Where To Read In Johannesburg

In 2017, we started a series on where to read in Nigeria. Extending the series to other parts of the continent, Phathu, a literary enthusiast and the co-founder of the Literary Alliance Bookclub, shares 4 recommendations on where to read in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

BY PHATHU

As someone on a mission to read 52 books this year, I can easily be found stuck in the pages of a book while nestled on my couch, or in between my sheets. Sometimes, being surrounded by familiar walls eventually gets a little tiring - even for a self-confessed recluse. The experience of reading a good book and glancing away, only on occasion, to enjoy frothy coffee or chilled wine is always a win. When reading needs to be done away from home, here are a few spots in Johannesburg that I enjoy visiting.

 

Bridge Books, Joburg CBD

 Image: Bridge Books.

Image: Bridge Books.

If you are in downtown Joburg, Bridge Books has a great selection in African literature and doubles up as a coffee shop; serving some great cappuccino. The store boasts of beautiful reading tables that are customised with covers of some highly-acclaimed books such as Mohale Mashigo’s ‘The Yearning’ and Yaa Gyasi’s ‘Homegoing.’

Owned by the friendly and helpful Griffin Shea, the indie store is perfectly positioned on the bustling Commissioner Street, and is home to a diverse and delicious range of brand new and second-hand books. On a good day, a previously loved book on your to-be-read list can set you back only R20 (roughly 2 US Dollars) – a real steal by any standard! A bargain hunter like myself will definitely find Bridge Books a dream.

Joburg-based book clubs such as Literary Alliance regularly make use of the space, so, a random Saturday visit could result in you witnessing a passionate book discussion and perhaps, you meeting your favourite local author.

Tip: The second-hand books are right by the entrance. Start there and see what gems you can discover.

Go For: Books by African authors, children’s books, and coffee.

Avoid If: The busy Joburg CBD is not your cup of tea. Fortunately, they have another branch in Maboneng.

 

Exclusive Books in Hyde Park

A big fan of grounded coffee beans? Choose to wear your sweet tooth on your sleeve? Well, Exclusive Books is the spot for you! On any given day, you will find fellow bookworms occupying intimate reading spaces, or the more accommodative long reading tables that rest alongside bookshelves amassed with multiple genres of local and international books; some of which you can also find at their other stores nationwide.

There rarely is a shortage of good books to choose from, and I always stop by the delightful Pan-African section, which seems to improve with every visit. One of my favourite things to do there is sample books and authors I am curious about and keen on exploring. Even on a chilly day, everything above - coupled with the tasteful décor - is enough to tempt. My visits there are usually after work, which, fortunately, is a stone’s throw away.

Tip: There is a restaurant, EB Social Kitchen & Bar, adjacent to the bookstore. If you have time to spare, stop there for a quick bite. You could even buy a book and enjoy solo dining.

Go For: Good coffee and book launches.

Avoid If: You are on a sugar-free diet.

 

Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

 Image: Expedia.

Image: Expedia.

Sometimes, the outdoors provide a refreshing and even inspiring atmosphere to soak up nature’s goodness. When I manage to find time on a summery Sunday, I prefer to give the couch a break and lie on the grass to read. However, when I crave for a change of scenery, the tranquil Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden in Roodepoort gives the perfect opportunity to read and reflect in a picturesque environment.

The award-winning Garden makes for the ideal place for picnics, bird watching and hiking. It is also a great place to take some pictures to adorn your social media accounts. Naturally, some slightly distracting moments may grace you with their presence, though usually minimal: think of glorious birds chirping about, people enjoying relaxed strolls, and jovial kids running around. A pretty butterfly could also land on your book while you are looking away.

Tip: The Garden gets busy at times but if you take a walk around, you may find a quieter, intimate space to read. Entrance is between R15-50.

Avoid If: You are easily distracted and have a hard time locating your spot in a book.

Go For: A relaxed and breezy reading environment outside your comfort zone.

 

Sandton Library

If you are looking for a relatively peaceful location to read, a library is probably the perfect place. Just outside one of Johannesburg’s most loved tourist attractions - the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton - lies the resourceful Sandton Library. With three stacked floors, there is ample space to get lost in your favourite piece of literature, or discover different titles. The library also affords you some privacy, which is extremely welcome; especially if, like me, you can only visit on a weekend when it is quieter. Sadly, drinks are not allowed inside, however, the peaceful environment allows for a productive reading session.

The library occasionally hosts book sales where you can grab a second-hand book for as little as R10 or R20 (roughly 2 US Dollars). Book events and launches are a regular sighting, too. The library is said to be home to over 90,000 books which readers in the community can borrow for an annual fee of R48. Be sure to take a copy of your ID and proof of residence to sign up.

Tip: The library has different operating hours on certain days; be mindful when you go.

Go For: A noise-free environment is not your vibe.

Avoid If: A noise-free environment is not your vibe.

 

A few other spots in Johannesburg that I would recommend are Book Circle Capital in Melville and African Flavour Books in Braamfontein — both of which specialise in African literature and have just recently opened.


Got any favourite reading or working spots in Johannesburg we should know about? Share in the comments and let us know what to look out for!