Bookstore Hall of Fame
The Bookstore Hall of Fame is my list of great bookstores. They are characterized by a large selection of books in numerous subjects, with a particularly wide range of literature, and independence of spirit. In these stores you will find unusual books that you won't find in most other bookstores, because the staffs of these bookstores go out of their way to find books they know their customers will appreciate.
This is a personal list, limited by my tastes and my travel. If you want to recommend a bookstore you think belongs here, see the Bookstore Hall of Fame Nomination Form. I will add nominees to the bottom of the page, but they won't get into the Hall of Fame until I have the chance to verify their worthiness in person. (Hint: That might take years, so be patient.) (Another hint: I've been to Washington and Montreal and haven't found any bookstores I thought Hall of Fame-worthy in those cities. Maybe someone out there could recommend bookstores there that I have visited, and I might reconsider.)
Berkeley - University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft Way. Excellent selection of university press books.
Menlo Park - Kepler's Books and Magazines, 1010 El Camino Real. The old location was a gathering place for Jerry Garcia and Joan Baez. Now the store has more room for a wide stock in most subjects, especially literature, travel, and children's books.
Update: The Culture of Kepler's, an article on Kepler's 50th anniversary from the Palo Alto Weekly, May 11, 2005
Update 2: Kepler's suddenly shut its doors on Aug. 31, 2005. It may yet reopen. See SaveKeplers.com.
Update 3: Kepler's reopened Oct. 8, 2005. See Inc. magazine's articles, Rewriting the Ending and The Plot Thickens
Pasadena - Vroman's Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd. The oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. An anonymous nominator says it's far superior to Chaucer's or Dutton's.
San Francisco - City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Ave. Founded and still run by the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is a historic literary hangout, well worth hanging out in. The selection of poetry and small press books is particularly impressive. If you look closely in the basement, you might see the sign urging you to remember Lot's wife — a leftover from the building's days as a religious revival center.
Update: News coverage of City Lights' 50th anniversary in 2003:
Santa Barbara - Chaucer's Books, 3321 State St. (Loreto Plaza) Don't be fooled by the strip mall location. Chaucer's is a fine bookstore, particularly strong in literature, including many British and Canadian imports and academic titles not usually found in bookstores off university campuses. Also good for local interest (history, nature).
Update: Chaucer's now has a Web page, but still no online inventory database. I would order from them online if I could.
Update 2: They now have a Booksense Web site, so you can order from Chaucer's online.
Update 3: They have their own Web site again, and you can order directly from them.
Portland - Powell's Books, 1005 W. Burnside. This place is legendary. If you're anywhere near Portland for any reason, you must head to Powell's. It has a huge selection of new and used books — 1 million books in stock, they say — so big you need a map! There are satellite bookstores elsewhere in the area, some of which specialize in cookbooks, travel, and technical, and some of which serve particular 'burbs.
Seattle - Elliott Bay Book Company, 101 S. Main. A fiercely independent bookstore with a wonderful selection (particularly strong in Northwest titles) and inviting wood decor. There's a cafe downstairs with old books to read.
Seattle - University Book Store, 4326 University Way. I agree with the contributor to the rec.arts.books FAQ who said this bookstore is better than the Harvard Coop. It serves the University of Washington, but it's also a great general bookstore as well.
New York - Strand, 828 Broadway (at 12th). A big jumbled store of used books ("8 miles of books," including many reviewers' copies of recent titles). Many people find this store difficult to handle, but if you have time, you could find some treasures.
Vancouver - Duthie Books, 919 Robson St. I dream about the literature section downstairs. A strong attraction for American visitors is the wide selection of British paperbacks.
Update: Their motto was "Littera scripta manet" ("The written word remains"), but the Robson St. location is no more. Duthie's has closed all but its 2239 W. Fourth St. branch, which was not quite as good, if I recall correctly, but maybe it has inherited the virtues of the original store. Unfortunately, Duthie's isn't doing much with its Web page; otherwise that might be a source of useful revenue.
London - Dillons, 82 Gower St., Bloomsbury. A combination university bookstore (the University of London is nearby) and general bookstore. Fantastic literature section. Branches elsewhere in London and around the country.
Update: Dillons has been bought out by the less academic chain, Waterstones. Can anyone tell me if the Gower Street store is maintaining high standards?
Update 2: Waterstone's online service has been contracted out to amazon.co.uk
London - Foyles, 919 Charing Cross Road, Soho. This is the bookstore many people love to hate. They complain about its arrangement by publisher (mostly in the literature section, not so much in the other sections). But the selection is just too huge to pass up. Bring your patience.
