Fuck Yeah, Independent Bookstores

[img of the awesome Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington, KY]

The last Saturday in April is Independent Bookstore Day, which is to say: this Saturday.

Which means you should take the extra time, if possible, to hit such a bookstore this weekend — remember, you can find them via Indiebound.org — and if you don’t have one near you, don’t forget too that many will ship books directly to you.

So, I thought I’d take some time to talk about why I love indie bookstores — and, now, this is with the caveat that an indie bookstore is not automagically amazing just by dint of its existence. I’ve been to several that were very anti-genre, or were not friendly, or were overall standoffish both in presence and in their design. But that is the exception, not the norm.

Here then, is why I dig me some indie bookstores:

1. They Tend To Contain Actual People Who Love Them Some Motherfucking Books.

Listen, I’m sure there are bookstore employees who don’t give a rat’s salty butthole about books, but in general, I go to an indie store, I am met with people who are there because they want to work somewhere that they can be surrounded by the sweet natal embrace of the book-womb.

Bonus: the people who work there are also bonafide bibliowizards. (Same can be said of most librarians, too.) They know books. They read them. They can recommend them. They can handsell them, spreading the precious BOOK VIRUS ha ha what I didn’t say there’s a book virus, YOU said there was a book virus. Now here read this book. *you are now infected by books*

But seriously, bookstore employees are magical beings. They may not be real, and if they are, they are likely too good for this world and must be protected.

2. Um, They Actually Sell Books

I got no problem with bookstores that sell not-books — hey, I like stuffed animals and widgets and tchotchkes and book-themed dildos the same as any other RED-BLOODED AMERICAN (wait what?), but you know, I also want books in a bookstore, and indie bookstores tend to be very good ways to show them off and sell them.

Which is great for me as an author.

And even better for me as a reader and as someone raising a kid who will be a reader, too.

3. They Are Community Facing

Amazon is not community facing. They’re just not. They can’t be, because they’re not in a physical space (their kinda-creepy bookstores notwithstanding). And I say that as someone who sells books there and who has a Prime subscription, same as you, I’d bet. But they’re just not there for the community — and one of the things that’s fantastic about books is that, if you care to connect to it, books come with a bookish community.

And what I mean are: people that read, people that write, people that wanna talk about books, people that wanna talk to weirdo-beardo authors who write stories about pissed-off psychic ladies and cool wars in the stars. Bookstores host book clubs and author signings and panel discussions and they, like libraries, are a nexus of that community, bringing bookish folk from all around to share in the book virus WHOA no nuh-uh I did not say book virus, this time I’m really sure it was you that said it. Shut up.

Point is, bookstores are also Book Community Centers.

Go there and be one with the bookishness.

4. OMG, Some Of Them Have Bars

Okay, I know this isn’t all bookstores or even a majority of them, but fuck it, it’s still a thing. And increasingly so! Changing Hands has the First Draft Bar. Or the Wild Detectives in Dallas! Or BookBar in Denver! Or the lovely BookCellar in Chicago! Seriously, it’s a thing. Google it. If I can go to a bookstore and buy a book, get a coffee, or drink a fancy-ass cocktail? Pretty sure that’s what actual heaven looks like.

(Hell, on the other hand, is a defunct Hoboken Toys-R-Us full of wasps and broken prequel-era Star Wars toys. You go there when you don’t buy books, so buy more books and avoid Hell.)

5. A Great Indie Bookstore Feels Like Home

A good bookstore is like a room full of pillows for your mind and for your imagination. The shelves may not match, the decor may be weird, the people may be infected by a book virus, but it always feels like home. They radiate pure book-love. They make you wanna read books. Hundreds of narrative rabbit-holes awaiting for readers of every age. A good bookstore is an astonishing place — it’s cheesy as fuck, I know, but I am never not overtaken with the glorious vertigo of a bookstore, where you’re presented with an unholy host of new adventures and ideas, with new ones coming in every week.

So, hie thee and thine ass hence to a bookstore. Forthwith.

Buy a book.

Read a book.

Join the book virus.

BECOME PART OF THE BOOKSTORE LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY AS YOUR FLESH MERGES WITH THE SHELVES AND — ha ha ha oh you know ol Chuck Wendig he’s just being silly again this is definitely not a thing that happens, ahem.



*eyelids are pages*

(Oh, and here is where I am crass and selfish and I remind you that if you want books signed by me and procured from a great indie store, you can order them from Let’s Play Books in Emmaus, PA, at this link. They will ship ’em right to you.)

