Your Favorite Bookstores: Let’s Hear ‘Em


I like to ask this question sometimes, because it’s an important one.

This week I’m bouncing around a few bookstores — Doylestown Bookshop, WORD Bookstore, Joseph-Beth Booksellers — with some more appearances on the way, and every time I pop into a store like these I’m reminded about how awesome they are. Awesome first because they let me in the door. I mean, I wouldn’t let me in the door. I’d lock my ass out. So, right there, that’s a kindness I do not deserve. But also because these aren’t just WAREHOUSES OF SHELFSPACE for books. These are community harbors. These are havens for stories and authors and the fans and readers of those. Which means they are magical places.

That’s not to say every bookstore is awesome by dint of it being a bookstore. Some bookstores don’t get it. They don’t understand that surviving in this day and age doesn’t mean outselling or outcompeting Amazon but rather, providing things that Amazon will never provide (community, connection, real human interaction and recommendation, book love, book smell). Some bookstores still just want to sell you books and that’s it. And a lot of those stores, I find, aren’t friendly to authors — which isn’t the worst sin, since we authors are sort of weirdos. But some of these stores aren’t even friendly to readers. I was at a bookstore recently (which will remain unnamed) that seemed like it didn’t even want to sell books. The books were on high shelves, poorly arranged. The kids’ shelves were untouchable and visually inaccessible to actual children-height humans. It was a shame. (Contrast that to a local favorite, Let’s Play Books, which actually is a kids’ bookstore that wants kids to grab books and plop down and start reading.)

So, I want to ask you:

What are some of your favorite bookstores?

Locally or around the country? Hell, even around the world.

(In addition to the ones mentioned, special love must also go to Mysterious Galaxy and Poisoned Pen, both of which have treated me very well and are super awesome. And kudos, too, to Borderlands in SF for not only surviving, but kicking ass in the process.)

Shout ’em out. They give us book love. Let’s give them some bookstore love in return.


151 responses to “Your Favorite Bookstores: Let’s Hear ‘Em”

  1. Bluestockings, on NYC’s LES. Volunteer-run, collectively owned radical bookshop that doubles as a community center, filling local heads with dangerous ideas and banned smuttiness.

  2. Hurray for LET’S PLAY BOOKS in Emmaus, PA! For used books, I loved the recently closed LION AROUND BOOKS (Quakertown, PA) and still going strong HAYWARD BOOKSHOP (Hayward, CA). I recently discovered SPOTTY DOG BOOKS & ALE (Hudson, NY) which combines 2 perfect things into one outstanding establishment. Just for kids: Booktenders Secret Garden (Doylestown, PA), Books of Wonder (NYC), Children’s Book Word (Haverford, PA), Bank Street Books (NYC), Hicklebees (San Jose, CA), and I can’t leave out the world-class and awesomely named FLYING PIG (Shelbourne, VT). Other favorite super indies include CLINTON BOOKS (Clinton, NJ), ANDERSON’S (Naperville, IL), HARLEYSVILLE BOOKS (Harleysville, PA), DIESEL BOOKS (Oakland, CA), City Lights (of course). MORAVIAN BOOKSHOP (Bethlehem, PA) is lovely. Powell’s overwhelms me so I generally wander around Portland till I find something smaller (there’s lots to choose from). If I really can’t get to a “real” bookseller (rare, but it happens), my online bookstore of choice is Better World Books. I do shop at Amazon on occasion. Given the choice, I’d rather wait a couple days and support a local. I suppose it’s because I’ve never visited an indie bookshop and found an employee crying at their desk. So there’s that… In 30 seconds I’ll think of 30 more that I regret not mentioning. (Like Moe’s in Berkeley and the Books Inc. stores around the SF Bay Area and Millrace Books in Farmington, CT, and AAUGGGH!!!!)

  3. Between Books is a preferred store of mine in northern Delaware. While it has contracted in size after a brief closure, the guy running it, Greg Schauer, has been helping me find great books since I was in my teens. While not everything is immediately available, he can always help you get what you’re looking for.

  4. Gotta give a shoutout to McKay’s Books in Knoxville, Tn. My favorite magical place. I could spend a whole day in there … I have spent a whole day in there.

  5. Rose’s Bookhouse in O’Fallon, MO. Used books, trade-ins for discounts + new books. Specializing in romance, has author signings and an annual event called Naughty & Nice featuring erotic authors. Sells ebooks through Kobo, so anyone anywhere can buy books through Rose’s. (Must sign up through the web site.)

