Books & Music

photo © Visit Finland

The literacy rate in Finland is one of the highest in the developed world, ranking just below South Korea according to the latest data from the OECD. Finns are avid readers, and as most Finns are least bi-lingual, they read in other languages as well as Finnish, which means Finnish bookstores have foreign language sections.

There are two main Finnish bookstore chains, Akateeminen Kirjakauppa (The Academic Bookstore) and Suomalainen Kirjakauppa (The Finnish Bookstore). Despite its name, the Academic is not just a source of more scholarly works, although it certainly serves that market capably, but also provides the best source of fiction in the country. The main outlet in Helsinki, which is a part of the Stockmann department store, has many levels and an English language section as good as most bookstores in English speaking countries.

Wherever you go in Finland you’ll find a second-hand bookstore, and even these will have foreign language sections. Although English is the most common foreign language spoken by Finns today, it wasn’t always so, which is noticeable when browsing through the foreign language sections in the second hand bookstores. In these you can often come across old editions of Russian, German and French classics in their original language, some of which are worth far more than the few euros you will be charged for them.

Finns are also great music lovers, and there is hardly a genre from anywhere in the world that is beloved by some group or other. In Helsinki alone you’ll find rockabilly and psychobilly fans, skinheads on mopeds dedicated to Northern Soul culture, reggae fanatics, blues and jazz aficionados, and of course a huge number of heavy metal heads, as well as indie, rock and pop fans.

Fortunately, from a buyers point of view, the corporate grasp on retail is not strong in Finland, and hyper-chains all selling the same stuff, like HMV in the UK and Tower in the US, are less common. This allows for a very healthy independent market, and Finland seems to have more themed record shops than most European cities, something especially noticeable in the capital. Of course, in all shopping malls and centres you’ll find the more commercial outlets. Another virtue of Finnish record outlets is the large number that continue to sell vinyl, making them treasured by collectors both local and international.

One of the best spots in Helsinki to check out the variety of music available is Viiskulma, or the Five Corners, in the Punavuori district, where you can find stores specialising in rare jazz, soul and reggae, hiphop and soul on vinyl, as well as more modern styles like techno, house and drum&bass. There is another bunch of record stores in and around the Kallio and Hakaniemi district, on Hämeentie and Toinen linja 1.