Update: They now have a Web page, but it seems to have been designed by the same people who designed the physical store. You have to wait for a lot of Java to load. Then, it's not obvious how to search their whole database by title. When I tried to browse fiction, I got crime fiction, which was a separate category on the menu. Once you get into a category, though, you can click on the search option, which does search their whole database, not just that category.
Update 2: Both the Web site and, I understand, the shop have gotten (somewhat) easier to navigate. You can search for a known item — they'll probably have it in their 1.4-million-item database — but if you try to browse the major categories, you get only the bestsellers.
London - Hatchards, 187 Picadilly. Bookstore by appointment to the royal family. (On the wall, there's a facsimile of a telegram from Queen Victoria ordering a Portuguese dictionary.) The selection runs more to hardbacks and uniform sets than that in Dillons or Foyles, but well worth shopping by commoners. (Additional nomination by Corene Lemaitre)
Oxford - Blackwell's Bookshop, Broad Street. Actually several bookstores along Broad Street. Together, they might be the best bookstore in the world. Something on every subject, academic and general. A London branch opened in 1996 at 100 Charing Cross Road; not as good as the original, but what is?
Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, Calif. "Owner Neal Coonerty is a leader in the fight to preserve independent bookstores. His store is the central gathering place for all book-lovers, artists and intellectuals in Santa Cruz County." (Nominated by Tom Listmann) Note: I went to Bookshop Santa Cruz in September. It's large and inviting, well recovered since the 1989 earthquake. But I'm not sure it's Hall of Fame-worthy.
Logos Used Books, 1117 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, Calif. "A store in the fine tradition of, and as good as, the great Berkeley used bookstores." (Nominated by Tom Listmann)
Boston Book Annex, 906 Beacon St., Boston, Mass. "This is the original, charmingly old-fashioned basement walkdown near Fenway Park, as opposed to the yupscale second store branch in Jamaica Plain (I only hope the latter hasn't absorbed the former since I was last in Boston circa 1990)." (Nominated by David Loftus)
Tattered Cover, 2955 E. First Ave., Denver Colo. I only wish I had been to this bookstore, which is said to rival Powell's in Portland, Ore. I'm sure as soon as I get there, it will make the Bookstore Hall of Fame. (Nominated by Evelyn Leeper and Karen Andrews)
Globe Bookstore and Coffee House, Pstrossova 6, Prague, Czech Republic. "It's not big, not extensive ... but atmospheric, very cool, and in Prague ..." (Nominated by Mark Baker)
Update: New location, Web site.
Banyen Books & Sound, 2671 West Broadway, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. "27 years of serving the spiritual community." (Nominated by Gene Schwartz)
Polonia Bookstore, 4738 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Polish books. (Nominated by Wojciech Tatina)
Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe, 55 Haywood St., Asheville, N.C. "The best independent bookstore in the southeast." (Nominated by KNS Maré)
Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City, Iowa. Staff recommendations, in-store events, all the right stuff. I don't know when I'll get to Iowa to check this store out, but it looks great. (Nominated by Liz Rockhold)
Montague Bookmill, Montague, Mass. (near Amherst). "An old barn by a waterfall *packed* with used books." (Nominated by Jenny)
Seminary Coop, 5757 S. University Ave., Chicago (on the UChicago campus). "Awesome selection of new books, esp academic and fiction." (Nominated by Jenny)
Powell's Bookstores, 1501 E. 57th St., Chicago (Hyde Park) [Two other locations]. "Huge selection of used books, skewed toward academic titles." (Nominated by Jenny)
Harvard Bookstore, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass. "A classic but a very solid store with a fun bargain/used basement." (Nominated by Jenny)
New England Mobile Book Fair, 82-84 Needham St., Newton, Mass. "Gigantic warehouse full of books, something for everyone, exhaustive from maps to academic books to cookbooks to used books, all discounted." (Nominated by Jenny)
Booklovers Used Books, Magazines & Music, 175 East Third St., North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. (E-mail: email@example.com) "Huge, often chaotic collection of everything. There's order around the edges and the sole proprietor is very helpful, but the overflowing 'new arrivals' pile dominates the entranceway. This store operates as a 'book rescue' depot, accepts everything and has a 'no reasonable offer refused' philosophy. Lots of freebies outside." (Nominated by amor defemina)
