Bibliophiles unite! A trip around the world, a book from almost every corner! Behold!
I lied to you just now. It's not from every corner- it's just from the corners I have visited which are mostly Stateside and Western Europe. I do try to visit a used bookstore on every trip, but sometimes that's not possible. Stores close early (Ireland), sometimes they're just isn't one where I am (Mexico) or I just neglected to look anything up because Chris does not love spending an hour(s) looking at books like I do (Los Angeles).
Away from the woes and on to the victories here. As a book nerd, I've clearly been to many a'bookstore. I've made a short list of some of my favorites, stores that tell a story (PUN), are so beautiful, and really inclusive of all tastes. As I sit here at Union Station DC eating macarons and awaiting my training for the Library of Congress National Book Festival (brag) I can't help but focus, once again, on traveling and reading combined. Now, on to the books, eh?
Boekhandel Dominicanen, Maastricht, Netherlands
Can you spot me?
Story time (unintentional book pun but I'm havin' it!): I saw this bookshop for the first time on one of those Buzzfeed lists or something listing the most beautiful book stores in the world in 2014. It said the Netherlands so I immediately asked my Sista if she had been there. She'd never heard of it and it was in a city that is CLEAR across the country from them! Whoops! Knowing how obsessed I was with it, she and her husband took a drive out from Amsterdam to the South, right near the borders of Belgium and Germany to check it out for me. So when I visited them in the fall of 2017 we made it a point to go. And I tell you, it was more beautiful than any photo could ever portray. It's a 13th Century Gothic Dominican Cathedral turned book store complete with fresco paintings and vaulted ceilings. Before it became a book peddler it was a bike shop, a printer, a warehouse and a parish. It looks modest from the outside, you can hardy tell it's a business, let alone one talked about all over the world. It's stunning. Like crying to yourself, kick you in the heart spectacular. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of an architecture nerd when it comes to historic stylings but there's nothing at all like this store in the US. Some may try, but it's completely incomparable. They have sections for many languages, a children's section in one of the most beautiful spots and they even allow dogs! What more does a bookworm need? Well, it's Holland, so, a stroopwafel would be nice.
John King Books: Used and Rare Books, Detroit
Now, I know you're thinking that of course I would have to bring Detroit into this. Well, yes, of course I do! But I do really love this bookstore. It's not only my favorite in my state, but it's a nationwide favorite. It's been published in list after list of used and rare bookstores to visit in the US, in the world, in the universe. It's four stories, over one million books in their galleries and piled high with opportunities. Literally. Piles. It's madness inside with Dewey Decimal getting a workout but also a few upended piles of titles bursting from shelves, in corners and around end caps. It's overwhelming to those not in the book life, but SO so beautiful if you are. The views from the windows are as exquisite as the rows and rows of shelves on every topic imaginable. The only drawback is that they live on the whim of what comes in or what rarities they find themselves- so if you're going in to look for one specific title, it's best to just call ahead and ask rather than rake and rake through for nothing. A positive draw? It's allegedly haunted. Almost every employee that I have spoken with has a story to tell about the basement most notably, and I just hope I can get in there with my pals at DPX (check out our adventures here and here) one day for a book buying/ghost adventure combo platter.
I love this shop not only for the rainbow assortment of books, the great prices or the clever little nook of comfort in the middle. What really jazzes me up about Open Books is their community work. Open Books, established in 2006, is a non-profit org disguised as a book shop. They run on donation- donation of books and of time- and use the money earned to fund literacy programs, workshops and create safe spaces for children in the area to begin, improve and embark on great quests in their books. Every book you buy helps pay for a class, a speaker, an event to make reading fun, to aid the community, to change lives. The fact that I bought a book and a John Wayne enamel pin for less than the cost of a slice of pizza in Manhattan really speaks to my cheap side but it still pushes toward something bigger. They’re not trying to cash in, they’re just trying to grow. Open Books is trying to improve the culture of reading, and if it weren’t for the fact that it’s in Chicago, I’d donate my books and time to them as well. With stops in the Pilsner or West Loop sides of town I encourage you to take a few minutes to find a title you’d enjoy. It’s a two-fold joy of reading that one purchase supplies: yours and the community’s.
Word Bookstore, Brooklyn
WORD Bookstores, Green Point, Brooklyn, New York. Not Jersey City. Purely emotional favoritism right here. Oddly, I found Brooklyn as a whole a touch overwhelming. But the madness was worth it. The cold, worth it. Why? In April I stood in line in the evening, where temps lowered to about 40* and crawling lower to meet Matthew and take home his book Rumple Buttercup. The staff was so nice and cery generous with their time. I waited for 2.5 hours but I hear the event lasted 3 hours over schedule. That's dedication, my friends. Even in this shitstorm of female craziness, they were willing to look up Ellie Kemper's new book for me. It wasn't in stock yet but it was kind of them to try. The bookstore itself was no Dominican church, but looks cozy. This gorgeous little bookstore will always stay in my heart as the place I met one of my artistic heroes and botched it all at the same time! Maybe on my return Ellie will be on the shelf.
Word Bookstore, Brooklyn
Stack on stacks on stacks. Of books.
The Strand, Manhattan
A classic. A cliche. Basically a tourist trap. I’ve wanted to come to The Strand since high school- miles of books you say? Yes please. That’s the dream! And it was that indeed. I called it my mothership. It’s one of those rare moments in time when you feel like everything is coming together. It was a melding of two worlds for me- the, for some reason, punk rock view I have of NYC meeting the literary worlds I’ve always been a part of, all coming together on Broadway and 12th. As soon as I walked in I found roughly 37 books that I’d like to buy, but, since I’m walking for miles and miles per day I limited myself to one book as I was already carrying around Unbroken and had 1987 stashed in my backpack and another hard shell of Rumple Buttercup ordered for pick up in Brooklyn on Tuesday. I digress. The Strand is just as bookie glam/touristy as you’d think- piles of books, layers of Strand covered goods and clothing, everything was expensive. Everything. But I still love you, The Strand. They failed, to my actual slight shock, since again, I think this is a punk rock town, to have or even know what Henry Rollins’ Get In The Van was, and I wouldn’t be too much more surprised to find out that the clerks don't even know who he is! So I found another rock and roll themed book because it was the most affordable title and still cost as much as two meals in Manhattan. So, yes, I’ll be back again and again, because Union Square Park is my favorite spot in the city, and I’ll probably buy more things, but my joy was slightly rained upon at how much the trappings of it all were. You could get lost here and come out of a dream with 526 new books easily. From the outside it’s a megalithic field of dreams. Inside, it’s still that, t'was just more under the impression that it was at least a New and Used style store, not just kicked up new. My fault. I still love you, New York.
It's a short list of fave must-see bookworm action, but astonishing places nonetheless. Sometimes a store is incredible but the mood doesn't hit, or, like in Manhattan, I was looking for something specific and settled or left empty handed like in DC. I can't tell you why Get In The Van is so difficult to come by anymore but I will have it! I will. (Rollins is from DC, go figure)
Honorable mentions: Women and Children First- Chicago, Dubray Books- Dublin, Solid State Bookstore- DC. Most other independent and small used shops worldwide.
Chicago can get it. #pride