  6. I have a soft spot for A Good Book in Sumner, WA, mainly because that’s where I’m shilling books most days of the week now. I recently took a drive out to Montana and found Fact & Fiction in Missoula, MT, which is great, as well as The Country Bookshelf, an old favorite, in Bozeman, MT.

  7. I just discovered SF-Bokhandeln AB, or Science Fiction Bookstore on Gamla Stan in Stockholm’s old town. Much bigger than expected, especially since it is in a tourist area that is approaching 800 years old. Sells SF and fantasy, games and such. Plus they have a gaming area upstairs. Check it out if you are ever in Stockholm.

  8. I love bookstores – and yes I’ve been in a few of them… I’ve got quite the collection on my blog that I chat about too.

    My favourite right now is The Really Good Book Shop. It’s at Browns Plains here in Logan City and is only a 20 minute drive from my house. What you do is take a small bag with you – NO BACKPACKS PLEASE – or you’ll knock over the piles of books… oops.. I’m getting ahead of myself. 😛 You open the door to this place and it’s wall to wall, floor to ceiling books! But they have just about anything you are looking for – and something things you wouldn’t expect.

    ‘Archives’ or ‘1,000,000 Books’ on Charlotte Street in Brisbane City is another bookstore just like the one above. However it’s over two huge buildings and the back section is haunted. I know, the 5 poor souls trapped inside that section have bugged the crap out of me each and every time I’ve been in that area of the store… and it’s the nicest part of the store. It’s got a huge table, overstuffed reading chairs, large windows and more books than you can poke a stick at… the section at the front is dark and feels like a jungle…

    Then, there’s ‘Cumquat Books’. It’s a large grey house on the corner of Juliette and Emperor Streets in Annerley here in Brisbane. What a place! This place has collections of books, diaries and other collectibles… but it’s dusty as hell, so if you’re prone to hayfever, bring along your tissues. The upside to this place is that it’s got wheelchair access and its own car park! I haven’t been there in years because it’s a good distance from my house.

    Now… overseas bookstores… there’s just one I have been to and loved but didn’t have enough time to suss out. It was in a small town in Wales where my tour had a toilet stop for 20 minutes. I was 23 at the time and found a bookstore like none other… Llangollen. This bookstore was a 4-store bookstore set up in an old 1920’s theatre. They kept the facade of the theatre, but did up the inside as a book-cafe… what a place! I went up the sweeping staircase to the box office (which was the checkout for the bookstore) and looked beyond where the seating normally was for the theatre… and instead of canvas seats, there was row upon row of books!!! I. Was. In. Heaven! The screen was still up on the stage but the rest of the place was packed to the gills with books! I asked for biographies and autobiographies, and the lady instructed me to the film room, where there was no lighting but they still had sound-proofing on the walls… amazing stuff! I found an out-of-print copy of ‘The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien’ in hard cover; and the bookcase I found it in nearly fell down on top of me! I paid almost nothing for it (and no, I’m not telling how much it’s worth now… but it’s going to the State Library Archives when I die, I’m telling that much).
    This bookstore was amazing! I didn’t want to leave, but had only 20 minutes to myself there… damn! Such a small village in Wales and it had a massive bookstore all to itself! 😀

    There you go, my favourite bookstore from home and abroad. 😀

  9. Bookmans in Tucson AZ is my favorite by a long shot. They started as a small used book store with magazines and comics on one side and stacked to the rafters paperbacks on the other. They have grown into six stores around AZ without losing their quirkiness.

    I think a kid having a good used book store to get lost in can do as much as or more than most educators to get kids reading.

  10. Bluestockings in downtown Manhattan is the best. It’s a completely volunteer-run and -operated bookstore, cafe, and activist space. Its mission is all about combating oppression and being radical and awesome, and the books they sell are totally excellent and run the gamut from Marxism to Poetry to Kids Books to SFF to Racial Justice. It’s great.

  11. The Writer’s Block in Downtown Las Vegas is such a hidden gem. It has an operational old fashioned printing press, an artificial bird sanctuary, and a great selection of books and beautiful odd ball collectibles. They also host writing and storytelling and puppetry classes for kids. I love having something like this close to home.

