Anglo-American Book Co. in Rome

20th Jan 2011


When I was a bookseller, the best day of the month was when the American editions arrived en masse. What followed was always a blood and guts attempt to get away from the till and as close to the new arrivals as possible without being disturbed.

Mostly this is because, despite our great publishing houses, American editions are often so much more attractive than their British equivalents. The paper is a better quality, they are lithe and waxy, and in themselves are like little works of art. But this is also because there are so many things unavailable here, and America seems to be more supportive of their independents than we are.

So when I found the Anglo-American book store in Rome, it was like having a year’s worth of these days in one go. The shop is a deluge of lusty spines. It is one of those bookshops that require a ladder to reach the top shelves. It is choked with incredible editions of almost anything you might need.

There are no colossal towers of badly-bound bestsellers, but still the sections are varied and the range is precise. I found an entire collection of Nabokov – the vintage editions with the wonderfully disturbed designs – and a load of other books I didn’t know by authors I did.

There are none of those stiff volumes displaying photographs of a half-woman with melancholy body language on their jackets; nor are there any of those nasty three-for-two stickers defacing what may or may not have been a seductive layout.

You may argue that the quality of a book is based on what’s inside and all that, but for those with an obsessive longing for the picturesque, Anglo-American is ideal. There is a good section filled with Italian authors in translation, plenty of travel literature and some interesting books on history and religion.

Despite the sulky looks on their faces, I found myself envious of the booksellers there. The shop opens late and closes early, and seems like it could never be very busy. They no doubt do not fall victim to the overbearing customer service expectations of London – and they get to live in Rome.

The only thing I could see wrong with the shop – owing more to my own poverty than anything else – was that the books were so expensive. In some cases a paperback could cost about £20. American editions are more expensive in English bookshops, but nowhere near as much this, and after a chest clutching half-hour of indecision I had to force myself to leave empty-handed.

Still, if you’re ever in Rome and get tired of the crowds and the heat, it’s fifteen minutes walk from the Piazza di Spagna and a spectacular place to spend an hour.

Jen Thompson