The Big Read Blog (Archive)

A Few of Our Favorite Things, Bookstore Edition

Southbank book fair by flickr user gluemoon

“What I say is, a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it's got a bookstore it knows it's not fooling a soul.”
---Neil Gaiman, American Gods

I don’t think I’m alone in searching out a bookstore in every new town I visit and a recent Flavorwire blog featuring photos of the most beautiful bookstores definitely fed my wanderlust to travel the world and visit these bookstores. From a converted movie palace in Argentina which turned the theater boxes into reading rooms, to the biggest outdoor bookstore in the world in Ojai, California, the 20 featured bookstores are all distinct and stunning. Knowing I’m not alone in my love of bookstores, I polled my colleagues at the NEA and our partners on The Big Read at Arts Midwest to find out what favorite bookstores have made the biggest impression on them. My own response is at the top; please tell us about your favorite bookstore in the comments!

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"My favorite bookstore isn’t so much a traditional store, rather an outdoor market. When I lived in London for a year, I quickly discovered the book market on the Southbank. Underneath the roaring traffic  of Waterloo Bridge, each day, rain or shine, booksellers would set up table after table of used books---hardbacks, paperbacks, and an amazing selection of Penguin Classics. It was one of those places you can’t help but stop and wander through every time you pass by."

---Liz Auclair, NEA

"One of my VERY favorite bookstores is Wild Rumpus here in Minneapolis. It’s primarily a kids’ bookstore, though it has some adult titles and lots of YA books. It’s filled with animals walking around (Manx cats, chickens, chinchilla, etc.). The staff are fabulously well-informed. They have an amazing selection of books. It’s by far the most creative space you’d ever want to see: a door inset in a door (one for small people) to enter, a thatched hut inside, comfortable chairs, a 'pond' in the floor, etc. They are the best."

---Susan Chandler, Arts Midwest

"I will always miss my very favorite bookstore: Olsson’s in Washington, DC. They always hit the right balance---a lot of good reads, no junky romance novels, and a sales staff that knew their stock. I can’t say that I’ve found another bookstore that satisfies me as much."

---Lois Fields, NEA

"What came to mind for me was Shakespeare and Co. (Paris) and The Bookàbar Bookshop in Rome (both featured in the Flavorwire blog). The two independents I used to work for (Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cleveland; the Cleveland Park Bookshop, Washington, DC) have sadly closed. My favorites in Washington, DC, are those I could walk to when I lived there and featured used books, Idletime Books and Second Story Books. (Are those great names, or what?) For my favorite bookstores, I’d have to hand it to Powell’s in Portland, and of course, Chapters Literary Bookstore which lost its storefront. But I have to expand it to my favorite libraries, and that includes Seattle and Minneapolis. These are amazing places to commune with books.

---Maryrose Flanigan, NEA

"My favorite bookstore actually appears on the Flavorwire list: Cook and Book in Brussels. Every room in the store is decorated according to the genre it holds: the music section has a piano and guitars, the English-language section, where I mostly hung out, is decorated like a funky British pub. The travel section even had an old camper van that you could read in. It was without a doubt the most inventive (and best decorated!) bookstore I've ever visited. Good coffee too."

---Rebecca Gross, NEA

"One of my new favorites is the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury, London. It’s in a lovely, peaceful space with an eclectic and well-chosen selection of books. I love the unique editions that you can find there. They even have these free fold-out maps detailing every independent bookstore in London. On top of being a great bookstore, they feature a stellar line-up of author events, and most importantly (to me) they have an attached cake shop! The cake shop is connected to the bookshop by a passage in the history section and offers teas and coffee, sandwiches, salads, and cakes---all surrounded by books and magazines. They have a big communal table that’s just perfect for gathering around with friends to chat books and all things literary."

---Angharad Guy, Arts Midwest

"It may not be architecturally appealing, but my favorite bookstore is Amazon.com. It lets me buy a book for my Kindle wherever I am!"

---Kelli Rogowski, NEA

"The 'poetry room,' upstairs, at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco is the most beautiful place to encounter books. The spirit of adventurous, post-war America writing---particularly poetry, and the work of the Beats, lives on here. The beauty, for me, is in the history in the room, the curation of the selection, the devotion to Ginsberg, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti---and the whole cast and crew of post-Beat acolytes---Waldman, Codrescu, Pommy Vega---they’re all there. Rather than a mausoleum, this room keeps the spirit of these writers alive and fresh."

---Ira Silverberg, NEA

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