There are places that become legendary before they even have time to get old. Desperate Literature is that sort of place. You take your glass of wine and you use it as a torch to see the books you've wanted to have all your life.
Like a cocktail bar called 1862 or else like Pieter Bruegel's ‘The Triumph Of Death’, it's the sort of place that will make you come back to the old city. Even if you hated the rest of it. Which, of course, you did not.
Desperate Literature can be found in Calle Compomanes, between Santo Domingo and Opera. First thing you notice – it's small. It's intimate. It's a little cranky. And it makes your head spin greedily, because every book they have is the book you absolutely have to buy. It's like the dense prose of Saul Bellow, to be savoured by the sentence, by each and every word.
Oh Christ, it's two enormous books of Nabokov's lectures you hate to see because there is no way in hell you're going to carry them all the way home. Rare stories by Brendan Behan? Fuck it, they are mine. First edition of Dubliners? Don't let me see the price. Nine Stories by Salinger? In the bag. Collected Poems by Philip Larkin moves me to tears, to say nothing of Stephen Crowe's terrific drawings of Joyce's novels. In fact, there's no way I'm going to miss out on 'So tellus tellas allabouter' illustration for Finnegans Wake.
It's amazing to get lost in a place this small, but that's exactly what happens to me. I cannot think of a second-hand selection this good in a British bookstore. It's a place where one tiny detail can spark a fascinating conversation you've been meaning to have for a long long time. If you have the will, that is, to look away from your favourite pages of Patti Smith's Just Kids. Desperate Literature is a place for quiet booklovers as well as loud ones.
There's also an old typewriter, a pre-war Continental or perhaps an Underwood, right in the middle of the bookstore, where you can type a poem of your own. And coming back to my hotel later that night, Brendan Behan all but finished, that's exactly what I do: I write my first poem in a million years.