Annual Conference & INFO-EXPO Boston Convention & Exhibition Center June 14 -16, 2015

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Boston for Bibliophiles: Bookstores

Boston for Bibliophiles: Bookstores

by SLA New England member Nicole Dutton, MLIS — Librarian and Records Management Analyst at the Charles S. Morgan Technical Library of the National Fire Protection Agency

See also “Boston for Bibliophiles: Libraries

Boston is known as the Athens of America for a good reason. In Boston, we don’t care what you’re wearing, we want to know what you’re reading. Which means that even though the independent bookstore is dying elsewhere, we can still support a decent-sized eco system of indie booksellers. Many of them boast superlatives like the “oldest” or “largest” of their sort in the country.

Brookline Booksmith in Brookline
A fantastic all-round bookstore, with used books in the basement, new books upstairs, and one of the best reading schedules in the city. It boasts an excellent selection and a friendly staff. It’s also open late (well, late for Boston), with Friday and Saturday hours until 11 pm. Foodies take note: America’s Test Kitchen isn’t too far away, so Christopher Kimball reads here often.

Porter Square Books in Cambridge
Another excellent all-round bookstore tucked into a shopping center on the edge of Cambridge. No used books, but a wide selection of new books and an impressive author line up. Zing Cafe, inside the shop, sells sandwiches, coffee, tea, excellent Vietnamese spring rolls, and baked goods. Cambridge has a lot of famous authors who like to shop here, so keep your eyes peeled for celebrity sightings.

Pandemonium Books and Games in Central Square, Cambridge
Geeks, here’s your shop. Upstairs you’ll find new and used science fiction and fantasy books and downstairs you’ll find games, gamers, and gaming space. Even though the staff knows their stuff, you’re just as likely to have any question answered by a fellow shopper, who are equally knowledgeable. If you want to catch a game of Magic, The Gathering and do some role playing or board gaming, check out the online calendar.

Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square
Comic book geeks, here’s your shop. Tiny and a little hard to find, this is nonetheless one of the best comic shops in Boston. With all the latest from big and small publishers alike, plus a huge selection of back issue, you’re almost certain to find what you’re looking for. The staff is welcoming and friendly and happy to make a suggestion, without the brusque attitude you get in some comic stores. There’s also an adult-only section, if that’s your thing.

Harvard Book Store in Harvard Square
Named after the square and unaffiliated with the university, Harvard Book Store is nonetheless more erudite than many general bookstores. This isn’t where you go to grab the latest best seller, it’s where you go when you some heavy reading. Also, their cooking section is exceptional. The used book department in the basement feature some lovely coffee table books at remainder prices. It’s right next to Mr. Bartley’s, another Harvard institution that sells burgers and sandwiches.

Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square
The oldest poetry bookstore in America! Tiny and full of poets, this is the place to be if you’re in the market for small press or university press books of poetry, in addition to the trade options. They also offer CDs of spoken word. But the biggest attraction is the deeply knowledgeable staff and the fascinating (sometimes quirky) clientele.

Raven Used Books in Harvard Square
If you really want to just browse for hours, consider this old-school used bookstore, which has a high turnover of books each week and a wide selection. Located right near Harvard University, you’ll find a heavy emphasis on scholarly and literary books, as well as art and architecture books. A lot of book for your buck.

Trident Books and Cafe in Boston
Trident is a good general bookstore and the cafe is a great place to put up your feet if you’ve been window-shopping on Newbury Street. The book selection is quite good and the people watching is exceptional: old-school hippies, tweed-jacketed academics, Prada-wearing socialites, funky musicians from nearby Berklee College of Music.

Brattle Book Shop in Boston
Established in 1825, this gem has all the gravitas and musty perfume that you expect from an antiquarian and rare-book shop. A sprawling, three-story shop, it has everything from maps and postcards to leather-bound first editions. Owner Ken Gloss is remarkably knowledgeable (he consults for libraries and universities around the world), as are his staff members.

Ars Libri in the South End
If you’re interested in art, you must visit Ars Libri. It has the country’s largest selection of rare and out-of-print books on art. The stock covers all fields from photography and architecture, as well as all eras, from antiquity to right now.

Commonwealth Books in Boston
You’ll find this bookshop down Spring Lane, which happens to be the oldest street in Boston, a gently curving cobblestoned alley. (There’s another on Milk Street, not far away.) Both locations stock used and rare books, as well as antique maps and prints.  Convenient to the Freedom Trail, it’s a great place if you need a quiet break from the bustling crowds of the tourist areas.

Schoenhof’s Foreign Books in Harvard Square
If you’re looking for foreign-language books, this is the largest such store in the country. You’ll find titles in Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish, among others. They also stock foreign-language audio books, children’s books, and language learning books and audio.

The Curious George Store in Harvard Square
Recently re-opened, this children’s bookstore sells books for kids from picture books to Y.A. (Adults who love Y.A. should be sure to go down the stairs.)  Inevitably, you’ll also find a wide selection of toys and games for the little ones. There’s a lot of Curious George-branded apparel and toys, as well.

Calamus Books in Boston
Boston’s largest selection of books for, by, and about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people. The eclectic selection ranges from queer theory to fiction, with new and used books intermingled. The cozy shop feels very like a community center, with lots of chatting between shoppers and staff members.

Seven Stars in Central Square, Cambridge
If you can’t get up to Salem during your visit, Seven Stars is the next best thing. A spiritual bookstore, its esoteric stock covers everything from New Age to Wicca to Buddhism to Christianity. There’s a selection of paraphernalia, including crystals and jewelry. In keeping with the low-fi vibe, there’s no website but you can call (617) 547-1317 for hours and more information.


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