Creating this list of the best bookstores in Boston was easy for me; I’ve lived out more than my share of novel-worthy moments perusing the shelves of Boston’s independent bookstores. Desperate searches for sold-out literature class requirements led to cathartic endings at the always fruitful Brookline Booksmith, and insightful coming-of-age tales came my way through the thoughtful curation at Calamus Bookstore, one of the nation’s only dedicated LGBT inventories. The best stories included long chapters about losing track of time in used book basements, like the one at Harvard Book Store, stocked with hundreds of hand-me-downs from well-read Ivy League students and professors. Rare and antiquated book lovers should flock to downtown’s more historic Brattle Book Shop, where you can also find a map, or helpful store clerk, to point you in the direction of similar landmark stores within walking distance. In lieu of independent bookstores closing up shop in recent years, community support has kept these local go-tos going strong.
Step through the door at this Coolidge Corner staple and be greeted by a half-dozen tables stacked with marked-down bestsellers. I always make a beeline for the Globe Corner Travel Annex, a section for both active and armchair travelers where you’ll find wall maps, uncommon guidebooks, and lots of local area field guides.
This bookshop is one of the few in the nation committed to literature for the LGBTQ community. The late-owner John Mitzel was a legendary personality and gay rights activist in Boston, and opened Calamus after the closing of Glad Day Bookshop in Back Bay, where he served as manager for 16 years.
Harvard Book Store
In 1932, owner and native Bostonian Mark S. Kramer opened up this shop with no more than $300 in his back pocket, creating an unofficial local landmark. Once per season, they open their storage warehouse in Somerville for a massive sale of stacks upon stacks of used and bargain books.
Trident Bookstore & Cafe
At a time when there were very few places to sit down with a fine cup of Joe, Bernie and Gail Flynn opened this bookstore/coffee shop on “the wrong end of Newbury.” The upstairs cafe hosts book talks, author readings, and cooking demonstrations based on books by local writers and chefs.
Brattle Book Shop
When the weather is warm, Brattle Book Shop—one of America’s oldest bookstores—fills the adjacent lot with $1, $3 and $5 used and out-of-print finds. I once walked away with a dearly treasured copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle printed in 1963, with brittle pages, yellowed edges, old bookstore scent and all.