So now I turn it over to you, Bookish Readers.

What are your favorite indie bookstores?

[below: Powell’s]

39 responses to “Fuck Yeah, Independent Bookstores”

  1. Here in Minneapolis/St. Paul we are blessed with many. UNCLE HUGO’s, a SFF specialty bookstore (and not even our only one!) holds my heart…and gets my dollars.

  2. Interestingly enough, a local independent turned me off completely when I was trying to find your new book, INVASIVE, a couple of years ago. After 15 or so minutes trying to get a clerk–who was totally uninterested in helping me–to help me find and/or order the book, I gave up and swore I’d never cross their threshhold again.

  3. “Bibliowizards.” *sticks pencil-wand in Chuck Wendig’s weirdo-beardo face* I’m mercilessly hijacking that one, be it for authors, editors, librarians, or booksellers. COME AT ME!

  4. I’m sharing this. One of my new fav indie book stores in The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. It’s great. Would be better if they had a bar, though, right? Thanks, Chuck.

  5. The Well-Read Moose in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is my favorite bookstore…even after moving to Colorado Springs. They are warm, friendly, charming, and they have a little cafe that serves wine (and possibly beer?) in additional to seasonally-rotated, book-themed coffee beverages. And gluten-free food options. They have a local author section of the store, a little corner to curl up in a chair, read, drink your beverage, AND a cozy sitting area if you want to get together with a group of people. What’s even weirder is that every time I visit CDA, ID, they’ve made it BETTER. SOMEHOW. My mind is repeatedly blown. Basically it’s perfect.

  6. As a Portland native, I’m obligated to say my favorite is Powell’s, because, well, POWELL’S. It’s a City. Of. Books. But I also really love the teeny little bookshop we’re going to see at the beach this weekend, and I’ll spend some money on them for Indie Bookstore Day this year because they don’t have five branches and an international warehouse.

  7. Mmmmm… booooks… *drools*
    I’ve always been a reader, and as a kid my allowance almost always went to the local bookstore (my habit subsidized by the local library, of course).
    But when I was 14 or 15, I stepped into the BEST EVER indie bookstore and that’s where I caught the book virus. The place was teaming with it, infecting every patron as soon as they walked through the doors. The floors and shelves were all old, thick wood, lending it a rustic feel. Every shelf has several books turned face-out, with hand-written cards containing reviews by the booksellers hanging from the shelf. The layout was such that most sections had their own tiny room, and you could get lost those little pockets of book love for hours (I remember my parents instituting a time limit for browsing – I think it was an hour *sad face*). This store was about a half-hour’s drive from my hometown, and it made my tiny local bookstore (also indie) pale in comparison.
    Thirty years later, that amazing bookstore is still there, has expanded to double the size and opened another store in another city. I now work a block away from this book mecca, so I go there frequently – if not to buy books, at least to soak up and replenish my supply of book virus.
    It’s the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT (@NorthshireBooks on ye olde Twitter) – I highly recommend a pilgrimage there to anyone in the area!

  8. I basically grew up in the Tattered Cover in Denver. I remember when they were in Cherry Creek and half of the basement was the kids area. I would hang out down there for hours trying to read as many books as possible before my parents would come find me and tell me it was time for me to “pick two” and we would pay and go home. Later on I “graduated” to hanging out in the coffee shop, and when they opened the store in Highlands Ranch (which is now the store in Aspen Grove), I got a job there. TC Coffee is where my baby social justice warrior self met and hung out with LGBTQ and local activist people who were my age for the first time. I knew a lot of people growing up who protested the Vietnam War, but TC was where I found people organizing LadyFest and making zines and working in bike collectives and for Food Not Bombs. The only reason I wasn’t part of the move from Cherry Creek to Colfax is because I was out of town at the time. (I had to get special permission to skip it. EVERYONE helped with the move and with inventory every year.) I’m still friends with people I met there.

    When I was in college I would walk from the Auraria campus to the Lodo TC to do homework. I’ve sat on that green carpet for uncountable hours (including six hours in a line for a Neil Gaiman event for one of his last signing tours. Got very friendly with the people in front of and behind me). I worked there from 2001 to 2009, including two (three?) Harry Potter release parties, and through 2007-2009 when the economic squeeze was bad and we couldn’t afford to hire any new people or buy a lot of new stock and I was really worried that the store wouldn’t make it. (I believe it is on much more stable footing now, and has new owners.) If you were an employee, they would open an “account” for you, and if you didn’t want to pay cash for books when you bought them they would deduct said book’s cost from your paycheck. It was wonderful, if also dangerous. They treated their employees as well as they could, given the economic limitations they operate it. I loved working there. I would work there again if I could afford it.