Northshire Bookstore, 4869 Main St., Manchester Center, Vt. "Not only a great independent bookseller, but a leader in raising the public's consciousness about government intervention in respect to the freedom to read." (Nominated by Robin K. Blum)
The Owl's Nest Bookstore, 411 Chestnut St., Atlantic, Iowa. (Anonymous nomination)
Book Thing, Baltimore, Md. Apparently, they have free books there. (Anonymous nomination)
Book Works/Pannikin Coffee House, 2720 Via de la Valle, Del Mar, Calif. "Located on the third floor of the small Flower Hill Mall in San Diego county. Very close to the Beach and also the racetrack. This bookstore has wood floors, chairs to sit in, comfortable lighting and people read the books being offered with no hassle. Adjoining the bookstore with a walk thru doorway is the Pannikin coffee shop. There one can read in the many chairs (they have bookcases full of interesting books) and drink their bevarage and have a piece of cake or whatever. The atmosphere is very peaceful with windowseats and students often come there to study. On weekends there are free music gatherings and there are several fairly good inexpensive restaurants located in this mall. It is kid friendly." (Nominated by Stephen Segall)
Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. Recommended for its selection, readings (often seen on C-Span) and other activities, coffee bar, stuffed armchairs, and knowledgable staff. (Anonymous nomination)
Shakespeare and Company, 37 Rue de la Bücherie, Paris The legendary bookstore in Paris. I'm sure this one would easily be on my list if I had visited there before now. Someday, I'll get there, and it will make the official list above. (Nominated by Reggie Stefaniszyn)
Text in quotes comes from the nominators.
Notable Specialized Bookstores
- Art: Hacker Strand Art Books, 45 W. 57th St., New York (Now owned by the Strand Book Store)
- Asian Studies: Eastwind Books of Berkeley, 2066 University Ave., Berkeley
- Foreign Language: Schoenhof's Foreign Books, 76A Mt. Auburn St., Cambridge, Mass.
- Maps and Travel: Stanfords Maps, Charts, Books, 12-14 Long Acre (off St. Martin's Lane), Covent Garden, London
- Poetry: Grolier Poetry Book Shop, 6 Plympton St., Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass.
- Politics: Modern Times, 888 Valencia St., San Francisco (the other bookstore in the city named for a Chaplin film)
I'm not taking nominations for this section, since it's just a few special bookstores I couldn't stand to leave off the page.
Other Lists of Bookstores
- Booksellers, member directory from the American Booksellers Association
- Booksense, a consortium of independent booksellers. Search for a member store near you. You can even search by the title of a book and find the nearest Booksense store that has it, thus making it easier to avoid the chains.
- Lists of Bookstores Around the World by Evelyn Leeper and others
- Best Indie Bookstores on Twitter
- Fearless Independent Bookstores
- A List of Good, Better, Best Bookshops, Bookstores, and Booksellers (Vincent McCaffrey)
- Nine Destination Bookstores Worth Putting on a Tourist's Intinerary, USA Today, Jan. 8, 2008
- Jeremy Mercer's Top 10 Bookshops - List of European and North American bookstores by the author of a book about Shakespeare and Co., Paris (The Guardian). Also, Guardian readers' recommendations of U.K. bookshops.
- Neighborhood Bookstores in the Seattle area (KPLU)
- New Pages Guide to Independent Bookstores
- Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
- Top Independent Bookstores
- Brian's List of Berkeley Bookstores
- The Curated Bookshelf - Neighborhood bookstores in New York (New York magazine, Nov. 30, 2008)
- Favorite Bookstores of Tom Van Vleck in the Bay Area
- Grow-a-Brain: Bookstore Archives
- Islands in the Stream: A Walking Tour of New York's Independent Booksellers (The Millions, Apr. 21, 2007)
- Lewis Buzbee, in his book The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop (Graywolf Press, 2006), pages 175-198, writes about his favorite bookstores, in the Bay Area and elsewhere. Find it in a library
- Bookstore Tourism - Larry Portzline promotes the idea of traveling to bookstores in his new book (buy it or read it online). He mentions a few cities and bookstores.
Lists with criteria similar to my own:
They Live On in Our Hearts
- Applause Books, New York
- Avenue Victor Hugo, Boston
- Blue Door Bookstore, San Diego
- Cody's Books, Berkeley
- Dutton's, Los Angeles
- Gotham Book Mart, New York
- Ruminator Books (a.k.a. Hungry Mind), St. Paul
- Wordsworth Books, Cambridge, Mass.