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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

New Blog Series: Bookstores of Boston!

Young men, especially in America, write to me and ask me to recommend “a course of reading.” Distrust a course of reading! People who really care for books read all of them. There is no other course.

—Andrew Lang, Adventures Among Books

* * *

There are many things I love about living in Boston, but the wealth of great bookstores is at the very top of the list. In South Jersey (where I’m from), Barnes & Noble is the only option for miles, and who knows if there’ll even be any B&N in ten years’ time. In 2012 and early 2013 (before and after Hawthornden) I worked at the customer service desk at my hometown B&N, and the signs were not encouraging. I wanted to reach across the counter and shake anyone who whined that the Amazon price was cheaper.

Does Amazon let you browse through a stack of magazines in the cafe for hours without purchasing any of them? Does Amazon give you free WiFi and a table to work at your laptop or meet up with friends? Did Amazon give you a place to charge your phones during Hurricane Sandy? Can you have a twenty-minute conversation with Amazon about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series? Does Amazon host local authors for in-person events?

Okay, you get my point. B&N is the best we can do in South Jersey, but independent bookstores are (for the most part) SO much better. Employees at chain bookstores are often making just above minimum wage, and they aren’t necessarily interested in literature. For many of them it’s just another retail job. Walk into an independent bookstore, though, and you’ll find booksellers who are wildly enthusiastic about what they’re selling you. It isn’t just a job for them, it’s a natural extension of their lifestyle. Yes, you’ll usually pay more than you would at Amazon, but you have to look at the big picture: bookstores are a vital cultural resource. Imagine a world with no more brick-and-mortar bookstores (which is easier to do in my little pocket of South Jersey, I am sorry to report) and you may find you don’t mind paying the full sticker price after a lively conversation with a bookseller who full-out adores that particular author. You come away from that transaction on a high that has nothing to do with retail therapy.



Why buy indie? The Children’s Bookshop makes a very persuasive case.


My friend Rachel Simon, who runs our monthly MG/YA writers’ meetup, inspired this idea for a celebratory blog series on the independent bookstores of Boston. I must confess that I haven’t actually been to many of the bookshops on the list below, or have only visited them quite recently in preparation for this project. I tend to frequent Harvard Books and Porter Square Books (or Trident, since it’s right below my yoga studio), so I’m doing this series partly for my own edification.

Here’s a preliminary list, including secondhand bookstores:

Trident Booksellers and Cafe, Back Bay

Brookline Booksmith, Brookline

The Children’s Bookshop, Brookline

Harvard Books, Cambridge

Pandemonium Books, Cambridge

Porter Square Books, Cambridge

Rodney’s Bookstore, Cambridge

Seven Stars, Cambridge

Brattle Book Shop, Downtown Boston

The MFA Bookstore, Fenway

Papercuts, Jamaica Plain

Newtonville Books, Newton

New England Mobile Book Fair, Newton Highlands

Back Pages Books, Waltham

This list is far from exhaustive, particularly when it comes to secondhand and antiquarian bookstores, so if there’s a shop I’ve missed that you really love, please let me know!

I’ll be posting about my experiences at these indies each Monday for the next few months, but I could really use your help: do you have any anecdotes (great customer service, fascinating author event, etc.) that you’d like to share? Because I have much more to say about the three bookstores I frequent, I’d really like to even things out and do each store justice.

First up next Monday (predictably enough): Porter Square Books!



2 Comments to New Blog Series: Bookstores of Boston!

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    January 8, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s funny that in the 90s we were bemoaning that big stores like B&N were putting local bookstores out of business and now physical bookstores are all lumped together as being put out of business by Amazon.

    Also, I’m not sure how small bookstores help the environment.

  2. January 21, 2015 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I love going into local bookstores and finding local authors to celebrate and local stories to read. For instance, I was in Brookline Booksmith and found a book called “Shucked”, which about the Island Creek Oyster company. A year later they opened a great restaurant in Kenmore!

  1. By on January 7, 2015 at 1:49 pm

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.