia Ogniwo and Cafe NOWA Bookshop. This year’s winners will be revealed on 13 December, on the Poland’s Bookseller Day.

The vote isn’t the only municipal initiative supporting independent and second-hand bookshops. For many years the city has been actively encouraging bookshops, for example through a programme offering rental credit and co-financing cultural activities held at bookshops. We recently marked Bookshop Night organised by the book wholesaler OSDW Azymut, with the participation of 15 bookshops in Kraków and supported by the Kraków UNESCO City of Literature programme. Bookshops throughout Kraków have specially marked shelves carrying publications under the programme’s patronage. During the pandemic, local bookshops have been supported by the Immune Bookshops programme, and the campaign Books by Phone continues to grow. (Anna Mazur)

The text was published in the 4/2021 issue of the “Kraków Culture” quarterly.

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