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Author Jeremy Mercer picks his top 10 bookstores

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 08, 2005

Author Jeremy Mercer picks his top 10 bookstores in the world. Any personal favorites that you’d add to the list?

Reader comments

hviDec 08, 2005 at 8:41AM

Athenaeum Boekhandel. Spui 14-16 Amsterdam, Netherlands.

RamananDec 08, 2005 at 9:04AM

Pages on Queen St. in Toronto is quite nice. They have a lot Art and Design books you would normally have to buy online elsewhere.

bridgiethereaseDec 08, 2005 at 9:11AM

Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. It’s a whole city block!

JoeDec 08, 2005 at 9:16AM

Prairie Avenue Books (pabooks.com) in Chicago is one of the greatest architecture / design book stores I have ever been in. Many a lost Saturday has been spent there…

Andy AffleckDec 08, 2005 at 9:16AM

Northshire Bookstore, Manchester Vermont. Cute, homey store. A true gem.

JeffDec 08, 2005 at 9:17AM

Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass. I need a bookstore with a used books section in the basement for my scavenging cheap self.

Krista StevensDec 08, 2005 at 9:18AM

McNally Robinson Booksellers
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

ypDec 08, 2005 at 9:27AM

Moe’s Books in Berkeley, CA is great, Strand and St. Mark’s Bookshop in NYC, La Central bookstore in Barcelona had one of the most fantastic collections of contemporary art books I’ve seen.

Del ShimandleDec 08, 2005 at 9:55AM

Bookman’s Alley in Evanston, Illinois (just north of Chicago) is a must visit for any bibliophile/bookstore lover coming through the area. Here’s a quote from the link: “The store is known for its abundance of author-signed and first-edition volumes, but books aren’t the only decor in Bookman’s Alley. The shop is also chock-full of antiques, old rugs and other such timeless objects, as well as overstuffed chairs to relax in. (Erin Brereton)”

kingbennyDec 08, 2005 at 10:00AM

Powell’s, Portland.

jpcDec 08, 2005 at 10:27AM

On the Upper West Side, there is Murder Ink, that sells only mysteries. Next door is Ivy’s Books, which is a more traditional independent bookstore.

sbergerDec 08, 2005 at 10:29AM

duh! he missed the Barnes and Noble in union square. what’s wrong with this geezer?

Spot MoskowitzDec 08, 2005 at 10:30AM

City Lights Books in San Francisco for it’s historical aspect. It
was founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

TimDec 08, 2005 at 10:33AM

Booked Up, located in 4 buildings (two of them barn-like) in Archer City, Texas is home to about a quarter million “fine, rare & scholarly books”. It’s owned by Larry McMurtry, and although Archer City is a long way from most places, and the books are arranged “Erratically/ Impressionistically/ Whimsically/ Open to Interpretation” it is well worth the pilgrimage.

mattDec 08, 2005 at 10:54AM

Is Booked Up closing? I can’t seem to find out just googling around. It looks like they are now open by appointment only.

I would add the Tattered Cover in Denver; Labyrinth Books, Three Lives, and Biography Bookshop in NYC; and two places that no longer exist in Colorado Springs: The Chinook Bookshop and Four Corners. Davis-Kidd in Memphis is also pretty good.

Matt SilasDec 08, 2005 at 10:58AM

The Tattered Cover in Denver is the best bookstore on Earth.

SathyaDec 08, 2005 at 11:01AM

The Book Mill in Montague, MA, is great. So pretty.

Chris ClarkDec 08, 2005 at 11:01AM

Boffins in Perth, Western Australia… not only a beautiful store, but full to the brim with gorgeous books of the kind that are hard to find in ordinary book stores in this city: design annuals, technical books on every conceivable topic, I can’t resist it whenever I’m nearby.

TimDec 08, 2005 at 11:11AM

matt: for a while there it did look like Booked Up was closing, but they’ve recently announced that they’re still in the game. Regular hours and everything.

ypDec 08, 2005 at 11:29AM

hmm…interesting. I wonder if the Tattered Cover in Denver and St. Mark’s in new york are of-the-same chain (?) …their websites are identical though I thought St. Mark’s was independent.

JakeDec 08, 2005 at 11:44AM

Second the Tattered Cover in Denver.

