Five Bookstores nowhere near Boston

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Summer o’ Travel, 2012 edition. I’m off to Minnesota next week, Florida and Houston later this summer, maaaaybe Chicago, an undisclosed location for a three day weekend with my dear friend Jenny (AustinNewOrleansSanFran?) and best of all Beijing for three weeks in July/August! I haven’t been back since 2004. It’s The School’s first ever Chinese summer camp, and yours truly gets to chaperone. I’ll also be teaching an English/American culture class once a day, for which I’ll be paid. Best of all, the students traveling are the same ones I taught last year. We’ll get to review all our delicious food words and I can pester them with more stories about my high school days. Does it get better? Nope.

In honor of my upcoming travels, another Five Bookstores post. Some near, some far. Enjoy!

1. The Drama Book Shop, New York:

perfect for theater geeks like me

I discovered this haven for theater geeks at the height of my theater geekiness- my semester at the Eugene O’Neill in 2006. It’s small, cramped, and full of all the obscure Ionesco and Beckett a girl could ever want. There’s minimal theatrical paraphernalia as well- I’ve always wanted the $50 bust of Shakespeare they have for sale. Mostly though, it’s two unassuming floors of play goodness divided by genre waiting for you to purchase and put into action.

 

2. Shakespeare & Co., Paris:

Shakespeare & Co. was at the top of my Paris list when I visited in Summer 2010. I can’t remember if I heard of it before I saw Before Sunset, but the name alone makes it a priority. I’ve also harbored a long term secret desire to be a “tumbleweed”- one of the young writers the owner lets sleep in the beds scattered through the store in exchange for working there. Not unlike the movie, I arrived from Notre Dame (just down the street!) in the middle of a huge poetry reading. I shoved past the crowd and got happily lost in the wall to wall shelves. Not five minutes after arrival, I was grabbed by an Iranian news team doing a story on the bookstore.  At least, I think they were Iranian. So somewhere out there I was on tv! It’s a mostly English bookstore, which was a welcome break on my epic trip through Russia and France on my way home from Hong Kong.  On my way out, I discovered a stack of poetry written by a Wellesley professor. Rarely have I had such a positive experience in a bookstore I’ve only visited once.

3. Flow Organic Bookshop, Hong Kong:

Speaking of Hong Kong, this is one of the only bookstores where you can sample the good stuff.  In the other (chain) English bookstores, books are tucked into shrinkwrap, thus ensuring that no one will enjoy them without paying the proper amount. What makes Flow organic is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it’s the lack of plastic. Perhaps it’s the creepy, growly Buddhist chant the owners are fond of playing. Perhaps it’s that it’s one of the few disorderly places on the tidy Hong Kong Central outside escalators. Perhaps it’s the stacks and stacks of books piled on the floor (OverFlow?). No matter. Flow was and is one my absolute favorite places in Hong Kong, one of the few where I felt completely at home. Bring in your old novels to exchange for store credit, or just pay the very reasonable prices up front. Oh, and elbows in- you wouldn’t want to cause an avalanche.

4. Labyrinth Books, Princeton, NJ:

Labyrinth joins this list for primarily nostalgic reasons. I’d hoped to find a picture of it as I remember it best- huge windows, glowing welcomingly with somewhat sparse displays. Labyrinth is a curious mix of textbooks and real people books. It plays to the University and to the townies, the used crowd and the new. My well loved complete poetry of Yeats was found here, as was my brand new Franny and Zooey. The textbook element has a plus- the religion section is HUGE. I started (and quickly stopped) reading The Philokalia here. It’s a cold store, the tile giving it an almost institutional quality ending in a surprisingly mellow kids’ section at the book. In the end it feels unwelcoming because it’s all just a little too neat and clean. Even Barnes and Noble has a sort of haphazard element that allows you sprawl, read, and occasionally buy. However, it’s what we’ve got in Princeton and the selection alone makes it a place to try.

5. The Bookstore in the Grove, Miami:

I visited Miami for the first time last summer for a wedding. In need of a card for our gift, my mother and I wandered into the delightfully quirky Bookstore in the Grove, about twenty minutes from our hotel. I am happy to report they not only have beautiful congratulatory cards, they also have author readings, a small cafe, excellent sandwiches, and a verrrrrrry nice selection. The low-ceilinged air conditioned comfort of the place made me quite reluctant to exit into the oppressive Miami heat (ha!). A sweet refuge in the middle of touristy Coconut Grove, and not too far from the water. I could have easily whiled away an entire afternoon here but settled for an hour of bookish fun. I was particularly fond of the tall, thin, shallow, thematically arranged bookshelves scattered throughout. And look at that entrance!

There you have it. More 5 bookstores to come, possibly after my summer travels. Where are your favorites?

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