    I know there’s a lot of great indie bookstores out there (Powell’s comes to mind, and Firehouse Books in Ft Collins, and that one on Pearl Street in Boulder whose name I never remember), but TC has my heart.

  9. Im with Anna. Portland area = Powells. Im sure there are other indie book stores around but nothing pulls at my need-a-book-now nerve like Powells.

  10. I came across this amazing bookstore only about a fifteen minute walk from where I’m staying in Mexico City. I’m in a more international neighborhood, so many of the books were in English. It had an open air section, and a fancy coffee and bakery outlet but still had the nooks with the ladder-shelves. Definitely going back sometime soon!

  11. Ok, gotta put in a word for the tiny Mystery to Me bookstore in Madison WI. 40% not mysteries for those of you who get your belly buttons in a fluff if you can’t find your favorite “artful fiction” or graphic novel but for the Golden Age mystery geek that I am, a slice of heaven with cherry pie (there is, in fact, sometimes cherry pie at the fuckin’ amazing bakery/cafe next door—also indie, so a plug for Bloom). I just skip jauntily past the mysteries that have cat detectives or psychic witch detectives and grab all the fine Budes and Farjeons and Lockridges (add your own apostrophes, if you feel they’re needed—nerd) now in reprint.

  12. I’m hoping to hit 2 different indie bookstores this weekend. The lovely Reader’s Guide in Salem, Oregon is my favorite bookstore, so I have to go there. And the Book Bin downtown has a bookbinding demo in the afternoon that I really want to see. If we didn’t have 2 other things on the schedule for Saturday I’d have planned to head up to Portland to hit Powells as well.

  13. Joseph-Beth is my favorite local bookstore. They also do great things for kids, hosting story readings and such.

  14. Do used book stores count? When I was little I wanted to be a librarian. When I got older, I wanted to be a writer. But I’m not a world builder. Now I’m almost to retirement and about three years ago, an opportunity dropped on my head. A big building, a Catholic Church built in the 40’s, outside of Randolph AFB, and I said to my husband, I want to open a bookstore. We worked for over a year getting everything ready. Because the book market was down and stores were closing, I said what can we add to help with the income until we get really established. Because a retail store needs a good two years to be out of the red. So we became Crazy Lady Used Books & Emporium and we added good antiques and smalls, unique items that took our fancy. Wood spirits and Foo Dragons and cool old steamer trunks. And art, which really goes with books. Because good writers are artists, after all. We have about 15,000 volumes in the store. And I keep buying. And now there are boxes and boxes in the work area. Along with close to, at last count, about 8,000 albums. And we are selling books to young adults and old adults and people who don’t like Kindles. And people who don’t want to order on line from Amazon. They ask us to order for them. And I even pick up books for them at Half Price Books because they don’t want to drive into town. And we convince young ladies to try the old authors. We have Science Fiction book club editions that no one else can find. And lots of history and Texana and on and on. And we love what we do. We give away books to get people to read a new author. And tell them, bring it back if you don’t like it. If you do, we have more. We have families who come in every month – the entire crew – and they all pick out a couple of books. And a young lady who comes on her lunch hour to shelve books for us because our store is some calm and peaceful. The gentleman who sits and reads for a couple of hours in this cozy antique overstuffed English chair that just invites reading. Okay, must shut up now. The point is that reading books is not dead. They find us and we are not that easy to find. They come back. They bring us books. They stop in to just say hello. They bring us Christmas gifts. And I also say, if you like this author, buy their books new to support them so they continue to write. And yes, I was upset when your books were not at Barnes and Noble and I had to buy them online. We have them – used, of course – but we have them. And you are in good company. Sorry ’bout the rant. But I love our store and we love what we do and I wanted to make that clear, for some reason.

  15. I’m a librarian, so thank you for the shout out! I love my local used bookstore Caveat Emptor in Bloomington, Indiana. I’ve also had great experiences with Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia when I purchase every signed and doodled book by Maggie Stiefvater.

