Published: June 2009
By Nicole Whitsett
Top authors reveal the literary haunts they keep returning to
Traveling bibliophiles tend to lug a year's worth of reading material for a weeklong trip. We suggest an alternative: grab a paperback for the plane, and regain your literary bearings on arrival by visiting a great bookstore. But where to go?Here, advice from those who know: writers themselves.
Favorite bookstore: Cultura Latina, Long Beach, Calif.
"The owners, Roberto and Anita Cano, welcome you as if the phrase mi casa es su casa applies also to bookstores. They have created a virtual cultural center and stock everything you might want to read that focuses on Latino culture, from children's books to the latest novel by Isabel Allende or a young writer you've never heard of. You must go to one of the readings— they're veritable literary fiestas. Spanish crackles in the air, and you're bound to make a friend or two or three." 4125 Norse Way; 562/982-1515.
Another favorite: Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vt. ("like your grandmother's house").
Favorite bookstore: Crawford Doyle, New York
"Practically all my favorites are gone, but one of the few still around is Crawford Doyle. Dot McCleary, who used to work in New York's Old Burlington, now defunct, works here. That's what makes the difference: people who know and like books, not someone who might as well be working in McDonald's." 1082 Madison Ave.; 212/288-6300.
Favorite bookstore: Waterstone's, Canterbury, England
"Canterbury has a lot of romantic associations for me, starting with the Canterbury Tales, which I read in high school. Waterstone's, in the heart of this historic city, has one of the best selections of mythology anywhere. It's within a two-minute walk of Canterbury Cathedral and St. Augustine Abbey." 20/21 Saint Margarets St.; 44-122/745-6343.
Another favorite: Beyond Words in Northampton, Mass.
Favorite bookstore: Diane's Books, Greenwich, Conn.
"Diane Garrett is a wild woman— swear to God, she's read every book in her store. She's so full of energy. She runs great readings, puts out a newsletter, and is truly devoted to promoting the authors she likes, regardless of what anyone thinks. One of the things I love about her is that she just doesn't shut up! I don't know how she does it all." 8A Grigg St.; 203/869-1515.
Other favorites: Water Street Books in Exeter, Mass.; Anderson's in Chicago; Kepler's Books & Magazines in Menlo Park, Calif.
Favorite bookstore: Explore Booksellers and Bistro, Aspen, Colo.
"It's a house, not a shop, a beautiful Victorian on the snowy main street. The sign says explore, and a bell— is this my imagination?— jingles as the door opens. Within, from the first instant, comfort and warmth, a feeling not much different from coming home at Christmas. Books are everywhere, piled on tables, filling the shelves. You soon see that the word explore is an invitation but much of the exploring has been done for you. Upstairs there's a fireplace and a small restaurant; downstairs, informed helpers. Katharine Thalberg has for more than 20 years made her passion for books come alive here. Every town should be so lucky." 221 E. Main St.; 970/925-9336.
Favorite bookstore: R. J. Julia, Madison, Conn.
"It is very Connecticut without being insufferably WASPy. The owner, Roxanne Coady, loves books and writers with an earthy, joyous, in-your-face passion." 768 Boston Post Rd.; 203/245-3959.
Favorite bookstore: Williams Corner, Charlottesville, Va.
"Michael Williams, the owner, is a man who can come up with the title of the book you're looking for when you've forgotten the name of the author and think it may be a first novel about firemen or possibly a former fireman's memoir. He runs a fascinating reading series (and did before they were oh-so-fashionable). Let the others watch their puppet shows and sip their cappuccinos. This is a bookstore with ambiance that exists apart from caffeine." 222 E. Main St.; 804/977-4858.
Favorite bookstore: Annex Books, Toronto, Ont.
"It's timeless, a kind of archaeological site for used and rare books. You find your past there— the same edition of a thriller you read when you were 17, the purple-bordered Penguin classics, the dated, brazen covers of Tobacco Road and The Wild Palms." 1083 Bathurst St.; 416/537-1852.
Another favorite: Writers & Co. in Toronto ("No shelf space is wasted: you get to the f's and you've already got an armful of good books").
Favorite bookstore: Three Lives, New York
"Absolutely top-notch material. And the people working there are great. They're helpful, prompt in ordering what you need— I mean lightning fast— and friendly. Employees in some bookstores are at a loss for any type of identity and act as if they're so far above you, a member of the unreconstructed, illiterate masses. But at Three Lives, they love books and they love people. Anybody can stumble in off the street and feel welcome." 154 W. 10th St.; 212/741-2069.
