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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Book Soup

UPDATE: I don't know how I originally forgot The Bookstore in Lenox, Mass, now added.

Booksoup A GOOD BOOKSTORE is a great thing. It's a center of civilzation and a community center, one of the prime examples of Ray Oldenburg's Third Good Places.

A bookstore's an indication of local culture. When I was at Harvard, there were three all-night bookstores within a stone's throw of Harvard Square. You slept better knowing they were there.

The internet and the big chains have been a mixed blessing for book lovers. On the one hand, you can get any book quickly and buy books for less, and who doesn't like that? (Answer, authors, because they get less per book — on the other hand, maybe they'll sell more books.)

Strikingly, hundreds of places in the US that had a mediocre bookstore or no bookstore at all now have chain stores with 100,000 titles that are open from 9 am to 11 pm. The mega-stores even let you sit and read in comfortable chairs, with WiFi and perhaps a cup of coffee. The best Barnes & Noble I know of is in a four-story loft-building on Union Square in Manhattan, with hundreds of thousands of books, hundreds of magazines and a large cafe. Many people use the store like a library, reading books and magazines for hours that they have no intention of buying.

But obviously most of these mega-stores have no in-house expertise and about as much soul as Starbucks. And they put better bookstores out of business.

Here in Coral Gables, I can walk to a great bookstore, Books & Books. Just a few minutes away, they have lots of books, knowledgeable staff, a good cafe and lots and lots of speakers and books signings. So that got me thinking about bookstores I've known and loved:

Baldwin's Book Barn, West Chester, Pa
Blackwell's, Oxford
Book Soup, Los Angeles
Books & Books, Coral Gables, Fla
BookCourt, Brooklyn
Bookhampton, Southampton
Buchhandlung L. Werner, Munich
Collected Works, Santa Fe
Corner Bookstore, New York
Crawford & Doyle, New York
Dedalo, Rome
E Shaver Booksellers, Savannah
Feltrinelli, Florence
Foyles, London
Garcia Street Books, Santa Fe
Gotham Book Mart, New York
Hans Golst Kunstbücher, Munich
Hatchards, London
Hennessey & Ingalls, Los Angeles
Housing Works Book Cafe, New York
La Hune, Paris
Librairie du Moniteur, Paris
Librarie Galignani, Paris
Maple Street Bookshop, New Orleans
Montague Book Mill, Montague, Mass
New Canaan Bookshop, (RIP) New Canaan, Conn
New Dominion, Charlottesville
Politics & Prose, Washington
Prairie Avenue Bookshop, Chicago
RIBA, London
Rizzoli, New York
Scribner's, (RIP), New York
Shakespeare & Company, Paris
Spring Street Books, (RIP) New York
Stanford's, London
Sundog Books, Seaside
Square Books, Oxford, Miss
The Strand, New York
Taylor Books, Charleston WV
Tattered Cover, Denver
Waterstone's, London (Picadilly)
Weyhe, (RIP), New York
William Stout, San Francisco
Zwemmer, London

In the post Barnes & Noble / Border's / Amazon era, Blackwell's has gone global and lost some of their charm. But I still have fond memories of when the Dollar Was King and I could order books from Blackwell's that would come over on their weekly plane to New York and still cost half what they sold for here. Foyles, which before the internet was the largest bookstore in the world, has also lost a lot of their old, peculiar (they shelve by publisher rather than subject) charm.

Waterstone's is a large British chain that sold the management of its internet business to amazon.co.uk, but it has an excellent bookstore in an old Art Deco department store on Picadilly (the largest bookshop in Europe). A cafe and bar on the top floor has great views. Down the street is Hatchards, the royal bookseller. Somehow they're never quite as good as I imagine they should be.

Recommended By Others (I haven't been to these):

Weller_5 Antigone Books, Tuscon
Beckham's Books, New Orleans*
Boulder Book Store, Boulder
Chaucer's Bookstore, Santa Barbara
City Lights, San Francisco**
Dutton's, Los Angeles (Brentwood)
Globe, Prague
Jackson Street Books, Athens, Ga
Joseph Fox, Philadelphia
Kepler's Books and Magazines, Menlo Park
Lemuria, Jackson, Miss
Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville
Northshire, Manchester, VT**
Powell's Books, Portland
Prairie Lights, Dubuque
Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh
The Regulator, Durham
Sam Weller's Zion Books, Salt Lake City
Seminary Co-op, Chicago
Village Voice Bookstore, Paris**
Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena

* I didn't list any of the used book stores in New Orleans, because there are many good ones, and I couldn't remember the names.
** Actually, I have been to these three, but can't really remember them.


October 22, 2006 in Books, Culture, Education, New Urbanism, Travel, Urbanism | Permalink


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Tracked on Dec 31, 2006 6:28:24 PM


I've generally pro-Barnes & Nobles. Their bookstores tend to be attractively laid out, have excellent selections, and knowledgable staffs. They don't seem to follow "we will put a store even in places where we will lose money to keep competition from emerging" strategy that, for example, Starbucks follows. Most of their stores are in suburbs that otherwise wouldn't have a bookstore.