      • That’s awesome! I would love to visit it sometime! I’ve only ordered Maggie Stiefvater’s books online since I live in Indiana 🙂

  16. Shout out to Island Bookstore, with three locations on the Outer Banks of NC! I work in the Corolla shop from time to time — heading back this summer, in fact! It’s such a delight — one of those overstuffed stores where books are piled on every conceivable surface and you trip over the extra displays. Selling books is the *best*, and I’m not just saying that because the virus has infected my brain stem. I mean, what, there’s no virus, definitely no virus.

  17. OH! In that image of Powell’s, the top left book is The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman. This is a fantastic read and my favorite book of 2016. Highly recommended if you want to be entertained and gain some interesting knowledge. You’ll never look at a crow the same way again.

  18. My favorite indie bookstore is Gottwalls (and not just because it’s where my husband works, the love came before the job!) here in Macon, GA. The owner is super nice, there’s about four stores in the area he runs. Now, he’s also expanded to do franchise (Walls of Books, if you’ve seen one, that’s us!) but he’s still very much involved in our local community, supports local causes, and helps local schools. And they ALL love books.. it’s kinda funny to go in their warehouse and meet all the book nerds!

  19. Here in Eugene, Oregon we have several Indie bookstores that have been around forever. They feel like home. You say hi to the owners. They know what you like. It is the first place I want to go to when I have time off.

  20. In Houston, Texas, Katy Budget Books is probably one of the most well known, with Murder By The Book at the same position, usually offering Thriller and Mystery categories. I’ve been to both, and had a signing and then a panel presentation in Murder By The Book. Anne Rice has signed there along with Jefffery Deaver, so they know their stuff 🙂 Outstanding, Indie stores!

  21. I plan vacations around indie bookstores. So far, I’ve landed at Square Books in Oxford, MS, (don’t ask), Paragraphs on Padre Blvd. on Padre Island, TX, and Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN. Looking forward to more adventures with the book virus.

  22. I absolutely love Bookbug/This is a Bookstore, here in Kalamazoo, Michigan – which has a cafe (with locally roasted coffee), AND serves wine and beer (including Bell’s, a local brewery). We go to hear excellent authors there all the time – just got back from hearing Samantha Irby tonight (come to Kalamazoo!!)….

  23. Boy! was I glad to read this post! I didn’t even know bookstores like these were around anymore. Where I am there is one Barnes and Nobles (on it’s way out, I am told) and nothing else. I love books! I love book stores! I go in and get lost for hours, or at least I used to. I sort of lost interest when Barnes and Nobles decided to become more of an on-line connection. They took out their books and put in a counter with computer terminals, and uninterested clerks to show you how to use them. it just wasn’t the same. I stopped going in and came to believe bookstores (real bookstores) were a thing of the past. It refreshes my soul to know they are still around.

  24. My favorite local in Kansas City is Rainy Day Books. The store is great and they host all the major local author events.

    When I’m in Los Angeles, I make a point of visiting the Last Bookstore. (And then a post office to ship home the giant, heavy pile of books I just bought.)

  25. We have a great bookstore in my area called ‘The Really Good Book Store’ which is not all that big, but it’s a second-hand bookstore as well as a bookstore where you can buy new books. You take in your old unwanted books and get credit for them; and then ‘buy’ or trade some books you want with your credit scoring a great discount. I love this place.

    There’s also one bookstore chain called ‘The QBD’ which is a very cool store (stocks your books as well) and their motto is ‘Where You Never Pay Full Price’ … and I’ve never paid full price for anything there – sometimes, I’ve scored a freebie there… another bookstore I go to is ‘Dymocks’ who also stock your books.

    But most times the bookstore I go to, Chuck are second-hand ones… the Indie bookstores are in the city; and really I don’t go to the city much.

  26. Here in Kent in the UK, we have Baggins Bookstore in Rochester – and yes, it is indeed as hobbit-y as it sounds. In a olde-timey, listed building that looks tiny from the outside but, once you’re inside. seems to go on forever (I’m convinced it has Tardis DNA in it somewhere,) it is THE place to go to find books you will not find anywhere else. Rare books, out-of-print books, books that make you wonder ‘who on EARTH thought to write about THIS?’ (in a good way, not an ‘Oh my god, my eyes – they burn!’ way) Shelves that reach the ceiling and create little book-tunnels and alleyways. And it smells like books too.

  27. Though biased, Quail Ridge Books is my favorite. Yes, I work there, but I would want to be there every single day even if I didn’t.

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