I’ve never seen one reading myself, and yet, if I had walked into my latest ABC (Algarve Book Corner) called ‘The Owl Story’ in Lagos, and I did in fact interrupt an owl in the middle of ‘telling its tale’, and caused it to stop reading and look up disapprovingly at me through its half moon spectacles - I wouldn’t have been that surprised. But why is that?
It could be my overactive imagination, yes. But it could also be because owls have always been associated with insight and intellect, as far as I can tell, all the way back to the Greek Goddess of wisdom herself, Athena. The ancient Greeks thought that owls had a sort of ‘innerlight’ which allows them to see in the dark. This capacity to ‘see where others cannot’ made the owl the perfect ‘spirit animal’ for this all knowing deity.
I also found out that the most common owl we have here in the Algarve is called the ‘little owl’ (as they are quite small) however, it has a much grander Latin name which is ‘Athene Noctua’, which means that these little guys are, in fact, Athena’s owls. Because they are common all over the Mediterranean, they were no doubt a regular sight in Athena’s hometown, and so it’s easy to see why the residents of Athens figured out that they were ‘in cahoots’ with the Goddess. They were also, conveniently, the perfect size to be depicted sitting on Athena’s shoulder whispering wisecracks in her ears.
The Owl Story was originally started 13 years ago by an English couple who were living on their sailboat in the harbour, and were disappointed with the quality of the English books on offer. 8-years-ago they decided it was time to move on though, and sailed off into the sunset leaving the shop in the hands of the Westropp’s. As I entered, thethree wise owls I did find there were John, Christine and their daughter Imogen. Christine told me that she and John had originally come to the Algarve to retire, and as lifetime literature lovers they had been delighted to find a place with such an interesting variety of books, and made frequent visits to the shop. But when the sailors set sail for new seas they couldn’t let their favourite little ‘owls stories’ get lost and they decided to take it over, sourcing and adding greatly to the already interesting collection.
Usually the books you find here in the Algarve are the popular relatively new kinds that are picked up at the airport for light reading on the plane, and once read have been passed along until they find themselves in second hand stores. Which is great, but you rarely find the kind of beautiful old heavy hardbacks that spring to mind when you dream of books. Here under the watchful gaze of Athena’s owl though, it's a different story.
This lovely little library is packed with facts and fictions, travels and adventures. It has books for kids and books for cooks. There really are all sorts of enchanting covers to uncover, and you can find anything from throwaway thrillers - all the way up to classic first editions. You can even read all about Athena herself in a beautiful Greek Mythology series that maybe you can spot hiding behind Christine's head.
John, Chistine and Imogen told me that they enjoy running a bookshop as they never know who's going to walk through the door. They toldme about all kinds of different people that have popped in over the years. John told me that author Sean Thomas stopped by, and was pleased to find his book ‘The Ice Twins’ in stock. His blonde twin daughters (who were the inspirations for the novel) were standing in the doorway - they had obviously come to the Algarve to see if they could ‘thaw out’ a little.
If you are a true book worm then I highly recommend you visit this cosy little ‘book nook’s’ Facebook page ‘The Owl Story Book Store Lagos’, and allow your phone to direct you to their door. If you are anything like me you’ll be walking around in circles otherwise.