JakeDec 08, 2005 at 11:46AM

yp, looks like the Tattered Cover and St Mark’s just use the same ASP:

“What does it mean when you spot the Book Sense logo? It means you’ve found an independent bookstore…”

SlickdpdxDec 08, 2005 at 11:51AM

Second Powell’s which is not only an entire block (with multpile floors) it also includes specialty satellites including technical books, architecture, gardening and cooking. Non-fiction especially strong compared to most other stores. Also, no snobbiness. Huge sections for fantasy, sf, thrillers, rpgs, comics, you-name-it.

ypDec 08, 2005 at 12:03PM

ah ha. thanks jake.

NoahDec 08, 2005 at 12:09PM

I third Powell’s. That place is amazing.

emilyDec 08, 2005 at 2:00PM

The Harvard Bookstore in Harvard Square (yet not affiliated with Harvard, go figure) is the best in greater Boston: many local and academic authors, awesome used and remaindered books, and the best midnight Harry Potter release parties. When in Worcester, there’s Tatnuck Bookseller, which has a little restaurant in the middle.

jenDec 08, 2005 at 2:05PM

Seminary Coop Bookstore in Chicago. Must be visited to experience properly. A basement maze of only books books books, no magazines, no toys, no crap with a front table of only the most egghead academic books. Unfortunately, no used books either. Harvard Bookstore is also great and Powells and the Tattered Cover are true American National Treasures.

BKMworldDec 08, 2005 at 2:06PM

Pages on Queen St in Toronto far outshines the noted This Ain’t The Rosedale Library in my opinion. Steven Temple Books in Toronto is great for rare and modern first editions. St Marks, Strand and Gotham Bookmart in NYC should be there.

Does anyone else think that Shakespeare & Co. in Paris is extrememly over-rated ?

I love City Lights in SF and aspire to visiting Powell’s one day.

Has anyone mentioned a shop solely based on how it looks, perhaps despite shortcomings like what they stock etc? I love the look and feel of a cosey old bookshop even if I would never buy anything there. Winning for sheer quantity of lovely to browse shops should be the entire village of Hay-on Wye in Wales.

CaryDec 08, 2005 at 2:06PM

That Book Store in Blytheville, AR

DinoDec 08, 2005 at 2:12PM

I simply love that little bookshop at the Markale Market in the central Sarajevo. It is so small that you literally have to push other people, yet so many books! Buybook is nice, too.

ChristyDec 08, 2005 at 2:51PM

Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi

Mark ChristianDec 08, 2005 at 3:07PM

Tattered Cover in Denver is definitely a number one favourite.

justinDec 08, 2005 at 3:40PM

I 5th or 6th or what ever powells in Portland.

rsandersDec 08, 2005 at 3:49PM

Powell’s Books. Portland, Oregon USA.

AugustDec 08, 2005 at 4:29PM

McNally Robinson Booksellers
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Seconded. I would also add:

Words Worth Books
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada


The Bookshelf
Guelph, Ontario, Canada

GulliverDec 08, 2005 at 4:42PM

Black Oak, Cody’s and Moe’s are the three best bookstores in the bay area, with all due respect to the
history of City Lights. NYC’s bookstores are, by contrast, largely wanting.
Tattered Cover is all right, but they don’t sell used, or difficult to find books, and they sell
a lot of crap that you find at Barnes & Noble.

Timothy McClanahanDec 08, 2005 at 4:58PM

For selection, Powell’s in Portland - recognize!

For atmosphere, Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

craigDec 08, 2005 at 4:59PM

Elliott Bay Bookstore, Seattle, WA

neon mDec 08, 2005 at 5:01PM

aardvark at church & market, in san francisco. great used bookstore, been going to them for almost a decade. i’ve gotten fabulous books of theoretical physics, mathematics, ecological conservation, applied art, photography, dark fiction, queer literature, science fiction, graphic novels, most anything you could want. i often go there on my way to meet people, good place to go when you need a book to read during a night of drinking at a bar by yourself, or if you’re on your way to sit in the sun at the top of dolores park.

CourtneyDec 08, 2005 at 5:06PM

Powell’s absolutely should be on there. I don’t know the facts, but they pretty much pioneered putting the very same used books right next to the new ones on the same shelf, when most other stores were sending you off to the not-so-well-lit and dusty “Used Books” section at the back of the store. As a college student, this was life-saving. And as others have said, Powell’s is also hard to match from a selection standpoint, especially for more unusual titles. Wonderful laid-back atmosphere.

DavidDec 08, 2005 at 5:19PM

how about another vote for The Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA.
The only place where I have a frequent buyer card and seriously one of the big reasons I always look forward to going back home for the holidays : )

a nice cozy feel with lots of great new books along with a basement with the best selection of used books (no crap, just good stuff!) I’ve ever seen!

