A brief guide to Oslo’s bookshops

As part of getting to know a new country and a new city, one of my favourite things to explore are the bookshops and in Oslo there are more than you can shake a stick at.  This is by no means a comprehensive guide to the city’s bookshops but is a small sample of those that so far, I have enjoyed exploring. This is likely a post that will have future follow ups as I get to know the city and its bookshops better.

To begin with in Oslo there are the various chain bookshops, ARK, Norli and Tanum. Each of these has multiple shops of different sizes across the city but a few are worth taking a look at. In particular the Norli on Universitetsgate, and the Tanum at Litteraturhuset are worth going into. ARK have a good shop on Karl Johan’s gate the main drag in Oslo city centre for shopping.

The Norli on Universitetsgate, not far from the palace and around the corner from both the National Gallery and National History Museum is a shop with a glass door that it would be easy to miss but once inside you will find a well laid out and spacious bookshop with two floors and lots of fascinating titles not only in Norwegian and Swedish but in English too. One of the curious things I noticed in the bookshops here is that as well as their being an English language novel section as is common in Prague say, in a sign of the strength of English language learning in Norway, English language books are scattered among the Norwegian language books in practically every subject matter.

Going to the Norli on Universitetsgate also has the advantage of getting you close to several more nearby bookshops. Two doors over from Norli there is a Fretex shop (Salvation Army). Downstairs there you will find an intriguing mix of books at reasonable prices and again English language books mixed among the Norwegian. A little further up the street past the Kaffebrenneriet on the street you will come to Tronsmo bookshop. 

tronsmo
The new premises of Tronsmo on Universitetets gate in Oslo city centre.

Tronsmo is a beautiful big bookshop, with a huge range of titles. Now on Universitetsgate, it was previously in a location just around the corner which is now a temporary gallery. The music section of the bookshop is especially strong as are the current affairs, politics, photography and art sections. There is also a strong children’s section. The walls of the shop are covered in photography and posters of vintage and more recent variety. Because of the big wide open layout the bookshop at first feels like it might be sparse but after a good ten minutes browsing you realise that the shelves are very full and they have many recently published English language books. It’s a fairly high brow bookshop as these things go, and the odd seat to take a bit more time over things would be welcome but its a bookshop that will require multiple visits.

Just before Tronsmo there is Norlis antikvariat which looks like a real specialist bookshop for those interested in rare books and collectibles. The windows contain rare books and maps among other things at fairly high prices. I’ve yet to work up the courage to enter, but look forward to popping in some day.

If you go back to the square on Karl Johan’s gate and make your way towards the palace, but then turn right away from it you’ll eventually find Litteraturhuset. As well as being offices for a variety of writing related organisations, an educational space, a writing space, and much mord besides, the ground floor boasts a café and a small but rich bookshop, run by Tanum. Here you will find a fantastic selection of essays and literary criticism as well as novels, poetry and current affairs and history.

eldorado680
The entrance to El Dorado bookshop in Oslo.

Elsewhere in the city, walking east away from Oslo sentralstasjon, along Storgata, you will find El Dorada bookshop, which has a strong selection of English language books but they push especially Penguin Classics. They have an overwhelming selection of literary journals which are worth browsing and the bookshop is aesthetically very pleasing to be in.

cappelens
The sign in the window of Cappelens on Bernt Ankers gate.

Further along Storgata and turning onto Bernt Ankers gate you come to Cappelens Forslag. Cappelen is a well-known name in the world of Norwegian books. Cappelen Damm are one of the country’s largest publishing houses, but the Cappelens behind this small rare bookshop are not connected to the big name publisher. Opened in 2011 Cappelens Forslag is a small square place with lots of character and it specialises in rare English language books in the main. It is chiefly famous in Norway for its konversasjonsleksikon, a kind of subjective encyclopedia, the second volume of which appears later this year.

 

There is also a small cafe space at the back with black coffee and a range of Chinese teas imported via Bergen which are a real treat. Its an especially good bookshop in which to talk books with the knowledgeable and friendly staff.

The final bookshop for this post which I’ll mention is another small independent shop on Schous plass in Grunerløkke. Schous bokhandel, which only opened this year, is another bookshop in a square ground floor space with the books stacked neatly along the walls. It has plenty of chairs and the day I was in, the guy working there was just popping some Johnny Cash on the record players. They carried plenty of unusual English language titles along with everything else. Like Cappelen’s forslag, they also had interesting poetry titles in both English and Norwegian from a range of presses big and small.

The pickings in Oslo for bookshops are rich indeed and if you find yourself passing through you could do worse than find the time to pop into several of these bookshops in between admiring the rest of what Oslo has to offer.

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