Update March 2019: This bookshop is still going strong, but under new management. Now, you’ll need to ask for Eduarda as she has taken over ownership of the shop this year. Tell her we say hello!
An exclusively English bookstore in Lisbon might be unorthodox, but in Bookshop Bivar’s case, it’s just business. Besides paying special attention to Penguin editions (Atlas’ favorite), it also occasionally host local artists such as Portuguese writer/journalist Isabel Stilwell and Irish author Peter Murphy.
There was also a mini-exhibition of posters of the Lisbon Players’ past productions before the shop moved this past July. We contacted owner Leena Marjola who opened the shop in the spring of 2014, to find out more about her, about the store, and what they have planned.
Bivar… What does that mean?
Bivar comes from the name of the street where I first opened the shop, but have since moved. Luís Bivar was a politician some 100 years ago. I’ve also met some people of the Bivar family – the interesting thing about the name is that almost all my customers want to say BI-var but the family says it should be Biv-Ar with the stress on A and not on I.
Can you tell us a little about you?
I am a Finn by birth and have lived in Lisbon over three years now. I’ve always loved books, but I would not call myself as a very literary person. Just a normal reader and book lover. This is first time ever I’m working with books. A dream come true for sure and I’m enjoying it even better than I thought I would. In my previous life I worked in administration and accounting in small you-have-to-take-care-of everything companies. It’s very likely my background is much more useful work experience for running a bookshop than literature studies would have been!
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I recently re-read the Brave New World and somehow it confirmed that the choices I’ve made in my life in recent years have been the right ones for me, like moving to Portugal, running a bookshop without any illusions to make a lot of money. I enjoy my life here without the need to do anything special. People still have time for each other here and small family businesses with personal service still exist. In many other Western countries people are so used to filling their empty lives with commercial entertainment that they do not know how to go back to simple pleasures like sitting outside in a cafe and watching the world go by.
What is your reason selling only English books? What is your selection like?
My main purpose to open the shop was to provide books for reading at affordable prices. New books in English are wickedly expensive in Portugal. At the moment I have mostly paperback fiction, but you never know what it will be. Science Fiction seems to be the hardest genre to get in Portugal and as people have kept on asking, so I have done my best to correct the situation. Secondhand booksellers hunt for books but we also sell what is available. Portugal is not yet very used to recycling books the same way the English speaking countries are, but the culture is is changing.
Will you sell books in languages other than English in the future?
All the books are in English and I believe this it will be in the future too. If I get a huge amount of books in other languages, I might consider selling them, but not books in Portuguese: I do not have any as there are many other bookshops selling those.
What is your favorite book about Lisbon or Portugal?
Will there be any art exhibits in the new space?
In the new shop the nature of the events had to change. It doesn’t have wall space to arrange art exhibitions. So more book-related events it will be. Maybe some music. We’ve already had several reading events and the next event will be both poetry and music: “The Irish: in their own words” on March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day).
Who are your customers? What are they reading these days? What authors are selling?
If some authors do not sell here, the reason might be because the author is not known here, but it might as well be that the books have been translated into Portuguese and everyone has read them. People do ask for English or American classics in general without specifying the author, but I think it’s only very understandable as they surely can include only the most important ones to the literature studies in schools and if you want to learn more, it’s up to your own interest. Every single book has a reader somewhere. Very often as I plan to move unsold books from the sales area, the next day someone comes and is really excited about those books. After all, that’s exactly one of the reasons people come to secondhand bookshops – to find something that is not “in” at the moment and what you could not possibly find at the high street bookshops.