by Juhi Singhal Karan
A visit to the bookstore is a perfect outing—and when a place has a personality all its own, it inspires a special kind of loyalty among authors. Today, five bloomers share their favorite independent bookstores. If you find yourself in their neighborhoods, make sure to drop by!
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop, Galway, Ireland
There’s a hushed atmosphere inside Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway that delivers a sense of peace and ease and rightness, of being at home. The outside world falls away as I move from room to room, up and down steps, in this labyrinthine book-world. There’s a smell too—wood and old paper—which is familiar and comforting. My eyes greedily scan the table displays and shelves with a rising sense of expectation, and the adrenaline flows, the fingers tingle. I know—because it almost always happens—that I will turn a corner and leave my hand on some treasure. It’s like a homing instinct. Even before I open the book my heart is racing because, instinctively, I know this is a book I cannot be without, one that magically fits me at this moment. I clutch it to me, selfishly guarding it in case another customer gets it, half afraid, too, as I make my way to the cash register, that a tap on the shoulder will reveal that an error was made and the book is not for sale after all.
I found some of my most important books in Charlie Byrne’s, all come upon unexpectedly—an essay on Rodin by Rilke published in 1946, Winter Pollen by Ted Hughes, Rilke’s poetry, Camus’ essays, JM Coetzee’s essays.
Occasionally I exchange some book-talk with the manager but in the two decades I’ve been frequenting this shop I have, mostly, been left to my private browsing, nosing slowly through the shop, adding another book to my little pile, or sitting on a footstool in a quiet corner for ages stealing a read of a literary journal or a collection of poetry.
Like all good bookshops the owner and staff at Charlie Byrne’s know about books and readers intuitively—the knowledge is imprinted on their DNA. In this little corner of Galway they simply place in our paths gems that beckon to us as we move along the hushed aisles and passageways.
Click here to read our feature on Mary Costello
Book Passage, Corte Madera, California
“Bookstore” is a pretty skimpy word to describe this heaven for book lovers. At Book Passage in Corte Madera, California, books are everywhere, they embrace you, call out to you, you can’t walk more than a few steps without reaching for one. Anticipating the words on the page, you sit in the café and indulge in the pleasure of reading.
But. There’s a voice calling. You head to the source—an author! An author and an audience and the flow of words through the mind. So many authors—look at the packed calendar—you could spend every single day here listening to George Saunders, Gary Shteyngart, Marilynn Robinson, Jimmy Carter, on and on. Wander to the annex and pull back the accordion doors to find a teacher and writers busy mapping out their memoirs. Or come to the Mystery Writers Conference (Or Children’s Writers or Travel and Photographers . . .) or join a Book Group, or study a language—French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese. Or take a cooking class with a cookbook author. Not sure what to read next? Look to “Elaine’s Picks”—Elaine Petrocelli, the owner herself, bothers to read wheelbarrows of books, selecting gems for each month.
It’s a hub, a beehive, a big beating heart in love with books and all things bookly—the written word, readers, writers, the community, which is you and me. You can’t stand it. You pick up another book, rub your finger along the spine. How can you possibly say no?
Click here to read our feature on Nina Schuyler
Water Street Bookstore, Exeter, New Hampshire
RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
According to Google maps, I live 6.9 miles from Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, NH, and 9.1 miles from RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH. And like some migratory bird, I feel these magnetic poles both tugging on me. Maybe it has to do with living in a place that often feels like a nexus of opposites—the ocean in one direction, the mountains and lakes in the other; Boston bellowing just a bit to the south, Maine whispering “The way life should be!” to the north, and a giant, sprawling estuary whose tidal waters muscle in at every turn, rising and falling as the rivers run and occasionally turn nearby streets to water.
Water Street was my hometown store for half a decade, emphasis on home. I got so comfortable that once, after seeing a local poet read, I strolled merrily out with his book, only to realize that I hadn’t paid for it (I slipped stealthily back inside and resumed chatting amiably, double-time, with various people before paying). The staff picks are impeccable, neatly typed with the defiant exception of Mark Decarteret’s, these hand-scrawled prose poems that steer readers toward the eccentric and linguistically bold and might very well be issued as broadsides.
RiverRun I’ve known in three different locations, from the back-alley nook with low-hanging wood beams that housed my writing group to the veritable superstore in the center of town, and now back on a side-street, more intimate but still thriving. It’s the kind of place where a move to new digs might bring out the literary bucket brigade in force, Nicholson Baker blending into the middle of the line to the extent that a tall, famous writer can, shuttling books along. Michele Filgate and Liberty Hardy helped put Portsmouth squarely on the literary map by booking an average of 14,000 amazing events per year and making sure that I rarely have a free evening or inch of shelf space. And both stores and their owners, Dan Chartrand and Tom Holbrook, respectively, have been unstintingly generous to me as an author—I debuted my collection at Water Street, and shortly thereafter debuted my sangria at RiverRun (the sangria was the far more challenging to sign).
