Favorite Indies

This was originally posted on a book design blog that went defunct at the end of 2007. You can read the originally entry here but I will post it in full as well. It was my response when asked what were some of my favorite independent bookstores (besides my own).

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You didn’t expect me to just list my favorite bookshops like everyone else did in the comment section of Amanda’s April 29th entry of, “What Is Your Favorite Indie Bookstore,” did you? Yes, I do realize this is exhaustively long but I did actually CUT a few so I did show some modicum of self control.

Store: Malaprops
Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Kitsch Factor: All of the sections have headings where the letters have been obtained from different sources so the whole bookstore looks like one big ransom note.
Laura Loves: This Publisher’s Weekly’s Bookstore of 2000 is my favorite local bookshop. What makes it so wonderful is how reflective it is of the city and, thus, what an integral part it is to the community just by its presence. I can’t think of “Asheville” without thinking of Thomas Wolfe, the Biltmore Estate, those sleazy hookers on Lexington Avenue, and Malaprops. It’s an Asheville institution. They have a fantastic stock and I’m often quite envious of what they carry (if only I could stock the same and it actually sell!) Plus, they carry Stella Marrs postcards which, more often than not, rule. To top it all off, in their cafe for the paltry sum of $3 they will sell you a cup of hot chocolate so huge that it could be used as a life boat in case of any flooding emergencies.

Store: Andover Bookstore.
Location: Andover, MA (Yeah, don’t let the creativity of the name overwhelm you. At least you won’t forget where you are — which might not be such as a temptation as it might be in other places like, oh say, Utah.)
Kitsch Factor: It’s the second oldest bookstore in the US (founded in 1809) and once was a barn. It has three floors and this huge brick fireplace basically in the middle of the store. Of course, all this was gleamed from pressing my nose up against the glass as it was New Year’s Day and closed. (My own bookstore was closed that day as well. On the close out report my father had printed “Closed – due to miscreant management.” The warm fuzzies provided from working with one’s relatives are never ending.)
Laura Loves: On my second visit, I got to plunder around to find that they have a fantastic poetry section which made me very jealous. I cuddled up with my two traveling companions on the couch in front of the fireplace as we flipped through various volumes. It was the coziest I’ve ever been in a bookstore. Well, until my shoulder fell asleep while housing my friend’s head as, at some point, girl X confessed to liking Carl Sandburg. Now it has to be referred to as The Day I Lost A Sister.

Store: Millrace Bookshop In The Grist Mill
Location: Farmington, CT
Kitsch Factor: It’s in a Grist Mill – it’s all kitsch factor.
I actually found this while looking for The Book Mill which is in Montague MA though I didn’t know that at the time. I had just heard tale of a fabulous used bookstore complete with cafe, art gallery, and small performance space in a three story converted wooden mill that is at least 150 years old which is set right beside a waterfall. With the Millrace I found – well a small performance space… It’s the tiniest bookshop ever. While it has a lot of local books and pamphlets which I enjoyed, including an audio guide to the local cemeteries which are fascinating, it’s like a Nicholas Sparks novel: the look is more appealing than the content.

Store: The Bookloft
Location: Great Barrington, MA
Kitschless
Laura Loves: This bookshop is the exact opposite of Millrace it’s in a building with no personality (kind of like me) in a shopping center. Yet, it’s this fantastic bookshop and very cozy. Mostly new books but with a wall of used ones in the back. They sport a lot of sideline items with regional artwork or flavor (notecards in handmade wooden boxes) which are fantastic. Plus, when you stumble over yourself and almost drop the tower of books you were carrying then turn around to realize one of the bookstore’s employees is standing there staring at you like the freak you are with all you can think of to say is, “Oh – am I in your way” knowing full well that with your windmillesque actions you’re probably in the way of your dog who is still back home they simply smile and say, “Oh no – I’m in my own way but you’re fine.” Thus, making you feel much better about your clumsiness.

Store: Quail Ridge Books
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Kitschless
Laura Loves: The other store which I group in the same category as Bookloft is Publisher Weekly’s 2001 bookstore of the year. Their strength is an incredible childrens department. The last time I was there, they were having a birthday party for Curious George there which was incredibly DARLING. Instead of pin the tail on the donkey, they were playing “pin the hat on the man in yellow”. Aww. Plus, any store which hosted its own Cornbread Bake Off is tops in my book. (Note how no sugar is involved in this recipe. Please note you fools who keep trying to pass of sweet cornbread as cornbread.)

Store: Atomic Books
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Kitsch Factor: This is where you’ll find the kitsch for your factor, baby.
Laura Loves: They have a framed picture of Steve Buscemi prominently displayed. Ok, I have to say that twice. They have a framed picture of Steve Buscemi prominently displayed.

Atomic doesn’t seem as much as a bookstore as it does this guy who has a store who carries things he really likes. Thus, there’s a smattering of cds, videos, comics, comic sidelines (Rebecca & Enid dolls!), and books. I might just like it as much as I do because I’m incredibly envious of the fellow. Also, they sport an incredibly thorough and hilarious bookstore e-mail newsletter (mostly focusing on comics and graphic novels) which is among the best I’ve ever received (and I subscribe to a few). I want to die there – with one arm around the Buscemi picture and the other around the Rebecca and Enid dolls.

Store: Otto’s Bookshop
Location: Williamsport, PA
Kitsch Factor: An older store – having been around since 1877

Laura Loves: The most impressive thing about this place is the fact that their employees know EVERYTHING. I overheard people ask about some really obscure authors and they knew (off the top of their heads, mind you) who published them, when that house had gone out of business, and which different publishers had taken over their authors which would be most likely to have the book. It was amazing. I just wanted to sit on the service desk and eat popcorn as I watched them work. It is obviously a family running the store and the adult children have grown up in the bookstore. It’s a beautiful thing.





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