University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


New student-run English-language book shop in Copenhagen

All for the love of literature: Student-founded store in Nørrebro offers both Danish and international books in English

Why start a book shop in Denmark that only sells English books? As Maria Dønvang, University of Copenhagen literature student and Arkbooks co-founder explains ”there are so many books that aren’t translated into Danish, and it’s a damn shame to miss out on them because of the language!”

Arkbooks is a student-run, non-profit bookstore in Nørrebro that opened in April 2014 in Nørrebro, Copenhagen’s literary oasis if ever there was one. On Møllegade, one block from Assistens Cemetery and a couple of blocks from the central lakes, Møllegade also houses Copenhagen’s LitteraturHaus, a center for literary readings and discussion, and a number of independent bookstores.

”We thought what does Copenhagen need most?” Maria says of ArkBooks’ embryonic planning phase, ”we found that Copenhagen was in great need of an international bookstore with unique foreign titles that you cannot get anywhere else,” says Maria Dønvang to the University Post.

From John Dos Passos to Harry Potter

In a sense, ArkBook’s passion for literature emanates from those who run the store, and from the customers that come in search of new books. ArkBooks is not a business in the traditional sense of the word. It is a means of supporting and creating a passionate community, a way of, especially through their niche selection, bringing foreign titles to Copenhagen.

”Our selection of books is mostly based on what people within the ArkBooks ‘family’ have read and love or what people want to read,” Maria says. Glancing at the bookshelves a wide array of titles and authors are available – from the classics to unknown titles and authors as well as unknown works by known writers.

Commenting on Arkbooks’ selection process, one co-worker says ”Well that’s why we have John Dos Passos on this side but also Harry Potter on the other side,” pointing at two different bookshelves, “we grew up with Harry Potter and we like Harry Potter. There is no dominant theme or, it doesn’t have to be high-brow University stuff.”

Maria agrees, ”because of the broad interests of those who work for us, we can create a rather crazy selection.” Indeed, ArkBooks does seem to channel the co-worker’s interests in such a manner that the selection of books completely surpasses the prosaic Wordsworth classics selection found at major Danish bookstores Arnold Busck or Bog & Idé.

Insight on the translation process

”We work with multitude of different formats here. One type of event we are especially interested in is bringing an author to ArkBooks along with his or her translator,” says Maria. ArkBooks is especially emphatic about translators and their work.

”Translation is interesting. When you think about it, translating is, to some extent, a form of rewriting.”

Recently, ArkBooks flew Jan Van Mersbergen, an author from Holland known for Tomorrow Pamplona (2007), and his translator to Copenhagen.

”They just read a bit for us and talked about translating. In this way we got a more personal view on what happens during the translation process. There was a great big discussion and the audience was very engaged. It became almost like a panel debate,” says Maria.

For the love of literature

ArkBooks acts, in many ways, as a living bookstore that is very much in touch with the local community. Like the LitteraturHaus and another Møllegade bookstore nearby, ArkBooks hosts a number of literary events and creative workshops.

”We do have a lot of regular customers,” Maria explains, ”a good example is a young guy who comes here solely to buy books from a specific Czech publisher. This is the only place in the entire country that has books from this specific publisher. He visits every other week and buys two or three new books that we order for him.”

ArkBooks connects with the community in other ways as well. As Maria explains, ”ArkBooks is a platform. A platform for a lot of initiatives.”

Through panel debates, creative workshops, a well-rounded selection of literature, and a communal atmosphere, ArkBooks presents a fresh and multifaceted approach to literature and the bookstore business. When requesting certain books or otherwise getting involved in the project, all you have to do according to Maria is to “come in and say hello!”

Read article: Student experts: 13 Danish books you need to read

 Sign up for the University Post weekly newsletter here.