On a Greek Island, a Bookstore With Some Mythology of Its Own

Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

SANTORINI, Greece — On a wall above rare first editions, old maps of this volcanic island and a stained linen lampshade, a painted timeline traces the evolution of Atlantis Books from a wine-drenched notion in 2002 into one of Europe’s most enchanting bookstores.

A terrace overlooks the Aegean Sea. Bookshelves swing back to reveal hidden, lofted beds where the shop’s workers can sleep.

Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Somewhere along the way, word spread that visiting writers too could spend summer nights scribbling and snoozing there, and the owner began receiving emails requesting a bunk at earth’s most stunning writer’s colony, on an island Plato believed was the lost Atlantis.

But the writer-in-residence program was also a Greek myth.

“The idea was not to come here to write the great American novel, it was to sling books,” Craig Walzer, the store’s owner, said. “You are here for the bookshop first.”

Over the last 15 years, as cruise-ship hordes and souvenir schlock have overrun the village of Oia on Santorini’s northern tip, Atlantis Books has become an unlikely oasis of authenticity and cultural sanity.

Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Yellowed pages and shelves fashioned from driftwood give off a musty smell. The soundtrack on a recent visit shifted from Beck to the BBC’s commentary of the Wimbledon men’s final. Customers sidestepped the shop dog, Billie Holiday, to peruse just-so offerings (“Plato: Cool as a Cucumber”) from the store’s own press of classics.

“Have you read ‘Rilke in Paris’?” Sarah Nasar, a veteran of Shakespeare and Company, asked one customer as Mr. Walzer steered a skeptical boy away from “The Little Gray Donkey” to a children’s version of the “Iliad.”

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Bibliophiles around them leafed through a lovingly curated collection of fiction, poetry, essays and rarities. A first edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” minus one of the rare-book world’s most sought-after dust jackets, was on sale for 6,000 euros beneath a label reading “I must have you,” a nod to the novel’s opening epigraph. Behind the register sat a 1935 edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” illustrated by Matisse, and an exceedingly rare first edition of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” It was listed at 17,500 euros.

Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

 

“That’s a big boy’s book,” Mr. Walzer said.

Expensive rare books sell well here, Mr. Walzer explained, partly because the island has become a popular destination for “people who have way too much money,” but also because honeymooners and other visitors often want to take home something more meaningful and less common than a diamond bracelet, say. Books offer tourists “something tangible and not digital,” he added; they’re not just another posed photo in front of the sunset.

Right on cue a customer interrupted to ask whether pictures were allowed in the store: “It’s so cool.”

“Sure,” Mr. Walzer said.

~~~  CONTINUE  ~~~

 

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