  12. In the Phoenix, AZ area:
    – Poisoned Pen
    – Changing Hands

    In the Tucson, AZ area:
    – Bookman’s

    In NYC:
    – The Strand

    In Tokyo, Japan:
    – Tsutaya Books
    – Good Day Books

    In Seoul, Korea:
    – What the Book

    I love bookstores, especially ones with comfy seats or cafes where I can journal after picking up some compulsive purchases. Also love libraries (the Phoenix Civic Center Library is excellent and cemented my love of libraries at an early age). 🙂

  13. Laurel Bookstore in Oakland, CA, right off the 12th Street BART station. It’s fairly new and run by devoted women for a community, family store that carries a little bit of everything that their customers want.

  14. Seconding Paul’s suggestions (also hello fellow local fist-bump!), especially Let’s Play, Harlkeysville and Moravian! I also wanted to give some love to Towne Book Center in Collegeville, PA. (http://www.townebc.com/) That store is in a weird location, IMO, so I tend to worry places like that get overlooked.

    When I lived in Austin, TX, I loved Half Price Books (it has many locations) for used books and records. It was there I found – on vinyl of course – sound effects from the old Dr. Who series. 🙂

  15. Having grown up in Doylestown, I appreciate your choice of D-Town books. These days, living out in Portland, I am a Powell’s man through and through. I love that place so damned much, even as it sucks all available moneys from my wallet.

  16. I like Black Gull Books in Camden, London, for their collection of somewhat esoteric non-fiction — got some good books on mythology there. Heffers in Cambridge is a nice big bookshop, although I have got lost there before, and they often have secondhand books or books on sale, which is good for a student budget! It’s impossible to leave Foyles in London without buying several books — it’s amazing and huge and I discovered some of my favourite authors there (and met one of them too). There are no indie bookshops anywhere near me though. Or any bookshops at all, hence why almost all the books I buy are secondhand or from rare trips into town.

  17. Another vote for Powell’s (the main store is my favorite. I love that I need a map to navigate it!) and Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, WA. I don’t have to hunt down the used books – they’re right on the shelf next to the new copies, and the staff are awesome.

  18. My fave is Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City. They’re friendly, comfy, cozy. They have a fireplace and free coffee and a weird-looking scarecrow dummy thing. Their cafe serves wine. There’s live, folksy music every weekend. Also, books. (Always, not just on weekends.)

    I wrote a poem about them a while back. Thanks for reminding me of it, Chuck. I’ve just blogged it: http://courtcan.com/2015/08/18/poem-coming-full-circle-fullcircleokc/

  19. Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio. They are like a maze of tiny rooms, one connected to the other until you get lost and turned around and discover something wonderful.

    • That’s my favorite too! It’s like an M. C. Escher painting come to life – with books! And cats, so there you go.

  20. I’ll shout out for my local (well, as close as any) bookshop, Florey’s Books in Pacifica, CA. It’s tiny, but it serves a community (or two, including mine) with NO other bookstores, chain or otherwise. The owner is a great guy who supports local authors whether trad. published or author-publisher.

  21. Chaucers in Santa Barbara is so good that my Dad, who lives in Canada, always comments on what a great selection of well-curated books they have (he’s particularly into their photography books, but I can attest that they’re fantastic for fiction and the eclectic nonfiction I’ve gone searching for over the years). They’ve survived two big Borders stores and B&N coming and going in town, and have authors come in for signings regularly. Love them.

  22. Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ and Phoenix, AZ. They took a bad situation for small bookstores and turned it into an opportunity. Also, Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ and Phoenix, AZ. These two small bookstores have made a name for themselves by being welcoming to writers and readers alike.. Poisoned Pen specializes in mystery and suspense, but they and Changing Hands welcome big-time authors and artists into the Valley and host signings and other events. They are awesome.

  23. For smell, you can’t beat a used book store. I give you: Phoenix Used and Rare Books, Ithaca, N.Y.

    For everything else you mentioned:

    Sundog Books, Seaside, FL

    Off The Beaten Path, Steamboat Springs, CO

    Jim Reed Books, Birmingham, AL

    Tattered Cover (LoDo), Denver, CO

  24. We loved Willow Books in Acton, MA when we lived in the area. It is a big store with a lot of stock and they are wonderful about ordering you whatever you want. They also have a great toy section for children.

    In Millerton NY there is Oblong Books, another terrific place with a wonderful staff and a wide selection.

    Finally, in uptown New Orleans there is Octavia Books, a wonderful neighborhood store that is very welcoming. They are especially helpful to book groups, and they were so supportive of the children’s group I ran there several years ago.
    Independent book stores need our support and patronage — they are important places that help us widen our perspective because they introduce us to new writers and ideas.

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: