New English bookshop adds flavour to Lisbon’s literary scene

Salted Books is the creation of Alex Holder, an English journalist and writer who sorely missed the bookshops from home. Located on an up-and-coming street in the Santos neighbourhood, Salted Books’ discreet shop window reveals an electrifying interior where books abound and serenity reigns. Like a sweet shop for book lovers, the shelves are covered in colourful and appealing covers that catch the eye of curious buyers.

A much-needed shop in an ever more cosmopolitan city, Salted Books has opened to satisfy a growing thirst for new literature in English. The project started four years ago when Alex came to Lisbon as a guest speaker at the Second-Home coworking space at the Time Out Market, where she talked about her book: Open Up: Why Talking About Money Will Change Your Life.

“I came here to do a talk, spent a week here, loved it and moved here a couple of months later!” exclaims Alex, who came to Lisbon with her partner, Mark Thompson, designer and art director, and their two children.

“Mark is an art director”, she explains, “so all the visual choices in here are his”, such as the bookshop’s royal electric blue shelves, the central wooden table with long benches, and the “short story” merchandise sweatshirts hanging in a corner.

Short Story_Salted Books
@ Lauren Grant

Alex Holder started writing when she was 30. Back in the UK, she was a journalist for women’s magazines such as Elle, Grazia and other titles, and eventually wrote a book about “what would happen if we talked about money in our everyday lives. A book about having awkward conversations with people about money”, she says.

Four years after their move to the Portuguese capital, “we really missed English bookshops”, admits the writer, who lived in Hackney, where independent bookshops abound. Faced with the fact that she was constantly ordering books on Amazon, she decided to open her own shop … and create the paper bags she sells her books in, asking customers to “Buy books from bookshops. Not a Billionaire” – a little dig at the web giant.

Buy Books from bookshops. Not a billionaire.

Buy Books from bookshops. Not a billionaire.

“The irony is that there are so many wonderful bookshops in Lisbon, but I couldn’t read any of the books”, she says. “But also, I missed the community around English-speaking readers and writers. So, we opened, and the best surprise has been that half of our customers are Portuguese who read in English”.

Alex and her avid reader booksellers carefully select somewhat progressive books for adults and kids one by one. Here, the focus is on “excellence in writing and the freshest thinking, and we like a book cover”, she admits, looking at the bright blue shelves showcasing the multicoloured covers. “We don’t have certain authors … it is a Colleen Hoover free space”, she says with a giggle.

Salted Books.2

Salted Books.2

Guiding her customers among the overwhelming choice and genres of books, like a sommelier, Alex loves to suggest titles according to tastes and interests. “I want to encourage wide reading”, she says.

The shop features a small stock of books; what you see is what you get. “We have a few books we know keep selling out”, such as Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. “Ultimately, I want to have as many possible titles on the shop floor. So, we keep a few copies of each and have books arriving each week”. Genres include fiction, memoirs, feminine power, astrology, biographies, the environment, sex, psychedelic substances and many more.

Passionate about creating a literary community, Alex and her team organise regular themed events, Writing Mornings – an hour to write in the morning – and invite guests to curate reading lists, such as writer Aja Barber, who created an “Anti-Fast-Fashion Reading List” and friends’ Queer Book Club, which compiled a reading list of children’s books that celebrate queerness, both published on the bookshop’s Instagram page. And soon, there will be an event dedicated to censored books.

“What we really want are wonderful published authors to come and launch their books here. I’d like to have a place where we’re having panel discussions about books and certain topics. But we’ve got to build the community first”.

As for the name of the bookshop, it was chosen because it’s the one that stuck, but ultimately, because “Everything is better salted!” exclaims Alex, who also admits that their book selection “is a little bit salty”.

To stay up to date on upcoming events, follow Salted Books on Instagram.

Salted Books

Calçada Marquês de Abrantes, 96. Lisbon

Open Tuesday to Saturday between 09h00 and 18h30.

Portugal Resident