Here I am, then, happily perched between these great stores, and feeling each time in their presence as migratory birds must instinctively feel when certain familiar sites come into view again—relieved, renewed, sustained, themselves.
Click here to read our feature on Tim Horvath
Newtonville Books, Boston, Massachusetts
Trident Booksellers, Boston, Massachusetts
I’m lucky enough to live in the literate city of Boston, where there are many thriving independent bookstores. Two of my favorites are Newtonville Books in Newton Center, and Trident Booksellers on Newbury Street in the heart of Boston.
Newtonville Books is a cozy shop owned and run by two writers, Jaime Clarke and Mary Cotton. Jaime and Mary keep smart shelves and bring in a host of A-listers for their reading series. It’s amazing to hear Rick Moody or Rachel Kushner read in such an intimate atmosphere, and the crowd is friendly and extremely well-read. Events often spill over to the pub nearby. Newtonville Books runs a “celebrity bookclub,” hosts writing workshops, and sells clever book-themed baby onesies. It’s a real community affair.
When I want to lose myself in shelf-browsing, I head to Trident, whose owners, Bernie and Gail Flynn, opened the shop as a place people could go to read books and drink coffee (how did they know?). They stock a formidable literary magazine rack and have a Buddhist bent, and their “new release” section shows that they are in the know with what’s happening in the literary scene. The attached café has a full juice bar and “perpetual breakfast,” and a massive menu that includes everything from burgers to vegetarian Tibetan momos. It’s a haven in the city.
Click here to read an excerpt Alden Jones’s debut collection
Quail Ridge Books: an Abecedarium, Raleigh, North Carolina
Here are twenty-six things my friends and I like about Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh.
- “The authenticity,” says Marilyn Bara. “It’s a real, alive place, not a place that’s made to look like a real, alive place.”
- Good books—“not just remainders and coffee table books with pictures of fourteenth-century ships,” says my husband.
- A large, central, well-lit, well-staffed counter.
- Discounts for Readers’ Club members, teachers, businesses, and book clubs.
- Events almost daily—readings (see #18), in-store book clubs, workshops, community meetings, concerts.
- Whole Foods, a few doors down, where you can get a quick, healthy dinner before a reading. There’s almost always fish and kale and sweet potatoes on the hot bar.
- Nancy Olson, the original owner and everyone’s literary fairy godmother. She retired last year but still recommends books and, on lucky nights, appears at events.
- Easy-to-remember hours: 9-9 every day except on major holidays and inventory day.
- Intimacy. “I love it that they call me by my name,” says food writer Sheri Castle.
- Journals, cards, bookplates, and other tastefully curated literary merchandise.
- A knowledgeable, well-read, always helpful staff.
- Support for local authors. If you are one, launch your book here and the staff will teach you how to do a reading.
- Sarah Goddin, longtime store manager—warm, wise, experienced.
- Newsletters. Use these to plan your reading list and your social life.
- Lisa Poole, the store’s gracious new owner and bright assurance of its future.
- The logo: who doesn’t love a quail?
- Readings—this month, John Dean, Kevin McAteer, Sam Stephenson, Tom Angleberger, Margaret Maron, Al Perry, Robin Hutton, Beth Macy, Ann B. Ross, Jenny Milchman, Scott Davis, Jon Scieszka, Ace Atkins, Martha Woodroof, and John Scalzi.
- Space to meander and browse. Children have their own room, away from where adult readings take place.
- Tables with books displayed face-up. I always start here.
- “Useful recommendations,” says Susan Hargrove. Just plain “useful,” says Pat Walker. “Need a birthday present? Some music to fit your mood? A special book for a school paper? A group of like-minded people to talk about books? Quail Ridge is your place.”
- Convenient location at Ridgewood Shopping Center on Wade Avenue. “I remember where it is and how to get there,” says Ron Nickels.
- A xenial, welcoming atmosphere but no sales pressure. “They don’t care how long you stay there, looking, browsing, reading without buying—that time,” says Jennie Bireline, “knowing that you are someone who often buys another time.”
- Year-round free gift wrap. My husband likes the world map paper; I’m partial to the frogs.
- Jennie Bireline again: “Zero hassle, ever.”
Click here to read an excerpt from Kim Church’s debut novel
Homepage photo credit: radioher via photopin cc
Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop photo courtesy Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop
Book Passage photo courstesy Ferry Building Marketplace
Water Street Bookstore photo courtesy LibraryThing
RiverRun Bookstore photo courtesy Writer’s Bone
Newtonville Books photo courtesy Boston Writers Review
Trident Booksellers photo courtesy City Rover Media