GregDec 08, 2005 at 5:25PM

Gleebooks, Glebe, Sydney, Australia, which could only be better if their used books store was integrated with the main shop.

billDec 08, 2005 at 5:45PM

Atomic Books, in Baltimore. Everything you can’t find on the shelves at the chains, plus online ordering.

green LA girlDec 08, 2005 at 5:58PM

I have 5 fave bookstores in Los Angeles :) Support your indie bookstore for yummy reads!

mblindDec 08, 2005 at 6:03PM

Elliott Bay Books in Seattle, WA


paulDec 08, 2005 at 6:09PM

marfa book co., marfa TX

Jason CDec 08, 2005 at 6:27PM

Black Swan Books in Richmond, VA is a really upscale used book store. More high end sometimes than I like, but a very nice place. Too bad they don’t really have a web site…

CarolineDec 08, 2005 at 7:44PM

The Book Loft in the German Village of Columbus, Ohio is
fantastic. How can you not love 32 rooms of books? Too bad their website looks like clown puke.

TonyDec 08, 2005 at 8:09PM

I love Tattered Cover—the selection of books, the knowledgable staff and those cozy chairs you can sit for hours in without anyone bothering you in the middle of a sentence.

ChrisDec 08, 2005 at 8:11PM

Caroline is right. Skip the lame web site and visit The Book Loft in person.

I’d also recommend Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle. I spent many a college-era Saturday or Sunday morning reading and drinking coffee in the Cafe.

ChrisDec 08, 2005 at 8:52PM

Seminary Co-Op in Chicago. An absolute subterranean joy.

nick sDec 08, 2005 at 8:58PM

For very different reasons, three not on the list: La Hune, in Paris; Blackwell’s in Oxford (esp. the Norrington Room); The Winding Stair in Dublin.

PiersDec 08, 2005 at 9:19PM

I second Boffins in Perth, and also recommend Metropolis in Melbourne.

Henry AbbottDec 08, 2005 at 9:30PM

Powells hardly seems to need any more support here—but seriously—I’d bet good money that if the author had ever been there he’d have it on his list. It oozes books.

Frozen ChipmunkDec 09, 2005 at 12:57AM

powell’s in portland, oregon.

massive with everything from obscure used books to bestsellers

bananaDec 09, 2005 at 2:17AM

Pulpfiction in Vancouver, BC. Great small neighbourhood used bookstore, with consistently good selection.

MaaikeDec 09, 2005 at 7:43AM

I like the Motta art book store in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Athaeneum in Amsterdam is rather good as well.
Over here there are no book stores (that I know of) where you can sit down and order a coffee, like in the USA. I’d love that.

SteveDec 09, 2005 at 8:47AM

two favourites….

The Elliot Bay Booksop at Pioneer Square in Seattle (http://www.elliottbaybook.com/) which is a hangout on visits to Seattle… we bring an empty suitcase! Great staff recommendations and great coffee shop. Also, Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway here in Ireland. sadly closing, but, remaining a thriving outlet in cyberspace (http://www.kennys.ie/) - great atmosphere and service.. esential as a refuse from the summer rain in Connemeara!

ericDec 09, 2005 at 2:20PM

1) Powell’s, Portland OR. It’s like the Winchester Mystery House of bookstores…so many great nooks and crannies to lose oneself in for hours. Wonderfully creaky hardwood floors. Neat rare books room.
2) Elliott Bay, Seattle. Room after room of a very nice selection. Great cafe in the basement. Enjoyable, if not cozy, place to see authors on book tours.
3) City Lights, San Francisco. The spirits of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Cassaday are as thick as fog in this wonderful bookstore. Head to the basement for a history lesson: signs painted on the walls by a Christian sect that had used the basement for prayer meetings in the 60s are still the walls today. You can still fragments of them: “Remember Lot’s Wife,” “Born in Sin and Shapen in Niquity,” “I and My Father Are One,” and “I Am the Door.” Makes for a unique browsing experience.
Long live indie booksellers!!

wesDec 09, 2005 at 4:24PM

Half-Price Books (the East Northwest Highway one) in Dallas. Best and coolest used book store in Dallas, for sure. Plus, the store is just filled with indie girls. No sooner does one turn the corner of a book-filled aisle than there stands another one, absorbed in leafing through some book, the cloth Converse All-Star sneakers a dead giveaway.

JoshDec 10, 2005 at 10:44AM

Book People on 6th and Lamar in Austin

nickDec 11, 2005 at 10:12PM

“Readings” - Carlton, Melbourne Australia.

Still going strong after the yanks put “B*rders” across the road.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.