When it comes to literary culture and the tradition of reading, few cities in India can match up to Chennai. Apart from having historically been home to some of the tallest names in Indian literature, Chennai’s vibrant landscape has also been an important nurturing ground for India’s contemporary literary movement. A vital part of this tradition is the city’s various libraries, literary cafes and bookshops that have provided a sanctuary for book lovers and cultivated a love for reading among youngsters. If you are a book lover in Chennai, here are some places that definitely deserve a visit.
One of the oldest libraries in Chennai, the Connemara Public Library is a treasure trove of knowledge unlike any other. Apart from its wide-ranging collection of vintage volumes, historically important works and other publications, the library’s most-loved attribute is its ambience and colonial decor. Located inside the Government Museum in Egmore, it is also one of the only four libraries in the country deemed as a National Depository and it receives a copy of all the newspapers, magazines, gazettes and publications in India.
Founded in 1844, Higginbotham’s on Chennai’s Mount Road has the unique distinction of being the country’s oldest existing bookstore. This bookstore has remained a favourite among book lovers in the city since colonial times, was frequented by famous officials and prominent personalities of the time and has served as the official bookseller to the likes of Prince of Wales, HRH Edward VII, British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee and Lord Charles Trevelyan, the governor of Madras. Higginbotham’s was later expanded into a chain of bookstores with several units all across South India.
Started in collaboration with Higginbotham’s Bookstore, this unique place in Chennai’s Royapettah offers the best of both worlds by bringing a cafe and a bookstore together under the same roof. The cafe has two seating options and the space features an extensive area for the bookstore. What’s more, the bookstore also has the option of requesting books from the main Higginbotham’s store.
This new state-of-the-art library in Chennai’s Kotturpuram is one of the largest public libraries in South Asia. It has upwards of 1.7 million books, magazines, gazettes and other publications. The sprawling complex is a bookworm’s paradise and features an extensive collection of literary and academic volumes, along with adequate seating arrangements for hundreds of visitors at a time. The library complex also boasts a large indoor auditorium, an open amphitheatre and an extensive braille section.
Adyar’s Theosophical Society is best known for its green campus, however, what really sets it apart is the wealth of knowledge and history it is home to. Apart from gardens and extensive areas for reading, the Theosophical Society campus is home to the Adyar Library and Research Centre, which is one of the most important repositories for oriental literature. Its collection includes upwards of 20,000 rare palm leaf manuscripts and a total of 200,000 books.
No city’s literary culture is complete without a robust second-hand book market and Chennai is no different. The biggest second-hand book market in the city is located inside the Moore Market shopping complex, which is home to hundreds of book stalls selling everything from romance and regional pulp fiction to academic and literary volumes. The market was originally built in the late 19th century to house the hawkers on the Broadway area of the city.
This hole-in-the-wall shop in Mylapore‘s Luz area is one of the best-known places in the city for those with a passion for rare and vintage books. Run from a garage in the owner’s residence, the shop was born out of a book lover’s personal collection. The decade-old shop originally housed a huge collection of 20,000 books, however, the entire collection was bought in whole by a patron. Currently, the shop is home to some 5,000 books, which include some of the rarest volumes you can find in the city.