I'm not as big a fan as Borders, whose stores to me seem somewhat sterile, with a weaker selection.

Granted I live in New York, but my experience is that independent bookstores that are well run and offer something genuinely different from the chains tend to survive competition from B & N and Borders fine. What tends to get hurt are stores run by the equivalent of the Comic Book Guy, with most of the books piled in unreachable parts of the shelves or at the end of narrow aisles. Again, the situation is different with coffee shops, probably because Starbucks seems to have a deliberate monopolistic strategy.

Posted by: ES at Oct 22, 2006 10:26:27 PM

Antigone Books in Tucson, Arizona
Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colorado

Posted by: Simmons Buntin at Oct 23, 2006 1:03:39 AM

I think Blackwell’s has gotten sterile over time. Hatchard’s on Picadilly is a good place.

You could also launch a lament about bookstores that were fun to go to and have died. Booked Up and Scribner’s in NY. Waterstone’s in Boston.

Posted by: bruno at Oct 23, 2006 8:37:49 AM

Another Books & Books... the one in South Beach on Lincoln Road
Powell's Books, Portland
Beckham's Bookshop, New Orleans
Lemuria, Jackson, Mississippi
Bay Street Trading Company, Beaufort, South Carolina

Posted by: steve m at Oct 23, 2006 8:39:06 AM

I've added Scribner's in an RIP category, and added a few others, like Weyhe, which was 1 block from my apartment and a wonderful store. Of course Rizzoli's went into the same wonderful store designed by Ernest Flagg before moving a couple of times.

I never knew Booked Up or Waterstone's in Boston. They make me think of W.H. Smith (British) and Brentano's (American) in Paris, which are good for finding a British or American book you need, but I didn't think they were otherwise quite good to list, even though the Smith's is better most of the ones in Britain.

The Paris Smith's is near Galignani and has a British caf. Brentano's, which used to be part of a New York chain, is near the Opéra.

Posted by: john massengale at Oct 23, 2006 10:17:05 AM

A little note from the West Coast

Thank you for including Hennessey + Ingalls in Santa Monica - great to have a bookstore on an open mall and their content is incredible.

Two others from the Bay Area are Cody's (http://www.codysbooks.com/) & Moe's (http://www.telegraphbooks.com/). Used and new books and also located in the heart of Berkeley.

P.S. we LOVE your site here on the West Coast, great chitchat around the office and we would like more pic's of you if possible??

Posted by: josiecoco at Oct 25, 2006 12:25:04 PM

Hmmm - maybe I should put a picture of my wife?

Posted by: john massengale at Oct 25, 2006 12:40:01 PM

In Victoria, BC, try Munro's Books (run by the ex-husband of Alice Munro, fwiw).

Posted by: Chris Burd at Oct 25, 2006 2:40:39 PM

Dude, first of all I've been to that damn Books and Books in the Gables and I hate it. Some snooty stuck up bitch of a clerk, followed me around the whole time like I was going to steal a book. Then when I didn't find the book I was looking for she didn't even want to tell me if any of the other books and books had that book. Also, how the hell do you remember all those damn book stores, like the Tattered Cover in Denver... Who the hell goes to Denver


Posted by: Ruster Codbourn at Oct 25, 2006 8:49:01 PM

The Ark Bookstore in Santa Fe.

Posted by: Thomas Massengale at Oct 26, 2006 6:14:40 AM

Sorry John, I guess I don't understand trackbacks, or is this correct? Seems strange that my entering a trackback on seeinggreen should change your blog entry, I exepected it to be in the "Listed below are links to weblogs that reference " section.

Posted by: chandru at Oct 27, 2006 11:21:52 AM

HMMMM - she is one lucky woman to have a man with wit, talent and sense of humor! Oh did we mention attractive also? We're just envious.

Posted by: josiecoco at Oct 27, 2006 11:50:36 AM

I'm sensing some sarcasm here.

Posted by: john massengale at Oct 31, 2006 12:45:48 PM

You should definitely add Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge to your list, as well Grolier's, Schoenhof's, and the Harvard Bookstore. With apologies to Jerry Murphy, I'll concede that the Coop is not what it used to be before joining the Barnes and Noble empire, but remains a first-rate college bookstore. Can't help but throw in a plug for a couple of my locals, the venerable Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven and the recently-opened Inkwell in Falmouth. Neither is world class, but both are much better than most resort towns offer.

Posted by: tony at Nov 1, 2006 9:30:57 AM

A late comment: Apparently after RJ Julia pulled out of New Canaan, forcing Elm Street Books to shut down (the link is in your list), someone else (possibly the employees -- I'm not sure) have reopened again, near where the original New Canaan Bookshop was. It's small, but they've cut a door through to the coffee shop next door. It could be worse.

Posted by: Tom Andersen at Nov 9, 2006 4:44:26 PM

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