Ironically enough, some historians claim that the most significant event in Istanbul’s literary history involved a mass of books leaving the city. After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, a number of Greek scholars fled the city and settled in modern-day Italy, bringing manuscripts on classical antiquity along with them. Italian intellectuals and artists suddenly had access to the ideals and concepts of Ancient Greece they had previously admired only from a distance. The exodus of literature from the former capital of the Byzantine Empire was, in this sense, a major force behind the cultural movement we now know as the Renaissance.
If all of this seems a bit dramatic, fear not: foreign residents of Istanbul no longer have to live in fear of execution, and the city has thankfully recovered more than its share of departed books. There are stacks, piles, and shelves in fact, of overflowing books in stores all over the city from a wide variety of booksellers who are dedicated to their profession and in many cases highly specialized. If nothing else, Istanbul is a great city to browse through, with one eye on something in mind and the other open to something new.
Greenhouse Books is located in Kozyatağı on the Asian side of the city, but the trip is well worth it. Founded in 1996 by an American expat, Greenhouse has since blossomed into a community center of sorts for readers, and they can count book clubs, Turkish lessons, and initiatives to get children reading among their outreach programs. Importing over a thousand titles a month from the United Kingdom, Greenhouse has one of the best selections in the city, with special mention going to their books on Turkey and children’s literature. A trip to Greenhouse is a great way to initiate yourself into the world of books in Istanbul, although it may be an hour or two before you leave. Dumlupınar Sokak No. 17, Kadıköy; P: (0216) 449 30 34
While definitely worth your while, spending all of your time and money in Kadıköy would mean missing out on a slew of quality bookstores, all located a stone’s throw away from one another in Beyoğlu, which focus exclusively on new titles. Making your way down İstiklal Caddesi from Taksim Square, you first come across the Beyoğlu location of Pandora Bookstores, whose English and Turkish stores straddle Büyükparmakkapı Sokak just to the left of the main drag. Pandora’s English stock is all-encompassing and non-discriminating, with shelves of ‘pop-lit’ resting next to ones filled with literary criticism. They have a great selection of Turkish literature in English, and equally impressive selections of Turkish cookbooks and books on Turkish history and politics. Büyükparmakkapı Sokak No. 3 &8, Beyoğlu; P: (0212) 243 35 03
Walking further down İstiklal and turning left on Yeni Çarşı Caddesi, there is Homer Kitabevi, who since opening in 1995 has established itself as the city’s best resource for books on Middle Eastern studies, history, and politics. The owners import their titles from the US and UK directly, which gives them control over both quality and cost and their titles are captivating and up-to-date. Yeni Çarşı Caddesi No.12/A, Galatasary; P: (0212) 249 59 02
Just a couple of stores down from Homer is ArkeoPera, whose beautifully decorated store stocks English and Turkish titles with a focus on art, archeology, and design. While being a great academic resource, ArkeoPera is incredibly welcoming and also has a great selection of arts and crafts for sale. The upstairs gallery, which occasionally hosts exhibitions and talks, contributes to the store’s renown as one of the city’s warmest and most interesting stops. Yeniçarşı Caddesi Petek Han No.16A, Beyoğlu; P: (0212) 249 92 26
Located down İstiklal towards Galata is Robinson Crusoe, which in our eyes rivals Homer Kitabevi for the title of the city’s best English-language bookstore. Winning over just as many patrons for its elegant, wood-lined interior as for its selection of books, the store has been a favorite of English speakers since opening in the ‘90s. Their stock is finely curated, and nearly every title in the store (in sections spanning psychology to film to history) is enticing enough to bring home. The staff is knowledgeable and speaks English, but as with most great bookstores, their titles speak for themselves. İstiklal Caddesi No. 136, Beyoğlu; P: (0212) 245 98 20
In the shadows of the nearby Greek Orthodox Church on Emir Nevruz Sokak, Turkuaz Kitabevi is one of the area’s finest sellers of second-hand and antique books. Located above a Turkish language bookstore with a focus on politics (take the stairs in the back up to reach Turkuaz) the store has the best selection of second-hand French hardcovers in the city, not to mention a sizeable collection of English history books. Though Turkuaz is also a trove of old newspapers and magazines, their elegant and distinguished selection of books ensures their place a step above the bounty of other second-hand sellers in the area. Emir Nevruz Sokak Panayia Apt. No.12, Galatasaray; P: (0212) 245 45 88
When in the area, Eren Kitabevi is also not to be missed. Although the majority of their selection is in Turkish, they do feature English books you will be hard pressed to find elsewhere, such as titles from Isis Press, an academic publisher based in Istanbul. Their selection of coffee tables books are worth checking out too, specifically those on Turkish history. İstiklal Caddesi Sofyalı Sokak No. 34, Tünel; P: (0212) 251 28 58
Yet on the matter of coffee table books, no store in the city comes close to matching the Istanbul branch of Assouline in Bebek. This enlightened French publisher has stores in select cities around the world, those lucky enough to witness in person their beautiful editions. Having redefined the coffee table book, Assouline offers its customers intimate experiences of art, nature, and culture, and their selection proves that books are more than a substitute for real experience. Cevdet Paşa Caddesi No.25/A, Bebek; P: (0212) 287 55 34