Libreria is a London bookshop with a difference. With categories such as “Utopia”, “The Sea and the Sky” and “Mothers, Madonnas and Whores,” its curation is eclectic.
“I think the best way to be creative is to look outside what you perceive as being ideal,” says Libreria manager Paddy Butler. “You may have an idea that is original, but there is no such thing as an original idea. I don’t even know what original means.”
That’s Butler’s roundabout way of saying Liberia thinks about books in a more offbeat way. The shop bans mobile phones and doesn’t have Wi-Fi, whilst its interior was designed by Spanish architects SelgasCano. By placing science alongside fiction and philosophy, Libreria hopes browsers will find new ideas that will challenge their preconceptions.
WIRED asked Butler to share the five books he thinks we should all be reading.
1. Ulysses, James Joyce
“I think it is one of the most amazing books that have ever been written. Joyce contests narrative, and contests the idea of what reality is and what fiction is like it has never been done before. He tears up the whole idea of how to write a novel but also the whole idea of how we engage with the world. He changes how you think.”
2. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, Simon Schama
“This is such a rich and amazing telling of the lead up of the French Revolution and the subsequent terror that encompassed it. But the reason I have chosen it is because of the cultural richness of its description. It describes how culture, the theatre and journals were so important to the dissemination of ideas. That would probably fall into the enlightenment category of Libreria, but it could also fall into terror. It is an enlightenment project and it is the culmination of that project. Although, historians would argue the enlightenment project is still on going and I wouldn’t want to dread on their toes.”
3. God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
“This is a fantastic novel set in mid-20th century India with the rise of Marxist party. It centres around this family that is trying to get to glimpse of the Marxist transition and it’s all told through the ideas of two beautiful kids. Roy’s genius is that she adopts this beautiful language, which tragically reminds you of your own childhood period in a funny sort of way.”
4. The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, François Rabelais
“The beautiful thing about this book is that it embodies that experimental spirit that we see with regards to language and art in the coming modern period. In fact, it had a big influence on my first choice, Ulysses. But, it is also quite instructive. In that period after the Reformation, when Luther writes 95 criticisms of Catholic church, Rabelais takes a new humanist approach to ideas and says, ‘Okay why not laugh at power?’. That’s kind of critical, I think this is kind of a turning point in modernism. The novel represents power as ridiculous.”
5. What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic, Shahab Ahmed
“My final choice is something I am reading at the moment. It is an astonishing scholarly work. I think it’s not overblown to say this one of the most interesting scholarly histories I have read in the last five years. The breadth of knowledge Ahmed has and the narratives that he is telling are quite extraordinary. It asks how does the west understand Islam, and how does Islam within Islam understand itself? I don’t think I’ve ever read anything as argumentatively brilliant in demonstrating that we should be looking at the amazing thinkers within Islam.”