As a lifelong bookworm, I have always relished book shopping, from second-hand stores to famous indie bookstores. And even though it’s been years since I’ve been a student, I still like to get a few new books to read at the beginning of each autumn.
Here are five of my favorite independent book stores around the country, where the staff picks always make my to-read list grow ever longer, the events make me want to pack up and relocate, and the aisles make me lose track of time.
Book People, Austin
Warm and welcoming, Austin’s Book People has a great selection of books, periodicals, and gifts spread out over two floors. A sunny, well-lit atmosphere and comfy chairs encourage a slower pace of browsing, as does the on-site coffeehouse and staff recommendations placed throughout the store. The kids’ section is particularly well-curated, with a wide selection of books for all ages, in addition to plenty of space both for playing and reading. Upcoming events include weekly book club discussions, kids’ story time sessions, and readings from authors both traditional and unconventional (e.g., Kenny Rogers is scheduled for late September). And in keeping with the local motto to “Keep Austin Weird,” you’ll find a wide variety of gag gifts, novelties, and unique jewelry to supplement your new reading material.
City Lights Books, San Francisco
Both a book store and publisher, City Lights is a San Francisco landmark celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Known for its pivotal role in the Beat movement, City Lights today is a bustling literary institution and cultural network, with regularly scheduled readings both in-house (for visiting authors) and on the road (for the press’s authors). If you’re not in San Francisco, you can still take part in all the happenings, live or on your own schedule, by downloading the Live from City Lights podcast.
Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C.
Democrat, Republican, Independent – no matter your affiliation, you’ll find a friendly place to recharge, get inspired, or undertake new research at Politics & Prose. The book store’s new print-on-demand service, Opus, enables visitors to request rare finds, out-of-print titles, and eclectic staff suggestions while you wait (depending on length, the service takes anywhere from five to 10 minutes). Readings take place both at the store and at various cultural institutions throughout the city, and it isn’t unusual to see the monthly calendar packed with local politicians, visiting literati, and international scholars peddling their latest books.
Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon
The name alone is utopian – a city of books – and Powell’s certainly lives up to this lofty ideal. All readers can find what they seek here, with new and used books intermingled throughout the store, including rare editions and out-of-print titles adjacent to new arrivals and discounted remainders. Browsing here is like a treasure hunt – one never knows what can be discovered on any shelf. In addition to its commitment to selling used books, Powell’s has a host of other ongoing green initiatives, including composting at the on-site coffee shop, using biodiesel fuel in its delivery fleet, and partnering with wind and solar companies to supply the store’s energy.
The Strand, New York City
Give yourself a few hours at The Strand – like New York City itself, it’s sprawling, packed with things to see, and (at times) overwhelming. The official motto is “18 Miles of Books” and it certainly seems immense – I’ve gone countless times and always discover a new wing or corner that I hadn’t encountered before. There are more than 2.5 million books here, in addition to gifts, tchotchkes, and more. Make your trip worthwhile by focusing your attention on one or two sections, and taking your time to browse at your own pace.
Which independent book stores do you love to visit? Share your favorites by leaving a comment below!
Photo credit Sameer Vasta via Flickr