This gorgeous new Barcelona bookstore may change your mind yet about tackling Catalan literature.
A trip to Ona Llibres can be a spiritual experience for those who love to read, even if the books are not in your native language. With stunning artwork, a relaxed café vibe, events, and cool interior design, and even those who aren’t natural bookworms will find themselves lingering to learn and escape from the mundane of the world outside (and maybe learn Catalan!).
Located at the bottom end of Pau Claris, Ona Llibres is the artsy, modern incarnation of the original Ona Llibres that was located around the corner at Gran Via 654 (look on the pavement for the brass plaque that denoted the entrance). In business from 1964 to 2010, it was cherished from Llança to Llérida as a ‘temple’ of Catalan books. When it closed, librarian Montserrat Úbeda opened a smaller version in Gràcia. Tatxo Benet, a noted figure on the city’s cultural scene and part owner of the giant audiovisual production company Mediapro, was a regular customer. An avid reader, prolific art collector and sometimes-political commentator, Benet has financed the new Ona Llibres, appointing Úbeda as director.
Benet is keen to point out that only carrying tomes in the Catalan language does not implicate any sort of political ideology. Ona’s intent is to diminish the ‘bad reputation’ Catalan literature has, and of course introduce new readers to the language.
“A shop selling books only in French or English wouldn’t be accused of political bias,” he rightly argues.
“What is true is that there is a ‘boom’ of authors writing about el procés, so for people that walk in, that’s the first thing they see. But, we also plan to stock Catalan writers who have been translated into other languages, and foreign writers translated into Catalan.”
Ona Llibres is laid put over 1000 square meters and two floors of the old Pharmaceutical College. The design department of Mediapro renovated the interior. An accomplished team, they generally work on exhibition installations for the city’s top cultural powerhouses. Immersive, dazzling, and perfectly paced, bold color and high tech surfaces demark the various spaces; retail, a children’s section with a toy train chuffing around the walls, and a gallery space that sells museum-worthy art pieces related to the world of print signed by heavyweights such as Joan Barossa and Jaume Plensa. An intimate theatre in the back serves as the reading and event room, where you can have a coffee on art-deco armchairs while perusing out-of-print, rare and first edition tomes rescued by Úbeda and arranged on crafted wooden shelves.
“I was waiting for a good place to put them,” comments Benet on the artwork in Ona.
For the children’s section, a dotty lithograph by Damien Hirst; for the entrance, an installation of books in whirlpool formation by Guillermo Basagoiti. While climbing the stairs, I stopped in my tracks to see the lyrics of A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall written by Dylan himself, in remarkably neat penmanship. In the reading room, self-exiled politician Carles Puigdemont’s speech for the diada was streamed in front of a huge abstract titled Picasso’s Guernica in the Style of Jackson Pollock.
“Our plan is to have a daily cultural event — be it a presentation, a book club meeting, or theatre. So we are very different from other bookshops in the city in that respect.”
“We are creating a cultural center,” says Benet. True indeed.
Visit Ona on Pau Claris
Learn Catalan and Spanish
Laie: Two level bookshop and cafe, including an outdoor terrace.
La Llama: Specializes in books on comedy.
Abracadabra: Children’s books and toys store near Santa Catarina market.
On the Road: Gem of a little bookshop near Palau de la Musica with a helpful owner.