Favorite bookstore: The Village Voice, Paris
"This shop is wonderful, largely because of the appealing proprietor, Madame Odile Hellier, who was honored by the French government last year for her contribution to the arts. She is the doyenne of English-language literature in Paris." 6 Rue Princesse; 33-1/46-33-36-47.
Other favorites: Marga Schoeller Bookstore in Berlin ("Germans are serious about knowing books"); Lemuria and Square Books in Jackson, Miss. ("Both have brought literary awareness to Mississippi").
David Foster Wallace
Favorite bookstore: Babbit's Bookstore, Normal, Ill.
"It resembles the library of a wealthy and not especially tidy bibliophile. You can get an incredibly good used book here for 50 cents. Old-fashioned and cramped, it has ceilings so high you need a ladder to reach some of the books; it's like a wormhole back to the 1940's. There aren't any lounge chairs, but there's a great coffee shop next door." 104 North St.; 309/454-7393.
Other favorites: Pages for All Ages in Champaign, Ill.; Barbara's Bookstore in Chicago.
Favorite bookstore: Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, Mass.
"Joan Grenier runs a great family business in Emily Dickinson's college town." 9 College St.; 413/534-7307.
Another favorite: Book Soup in West Hollywood, Calif.
Favorite bookstore: Dutton's, Los Angeles
"In a town where 'good book' means one that lends itself to the movie screen, 'bad book' means one that resists adaptation, and 'reading' a book often means having someone on the payroll do it for you, Dutton's is a joyous anomaly: a purveyor and supporter of good books in the old-fashioned sense. A quirky warren of tome-packed rooms around a courtyard, Dutton's also manages to attract thoughtful and literate audiences to its frequent author readings." 11975 San Vicente Blvd.; 310/476-6263.
Other favorites: Black Oak Books in Berkeley; Printers Inc. Bookstore in Palo Alto, Calif.
Anne Rivers Siddons
Favorite bookstore: A Clean, Well-Lighted Place for Books, Larkspur, Calif.
"I like the Marin County branch [the original shop is in San Francisco] for its pure, almost 1920's aura. Leona Weiss, Neal Sofman, and John Weichman opened this independent bookstore in 1978 and named it after a short story by Hemingway. It is known for its children's books but also has a great selection of literature." 2417 Larkspur Landing Circle; 415/461-0171.
Another favorite: Bunch of Grapes on Martha's Vineyard ("a first-rate store that almost perfectly mirrors the exuberant personality of owner Ann Nelson").
Favorite bookstore: Elliot Bay Book Co., Seattle
"There are a lot of independent bookstores that I really love, but Elliot Bay stands out. I believe it started the trend of having cafés in bookstores. It's huge and holds fantastic readings; it usually draws a full house even for poetry readings, which is unusual." 101 S. Main St.; 206/624-6600.
Other favorites: Powell's in Portland, Oreg.; Tattered Cover in Denver; Hungry Mind in St. Paul; Maine Coast Book Shop in Damariscotta, Maine; Broadside Bookstore in Northampton, Mass.
Favorite bookstore: G. Heywood Hill, London
"For 40 years I've used Heywood Hill." 10 Curzon St.; 44-171/629-0647.
Other favorites: Gotham Book Mart in New York ("a favorite for half a century"); Amazon.com, a bookstore on the Web ("the Amazonian wonder").
Favorite bookstore: The Lion Bookshop, Rome
"What's wonderful is the Lion's location, in an old building in a Renaissance/Baroque quarter of Rome, on Via del Babuino, which means 'the street of the baboon.' It's an English-language store that started off small and kept getting bigger, borrowing rooms from adjacent apartments. It's a labyrinth. It looks primitive but is fabulous." Via del Babuino; 396/322-5837.
BUILDING A TOWN, BOOK BY BOOK
It is a growing phenomenon: a place devoted almost entirely to bookstores. In 1961, Richard Booth transformed Hay-on-Wye, Wales, into a hamlet of 30 shops and 25 dealers in rare books; it was the first book town and is still the most famous, drawing fans from all over. Novelist Larry McMurtry is turning his hometown of Archer City, Texas, into the United States' second book town (Stillwater, Minnesota, came first) by buying up inventory whenever a used-book retailerin the country goes out of business. Here are other literary oases:
Damme and Redu, Belgium
Sidney, British Columbia, Canada
For more locations, check out http://booktown.com.