I should say up front that coastal Maine is a paradise for those who want to surf disorganized shelves of used and antiquarian books. The flea markets, antique dealers, and straight-up junk stores that flank U.S. Hwy. 1 (among other routes) are a treasury of dog-eared paperbacks and dusty first editions. You never know what you might find, and for serious bibliophiles, it’s well worth a road trip just to browse.
But Maine is also home to a vibrant literary scene for both readers and writers, and the state’s best bookstores stock obscure literary magazines alongside the latest beach reads and regularly host big-name authors. It helps, of course, that so many distinguished writers make their homes in Maine (if only seasonally), from suspense master Stephen King to Pulitzer Prize winners Richard Ford, Michael Chabon, and Elizabeth Strout. With luminaries like these as the home team, it’s not uncommon in Maine to stop by an indie bookshop in a town with one stoplight and find a bestselling author holding court. Check the events calendars before stopping by these top five.
Music and movies tend to get top billing at Maine’s beloved media chain, but the sprawling South Portland location has an impressive book selection and gets bonus points for its large and nicely curated selection of graphic novels. Hunters of both new and used titles can get lost in the stacks here.
This closet of a store in downtown Hallowell is rarely staffed. After surfing the quasi-organized shelves and floor piles stacked up alongside, patrons are simply asked to pay on the honor system, mail a check, or return the book later. It’d be worth a visit for the novelty alone, but the jam-packed shelves hold some treasures—and bargains.
Jonathan Lethem is among the co-owners at this unassuming storehouse of literary ephemera—more a hangout for book lovers than a store for casual readers. Find historic diaries and elegantly bound obscurities next to campy pulp fiction and paperback philosophy texts. Red Gap keeps unpredictable hours, but couches and espresso facilitate lingering.
Portland’s indie bookstore par excellence, Longfellow not only has new and used departments a person can get lost in, it also has one of the best newsstands in the state, a perennially packed calendar of readings and events, and a supremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff that can cater recommendations to your tastes.
Maine Coast Book Shop
Only in Maine can a village of 2,000 sustain a bookstore this large, diverse, and well-stocked. Among other things, Maine Coast devotes substantial space to children’s and young adult lit, and its section for Maine authors and interests is unparalleled. During the summer, authors both promising and prolific stop by up to three times a week.