This month we travelled (sadly only virtually) to the Baltic state of Lithuania, to hear from an independent who serves the avid reading community of Vilnius, the capital city. While they have a small population, equivalent to the population of Manchester in the UK, over 30% of Lithuanians speak English as a second language, rising to as much as 80% in the younger generation. Couple this with a strong bookworm culture and you have the basis for eureka!, our pick for the month of April.
Bookstore eureka! is an independent bookshop, oriented towards quality literary fiction, non-fiction, poetry and philosophy in both English and Lithuanian. Located in the heart of Vilnius oldtown, we offer a curated assortment of titles, that Lithuanian readers have come to love.
We asked the owners, Benas and Eurika, to tell us more eureka! and the readership in Lithuania…
1. What made you get into bookselling? Why did you choose to sell English language books?
Eureka! was founded in 2004 by Eurika, who was working in a different bookstore at the time and wanted to have a business of her own. The first 11 years were devoted to working with academic titles and academic libraries, supplying them books. And the bookstore itself was basically an office, with books all around but without that many customers.
But in 2015, when Benas (who was studying English literature at the time) and Jurga Tumasonytė (a writer) joined the ranks of eureka!, we started leaning more towards having a wide selection of English books, which we saw as a great opportunity. At that time, there were only a couple of places in Vilnius where you could buy English books and the selections there were neither curated, nor interesting (at least to us).
So, we started to expand the English section year by year and currently it’s taken over almost half of the bookstore. We’re happy to be the only place in Lithuania that has a decent selection of poetry and graphic novels, and we stock quite a lot of English titles from UK and US independent publishers. It’s wonderful to be able to offer books that have not been translated to Lithuanian or are already out of print. And the wide range of topics that is covered by English non-fiction titles can never compare to the books that are translated to Lithuanian. So, we’re delighted to stock both – the best in English and in Lithuanian.
2. How do you select the titles that you stock in your shop and on your website? Are there any big topics that people want to read about in Lithuania?
We regularly check literary news and titles that are blowing up, but mostly we rely on good old catalogues to check what’s about to be published and we choose the titles we want to stock a long way from them being published. Our shop is not that big and we have limited space, so we have to choose what we stock quite carefully, but any titles about art or popular science usually get a generous welcome from our readers.
One of our biggest bestsellers was (and still is) the memoir by Marina Abramovič – Walk Through Walls, which did not get the attention it deserved in other countries it seems. But mostly, readers in Lithuania go along with the times and look forward to any books that are in the international news. The International Booker Prize gets quite a lot of attention, as do any other titles that are talked about abroad.
3. Where would you advise anyone visiting Vilnius to go to? Other than your shop of course!
We usually recommend just walking about in the Vilnius oldtown. It’s quite big and filled with crooked streets and nooks, almost designed to be lost into. It’s filled with small, cosy stores and restaurants of all kinds. Also, there’s Užupis – the neighbourhood of artists and weirdos, another place to get welcomingly lost. And we highly recommend visiting our friends at the MO Museum of modern art – it opened just a few years ago and they usually have interesting exhibitions.
4. Which is your favourite bookshop and what is it about it that you like so much?
I (Benas here) had the pleasure of visiting City Lights bookstore in San Francisco in 2019, and it was just fantastic. I envy them the space they have to stock probably every title of fiction in translation that is interesting and still in print. All in all, their selection of fiction is just perfect in my eyes, so even though we can order most titles through our bookstore, I walked out of there with a big stack of books.
5. And finally, if you could take three books with you for a COVID lockdown, which would they be, and why?
Benas: I’d probably take Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson – two essayistic, imaginative, bright reads, and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest – it would be a great opportunity to reread this mammoth.
Eurika: mine would be Stoner by John Williams, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and The Prophets of Eternal Fjord by Kim Leine.
It’s really inspiring to hear from booksellers so passionate about literature and their local area. If you ever find yourself in Vilnius, we highly recommend popping into eureka!