Opening a bookshop in times where stories are not read, but watched on Instagram, it’s a bit like crossing the desert by bike: you need a good deal of resistance and wits. The world out there keeps changing, and there’s a need to find new shapes and new ways to keep those strange paper things to read still actual and interesting. This is Chiara and Diletta’s job, who have been running Spazio B**K in Isola since 2012. It’s a bookshop that sells everything ranging from narrative to illustrated books for children and adults, from non-fiction to underestimated international exploits which are hard to find somewhere else in Milan. Diletta explains that the choice to have such a particular selection comes from years spent working in traditional bookshops: “I worked for many years at Libraccio in the Navigli area, while Chiara was working at Fondazione Mondadori, a textile handcraft lab not far from there. We met because I was taking part to her sewing classes and we understood from the nature of our meeting what our relationship would be like: we shared a passion for books – I particularly loved illustration books while she was more interested in craftsmanship – and we both love the journey that takes a reader to learn an art and then put it into practice. This is the core around which revolves the bookshop: we wanted this kind of books and we wanted it to have a lab, because the underlying idea is that people who work with images also work with their hands.”

Photo by Alice Gemignani

Keeping in mind the role that books should have for the readers, Chiara and Diletta built, step by step, B**K’s identity: “While we were gradually finding our way, we would also refine our offer. That’s how we became very recognizable for a certain kind of research: to buy books that you like, which are also useful. So we help our clients make bibliographic researches, find books abroad and so on. Potentially, everything you find in here could be useful.”

Contrary to what happens in traditional bookshops, B**K’s girls select the books on the shelves one by one: “In contrast with our previous work, we want to buy only books that we like, following the idea that the supply could generate a demand, not the opposite. Our challenge is to offer an ever-changing and varied supply, mixing new releases with pieces from the catalogue. Everything is permitted: here we mix Italian and foreign books, new and second-hand, fiction, illustration, essays, books for children and adults. Our shelves are not divided in sections. Instead, books are grouped according to association of ideas, which allows a research in complete freedom. At first we would give our clients bibliographies to guide them in the research, but throughout the years we started to dismantle any border: of age, genre… Working here and living in this kind of world made us feel less and less like having a sectorial bookshop, we just wanted to push towards a point where all of these things meet. Today the readers are omnivorous, get inputs from everywhere and we can’t be left behind. Besides, we didn’t want a library connected to images to become a cold place, a little bit hip: we wanted to work on the idea of images drawing from its popular dimension, which means we had to mix things a little bit more. If an architect comes here looking for a manual, she will find it among books of completely different genres, that we hope will make her approach the research in a broader way, will make her open her mind. We like to think that when someone enters our shop, he brings with him a stream of thought, and will be inspired in many different ways in the process. We want this to be a place of personal freedom, where people can structure their time and their path as they wish, without limits of gender and age.”

Photo by Alice Gemignani

Diletta and Chiara decided to open they shop in Isola neighborhood in Milan, an area that in recent years has become a landmark for many young professionals, because “Isola hosts many design studios, in general there are many people working with images. We wanted this place to be a meeting point for professionals. In Milan during the 40s there was Salto bookshop, where Munari brought his books for the first time, which managed to receive books from all over the world. We think big, that’s our inspiration. We like researching contemporary literature, from the Sixties on. We follow with interest the publishing industry all over the world. When you go abroad and visit a museum, there’s a great attention to the contemporary world, to the way reality enters the publishing field. It not that common in Italy, we need to push on that. Another thing which was very common in the past and still happens abroad is a way to conceive the bookshop as a meeting place. The former Milano Libri used to be here, where intellectuals like Gandini met, where Linus was founded. People go to bookshops to meet interesting people and find new opportunities, whether they consist in making new friends while having a beer or building real job opportunities. This is what we try to do with our workshops: we put together professionals from different fields to create a polyphony of minds and experiences that could lead to something new every time”.

Chiara’s artisanal approach surfaces when you have a look at B**K workshops: “Our workshop plan follows the same line of the bookshop. Every summer we publish a yearly plan on our website. The idea is to offer a complementary education to what you may learn somewhere else: we are not competing with other schools, because we have built a different kind of experience. Our lessons follow two schemes: one is extremely specific, it involves experimenting with technics or learning theory issues of a specific area – those are the subjects that are usually dealt with in one hour during general courses; here we study it in-depth. Then we have general courses, like illustration. Our lessons are explicitly addressed to a professional audience – that’s why they’re held during the evenings. We want people from different professional areas to attend, in order to make the exchange more interesting. Even if this is not a school, we want it to be a didactic project with a well defined program. We don’t want to offer leisure workshops: a student will leave our workshops with a set of skills, practical and theoretical, that can be helpful for him. After attending a serigraphy course, you can really create badass serigraphy. Our goal is to train to reading in every possible way: that’s why it’s equally important to have a label-free bookshop area and an educational area covering as many subjects as possible. We want to give new possibilities to people coming here.”

Photo by Alice Gemignani

*5 places suggested by B**K

MI CAMERA BOOKSHOP: a photographic bookshop with many events

SPAZIO O’: offers an interesting program

PIAZZALE ARCHINTO: one of the few squares in Milan where you can sit on the sidewalk and have a beer

ENOTECA VINARIA: this bar has a crazy wine selection

ROB DE MATT: A brewery at Affori with a really cool open area

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