5 Coolest Independent Bookshops in Oslo
With digital screens and e-books occupying our eyeballs most of the time, it would be nice one day, sunny or cloudy, to just dive into a bookshop and emerge in another world of the past, present, or future — all on books’ pages. As you lift your eyes from them and then close the book, still feeling that you are dwelling in a ray of light, the book owner will kindly ask if you would like a cup of coffee, while exchanging Woolf’s flowing words with you. Since then, you've made a new friend and have a new place to go. Furthermore, there’s a surprise student discount at the checkout. Yes, there aren’t many independent bookshops in Oslo, but these 5 warm, unique, and inclusive bookshops are the ones you won’t want to miss.
1. Cappelens Forslag — “It Is Not Only an Independent Bookshop But the Most Independent Bookshop in Norway”
Bernt Ankersgt. 4, 0183 Oslo
This is the most utopian bookshop I’ve ever been to, and the owners are the most idealistic bookworms and art lovers with the strongest love of books that I’ve ever met. When I walked into Cappelens Forslag, it was like stepping back in time into an old school bookshop from the 19th or 20th centuries. In addition to thousands of books on the handmade sky-high bookshelves, you will also find weird, nerdy, but charming items there — like 19th-century dentist chairs, steam-era train traffic lights, and spacious, soft leather sofas. But in the end, you must focus on the books, which are the only thing you can buy in Cappelens Forslag.
If you ask Pil and Andreas (the owners of Cappelens Forslag) to recommend any bestselling book, then they may say "Sorry, there is no such thing as a bestseller here, but you can buy first edition books at fair prices." Books here are stocked not by publishers or book distributors but by Pil and Andreas themselves, who leave Oslo with a few empty suitcases s and bring them back home filled with books. Before the pandemic, they used to go to the US and Scotland for all kinds of second-hand editions, so you always find some valuable, even rarest books here, for example, Paradise Lost in the original binding from 1790.
Even if you don’t buy anything here, you can still enjoy reading slowly and then have a cup of black coffee. “You know, in a chain bookshop, you don’t get a lot of sitting furniture, because they don’t want you to relax there — they want you to buy your books and then leave. I think it’s a psychological approach, how to get customers to spend the most money in the shop. And in Cappelens Forslag, we consciously don’t do that,” the owners assert. It has always been a location for reading, conversations, concerts, parties, even weddings. The owners may very well watch a group of customers grow from being students to starting families and having children. That is the kind of the relationship Cappelens Forslag builds with its guests.
The pandemic and digitized life have changed people’s habits. Even though fewer and fewer students come to Cappelens Forslag nowadays, even though they are five months behind on rent, they still give a 15% discount to every student that comes in.
2. Svovel Fabrikk & Butikk — “Never Give a Child a Book You Would Not Read Yourself”
Rathkes gate 7 B, Oslo, 0558
When I first came to Oslo, I was eager to find out if there were any independent children’s bookshops in Norway and how they were doing. I stumbled upon Svovel Fabrikk & Butikk, the only one and purist children’s bookstore in Norway. When I found out the story behind it, I was even more impressed by the founders’ pure passion for children‘s literature.
Svovel Fabrikk & Butikk has undergone a move from Sagene to Grünerløkka, which had a lot of staff changes, but more and more readers came to the store. What has remained the same for the shop’s founder, Ellen, is the selection of books. She believes that it is important to have good and varied children’s literature, and that the quality of the stories and illustrations in children’s books are both indispensable. All the editions in the bookshop are hand-picked and vetted by Ellen and Agnes, the current owners of Svovel, and they know every book they sell and are open to talking to customers and readers who are also interested in reading.
When I asked Agnes how to define Svovel in three words, she wrote down: “quality, diversity, and pleasure.” In Svovel, children with different wishes and needs can find books that they enjoy reading, like textless books, tactile books, interactive books, and books that invite readers to participate in storytelling. “In that way, our bookshop can be a place where you can find great stories, but also find yourself between the pages. And that is more important than ever, I think,” Agnes concluded.
3. Bislet Bok — “A Little Bookstore With Great Literature”
Thereses gate 44B, 0168 Oslo
Not long ago, Bislet Bok was nominated for Oslo City’s artist award 2022. The reason for the award is the following: “...for its outstanding efforts to convey great literature to everyone who likes to read, despite its modest size and independent status in the book industry [here and afterwards – the journalist’s translation into English].”
Bislet Bok is located in the sophisticated district of Bislett. Since Bislet Bok opened, some university students who love to read have been coming to work here part-time. The two large tables outside and inside of Bislet Bok are covered with new literature, classic literature, poetry, and non-fiction at more friendly prices than in other bookshops. Although this is a small one-room bookshop, it makes the most of its space and has good books in every corner.
Bislet Bok is also a place of connection to people who live nearby. “We always listen to what the customers ask for, what they want more,” Linnea, an employee but also a university student said. In Bislet Bok, customers can write a note on how they feel about a book, how they feel about the bookshop. They can even write about a book that is not in the shop but they are looking for. Sometimes the shop owners just listen to customers’ needs and simply purchase books, rather than just sticking to bestsellers and following the marketing strategy.
4. Tronsmo Bookshop — a World of Comics and Heaven for Readers
Universitetsgata 12, 0164 Oslo
This independent bookshop was founded in 1973. It looks like a small and ordinary shop selling a variety of creative products or best-selling books from the outside, but once inside, you find yourself in a cultural treasure trove.
On the ground floor of Tronsmo you can immerse yourself in a world of comics. The shelves there are filled with all the best and weirdest works you can think of in the world. It seems like to the founders and owners of the shop, they are more than just a collection of pictures and entertainment; they are art and can be reportage culture; they are about politics and can be graphic novels.
The homepage of their website clearly states: “Tronsmo, you don’t bump your head into advertising posters or trip over stacks of bestsellers as soon as you walk in the door. We don’t have a marketing department sitting around thinking up clever sales concepts to get people to take more books with them than they want. It is not the publishers’ sales figures that determine which books we will have on the shelves [translated into English].” In a world dominated by data and traffic, Tronsmo’s presence is invaluable in maintaining an independent taste in book selection and not being tied to the commercial logic of profit.
5. Norli Litteraturhuset — a Bookshop in the House of Literature
Wergelandsveien 29, 0167 Oslo
Norli Litteraturhuset is one of the branches of Norli (the largest bookshop chain in Norway), but it is its unique location that makes it stand out.
Litteraturhuset (“literary house”) is the ideal meeting place for bookworms, and it is the only national literary institution in Norway. Not only does it offer free office space and writer’s flats for young writers, but it is also Norway’s most important venue for literary events, and has been visited by such well-known authors as Zadie Smith, David Lynch, and Haruki Murakami. As its homepage says, the shop is “dedicated to the dissemination of literature in its broadest sense, the protection of freedom of expression and the promotion of knowledge-based public dialogue [translated into English].” Therefore, at the Norli Litteraturhuset you may be able to meet like-minded literary enthusiasts and to spark new ideas at literary events.