I admit it, I love shopping online as much as the next person. It probably started with Amazon more years ago than I care to remember, and very quickly morphed into my default way to shop for everything.
But way back before online existed and chain bookstores were the norm, I used to haunt what we now call the indies – independent bookstores. They were easy to find no matter where I went – college towns of course, big and small cities, country back roads. Some were temples to the written word, others an expression of the owner’s literary idiosyncrasies. Nowadays their existence, not to mention buying books in one is something akin to a protest against homogeneity, corporatism, and the transformation of books and those who create them into mere commodities.
I still love to plan a special travel itinerary to visits those few and far between independent bookstores that have managed to survive technology’s onslaught. Here are some favorites:
New York, NY
You may think that New York City with its plethora of writers and publishing companies would be a bookstore-lovers mecca. At one time it was, but those days are long gone. Even the chain bookstores have fallen victim to outrageous real estate prices and decreased demand for books on paper. But a few real gems remain and there is a glimmer of hope that some of the anti-commodity backlash is helping to sustain some new ventures.
The Strand Bookstore is the place that comes first to the lips. Still going strong after nearly 90 years, their 18 miles of books run the gamut from new to used to antique. A journey through their labyrinthine shelves can feel like time travel, both literarily and commercially, especially for anyone who is accustomed to chain-store or online shopping.
McNally- Jackson is a relative newcomer to Manhattan, but in the ten years it’s been open it has become a New York institution. As host to some of the best readings and literary gatherings in town, MJ is a haven for lit lovers of all tastes and all nationalities.
Once upon a time, Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA was home to dozens of bookstores both general and specialized. No more. One of the few left is also one of the best. Pass by the Harvard tchockes at the front of the Harvard Bookstore and prepare to enter paradise, that is if your idea of paradise is a superb collection of new and classic literature, history and philosophy, you’ve come to the right spot.
On the other side of the state, Amherst Books specializes in local. And of course some of that local means Emily Dickinson. In Northhampton, home of Smith College and a bit of the countercultural scene, Broadside Books is a local and regional treasure. No need to shop anywhere else for books – they will order anything for you. Odyssey Books near Mount Holyoke College has been seeing to the literary needs of South Hadley since 1963 and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down.
Further north, Portland’s Longfellow Books bills itself as “fiercely independent” and that dedication makes it a draw for authors and reader alike.
Saved from oblivion by the community, Riverrun Bookstore in Portsmouth recently opened another location in Kittery.
Find the indie closest to you at IndieBound. Then relax, unplug, and let your mind go.
Photo: the late, lamented Gotham Bookmart via wikimedia.org