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Second hand bookshops

I love second-hand bookshops and (by extension) second-hand books.

The number of second-hand bookshops in Reykjaví­k has dropped severely since I was a teenager. Most of the shops I remember from my forays into the city in those years were situated on the fringes of the city centre, away from the main shopping streets, sometimes skulking inside residential areas. The windows were usually dirty enough to allow only a dim view of the inside, and once you opened the door, the shops were tiny and stuffed with books from floor to ceiling, with hoards of more books in boxes, piles and stacks on creaky wooden floors. They all seemed to be run by old men who sat in ancient office chairs (that leaked stuffing) and looked benignly on as you rifled through the collections of dusty books. If you were lucky, you could find treasures for next to nothing, books that don't seem to be available anywhere anymore.

This was before the flea market opened.

The only good thing about buying books at the flea market is the low prices. Unlike the shops, the flea market is large, noisy and crowded, and, like most true bibliophiles, I love bookshops that remind me of an old-fashioned library, complete with high bookshelves and an atmosphere of church-like quietness combined with a smell of paper, dust and leather covers.

After the flea market opened and a bunch of booksellers set up permanent booths there, selling new and used books at low prices, the old-time second-hand shops disappeared one by one, killed off by competition, bad locations and the retirement or passing away of the owners. Now there are only two worthwhile second-hand bookshops left in the city.

I remember being very upset when my favourite second-hand bookshop closed and an Irish theme pub opened in its place. The shop had been housed on two floors, the first being given over to Icelandic books and antiques, and the second floor to foreign books. I could spend hours in there browsing until I was driven out by sneezing fits brought on by the clouds of dust that would billow up when some of the older books were pulled out for inspection.

As it turned out, the store had not closed, but had just moved to a cheaper location, a mere 10 minute walk from the old one, in a residential area where the Salvation Army also has a shop, giving me a double reason for visiting the area.

The new location has by now become too small for its contents. As you enter, you come into a dimly lit room dominated by a couple of desks placed at an angle to one another to form an L-shaped fortress around the bookseller - a friendly, elderly man - when he isn't pottering about the shop and arranging books on shelves. A large table in the middle of the room is stacked high with books, and to the side there is a huge pile of even more books. Continuing inwards from the front of the room are rambling, dusty bookcases that reach towards the ceiling and drifts of books creep over the floor and periodically threaten to form dams across the narrow aisles. The air is hot and dusty and has a musty, papery smell and I can never stay for long because it is always stiflingly hot in there, possibly to ward off dampness. There may well be doorways into other dimensions hidden among the shelves, and I wouldn't be surprised if one day I were to find myself wandering into L-space. It's that kind of bookshop.

The other good second hand bookshop in Reykjaví­k is very nearly in the centre of the city, not too far away from where I work. The street it's located in is the next one down from Laugarvegurinn, the main shopping street.

This shop is more like a regular bookshop: it's clean and neat, there is little dust, and there are no free-standing bookcases. The smell of books is still there, but it doesn't have that church-like atmosphere of the other one. The attraction there (for me) is the paperback section. A bunch of shelves and a table piled high with foreign (mostly English) language paperbacks beckons as soon as you enter. The books there are more expensive than in the other shop, costing about the same as they would new in a bookstore in the USA (did I mention that books are VERY expensive in Iceland?). The great thing about this second-hand bookshop is that it accepts trade-ins. The trade-in price for one paperback is two paperbacks - an excellent way to reduce a large library. This is where I acquired most of my fantasy paperbacks, and where I get mystery novels and thrillers for my mother.

Before going in there to trade books, a savvy bibliophile will first visit the Red Cross second-hand shop and buy a couple of books for 200 kr. and trade them in for a single book that costs four times that...

First published in March 2004, in three parts.


The first bookshop has since moved again. It is now situated in the city center, on the same street as the other one. The lighting is now good because the location was designed as a shop with large windows, but the books still drift about the floor and many are stacked in tottering piles and boxes. It's still dusty, but the musty smell is no longer there and neither is it uncomfortably hot any more. Big improvement.

The second bookshop has changed owners, and now stinks so horribly of smoking that I wouldn't dream of buying books there any more.

And the price of second hand books at the charity shops is now 100 kr.


Marcus said…
Hi, I'm desperately trying to get hold of some children's books in Icelandic language. But I can't find any contact information, nonetheless online second hand bookstores in Iceland on the web whatsoever. Do you have any clue where I should turn to?
(Since I don't speak a word Icelandic it's even more difficult.)
Bibliophile said…
Try Be careful though, I got a security warning when i tried to open it.

Here is a link with a review that includes a phone number for the same book shop:

Hope this helps!

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