As someone who lives very much in his head, for me, visiting a good bookstore is like wandering a city. I get lost. I lose all track of time. I forget to eat. It’s not about “getting lost in a book,” or some other romantic notion of literature. I tend towards the non-fiction aisles, where I can engage with a world of ideas – political, scientific, social, cultural, experiential, historic.
Inspired by this article in the Guardian, I thought I’d catalog my favorite bookstores. I’m not nearly as worldly as Mr Mercer, but there are a number of places I find myself returning to as I travel (whether in other cities, or just around the Bay Area).
Green Apple Books
San Francisco, Clement St. just off of 6th Avenue.
Quite possibly my favorite bookstore. Green Apple is a remarkable place for getting lost. I can spend hours roaming the Winchester-Mystery-House-Like aisles, skimming spines, loading myself down with tomes. They also have the best “New Arrivals” shelf of any used book store in San Francisco, often with review copies of new books at way-below cover price.
Powell’s City of Books
Portland’s number one tourist destination, and with good reason. You can take a whole day here, and not wander every aisle. Particularly important in the Powell’s-verse are the specialty bookstores offsite — the science and technology bookstore not far from the main site, and the home and garden store on Hawthorn clear across town.
Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
I came to love Moe’s as an undergrad at Cal. As a resident of Berkeley, Moe’s provides a reason for trekking to the otherwise undesirable strip known as Telegraph Ave. Four floors of books, I immediately head to the third — physics, engineering, sociology, film, comix, cognitive science. Thanks to the proximity to Cal, you can find smarty-pants used books here that are difficult to come by otherwise.
My one must-visit destination whenever I return to Chicago. Quimby’s is a shrine to alternative media — zines, indie comix, small press books.
Housing Works Used Books Cafe
Crosby Street, New York, NY.
A welcome respite in the hugger-mugger of Manhattan. Though the selection is small, it’s of good quality, so you’re likely to find something worth getting. A cafe in the back encourages lingering, and all proceeds go to an excellent cause.
St Marks Book Shop
Just off Astor Place, New York, NY.
Mmmmm, edgy. Lodged between NYU and the East Village, the St Marks Book Shop bursts with intellectual tomes, with heavy representation from post-modernism, critical theory, Frenchies, and the like. Its thriving existence surrounded by mega-chain book stores proves that Barnes and Noble’s doesn’t put bookstores out of business — it just puts bad bookstores out of business.
Gotham Book Mart
46th Ave, New York, NY.
The most literary of literary bookstores. Also, home to all things Edward Gorey.
MIT Press Book Store
Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA.
The MIT Press publishes a lot of great stuff, and this book store has it all, along with selections from other publishers as well. Always worth a trip to the “hurt books” shelf, where you can get new titles at remarkable discounts.
Other Bookstores I Like, Just Not As Much As Those Above
City I’m Surprised Doesn’t Have A Great Bookstore
Minneapolis. Unless I haven’t found it yet. I’ve seen the stores near the U, and there’s that one in Uptown, but really, for such a culturally vibrant city, it’s surprising that there’s no bookstore mecca. Or maybe I just haven’t found it? Or it’s over in St. Paul?
Please Don’t Mention This Bookstore in the Comments
The Strand, in New York City. I hate the Strand and it’s 8 miles of books. I do not go shopping in order to be endlessly bumped and jostled, nor to sift through piles and piles of crap to get at anything good.