You’ll probably not be surprised to learn that belfastvibe’s favourite bearded sci-fi nerd is also into books.

Mark Rowney picks out his top five bookshops in Belfast of which we should be thankful… a lot of towns and cities in Northern Ireland don’t have any…

We’ve been in what many might call the digital age for some time now, and we’re all accustomed to devices that can store thousands of books on something that is actually a lot smaller than the latest hardback blockbuster.  It’s an unprecedented leap forward in technology, and a welcome one.  

But what about books, with pages and bookmarks and bent spines?  Is the book dead, an antiquated object of an era that has passed?  Not at all.  Many, like me, enjoy the physicality of a book, the smell, the texture, the sound of a turned page.  If you love to own books and are perhaps desperately trying to fill up the empty spaces in your bookcases, here are a few of the best bookshops in Belfast, in no particular order, to help you do just that.

1. Keats and Chapman

North Street

Situated in the heart of the city, Keats and Chapman can seem deceptively small, but inside it’s a veritable bibliophile’s dream of almost TARDIS proportions.  Walk amongst the stacks, offering every conceivable genre, and quite soon any semblance of order descends into divine chaos – there are just so many books.  

The range is impressive and the pricing fair; a good quality paperback will set you back £2 or £3, hardbacks a little more.  As some sections have books stacked in front of books you may find yourself becoming frustrated if seeking a particular title by a chosen author, but given the vast range of stock you’re bound to find something.  

On my last visit I picked up a copy of Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack! for £2 – 81p cheaper than I could find on eBay, and without the wait.

2. War on Want

Botanic Avenue

This unprepossessing charity bookshop can be easily overlooked, which is a shame.  Despite it’s diminutive size they have a decent collection of general fiction as well as myriad other sections; crime, science fiction, politics, history, the usual bric-a-brac.  

The big appeal of this shop however is the turnover of books.  I go in to this place once a week and there is always “new” stock.  It’s all in alphabetical order, and you can do a sweep of the entire shop in 10 or 15 minutes.  The stock is usually in pretty good condition, and the pricing, even for a charity shop, is competitive.  

I have on several occasions walked out with a bag full of books for less than a tenner.  My best buy to date has to be the first two volumes of Peter F Hamilton’s Void Trilogy for a staggering £1 each. They’re in almost “as new” condition, and when you consider that these first editions now sell for a minimum of £19.99 online, I really did find an absolute bargain, not to mention copies of two fantastic books.

3. Oxfam Books

Botanic Avenue and Ann Street

Second hand books in a charity shop that simply doesn’t feel like a charity shop, that’s the first impression you get when walking into either branch of Oxfam Books.  Both have the feel of a “proper” bookshop, but my preference has to be the one on Botanic Avenue.  

With crime and general fiction, humour, politics, poetry, science fiction, history, travel… and more, much more, it’s a great little shop spread over two small shop-sized units.  There’s also collector’s items, a smattering of CDs and DVDs, but again it’s the turnover and the organization of titles that make this branch one of my go-to places once a week.  

With soothing music and helpful staff, it’s a pleasurable experience, and all the books are clearly priced.  My last visit saw me leaving with a rare first edition paperback of Lawrence Block’s Out on the Cutting Edge, priced at £1.50, a great find.

4. Waterstone’s

Fountain Street

If you’re looking to buy a new book the supermarkets and a plethora of online shops can offer you the latest hardbacks at a fraction of their RRP.  Given that these days we’re all so much more budget conscious there really has to be a good reason for you to want to walk into a high street shop to buy a book at “full price.”  

You’ll find more than one reason to want to pop into Waterstone’s.  Inside it feels like a comfortable place to be, a great space to explore.  Promotions such as buy one get one half price can be a great hook to draw people in, but it’s the sheer range of books available that makes Waterstone’s a delight.  As well as all the latest releases there are tables stacked with offers, shelves of recommended reads, plus interesting and quirky products, lots of great gift ideas scattered amongst the books.  

The café upstairs is intimate and not at all out of place, and the smell of coffee and books is almost reason enough to pay a visit.  My last visit saw me flicking through Daft Wee Stories by the Scottish comedian Limmy, and with £2 off the RRP I doubt I’d have gotten it much cheaper elsewhere.

5. Eason’s

Royal Avenue

The branch of Eason’s on Royal Avenue has a subterranean book section that offers a great range of books.  There’s new releases, promotions and offers; as with Watersone’s there’s a buy one get one half price promotion, and again it’s where to go for new releases and for quirky gift ideas as well finding recent publications without much trouble.

There are clearly marked genre sections, but once more gifts and quirky products are what might keep people coming back.  The layout maybe isn’t quite as well done as it is in Waterstone’s, and you certainly aren’t going to enjoy exploring quite so much, but what is there is well worth at least thirty minutes of your tiime.

There’s a prominent gift section catering for the rise in popularity of the science fiction and fantasy genres, offering Game of Thrones merchandise, comic book related products from Batman to The Walking Dead, and much more.  I can’t say I left with a book on my last visit, but I did get more than a few inspirational ideas for upcoming birthday and Christmas gifts.

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