Not Just Browsing

For me, book shopping is split into two categories: online shopping at sites like Amazon is for convenience, stores are for the experience. Obviously Amazon can sell almost any book the way a real store can’t, which is helpful if you need a particular book immediately (oh, is book club this Sunday?). But most times, going to a bookstore is about browsing. Maybe I go in with a particular book in mind, but I’ll also take a spin around the shelves and see if anything else jumps out at me. I like seeing what’s “staff recommended” and what’s on sale. It’s more about enjoying books than just purchasing them.

The Daily Beast defends the independent bookseller and lists the best independent bookstores in America. “Great independent bookstores are draws and destinations in their own right. They help define their town to the outside world.”

I haven’t been to any of the bookstores on John Avlon’s list (not even the Strand, sadly), but they’re going on my “to visit” list. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite local stops:

  • Brookline Booksmith is my local book seller and a favorite in the Brookline area. It has a great inventory, with lots of sales and staff suggestions, and a basement full of used books, too. Their staff is helpful and there always seems to be a good crowd browsing. They also host fantastic readings, featuring everyone from first-time authors to famous poets to the local MFA students. It’s hard to stop in without buying anything.
  • One of my favorite bookstore experiences happened at Porter Square Books last year. I picked up a copy of the Horn Book Magazine, grabbed a cup of coffee, and settled into one of their cafe chairs. A few chairs away from me was another twentysomething woman, working on her laptop. After a moment, she looked over at my magazine and asked if I was part of the local graduate program in children’s literature. (I wasn’t, she was; we both love children’s lit.) To me, this was a great example of the Porter Square Books client–someone who loves books and enjoys talking about them.
  • When I first moved to Boston, the first bookstore I can across was Trident Booksellers. Between it’s awesome selection and it’s amazing cafe, it’s one of my favorite places to take out-of-town friends for brunch. What’s better than browsing the stacks after a stack of challah french toast?
  • Wellesley Books is a bit of a trip for me compared to the other stores on this list, but considering their author events the drive is worth it. In the last couple of years, I’ve attended readings by Shannon Hale and Suzanne Collins (I tried to contain my inner fangirl at both), and both were absolutely fantastic. From my experience, Wellesley Books is particularly strong in the children’s department and brings in a variety of YA/children’s authors.
Even though e-readers are becoming more prevalent and Amazon’s not going anywhere anytime soon, I think the experience of an independent bookstore still stands out for people who consider themselves readers. What are your favorite bookstores?

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