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Monday, January 25, 2010

$ense & $ensibility Monday: The Magic of Bookstores

Vampire Weekend performing at Barnes & Noble Union Square
I had the good luck to see a brilliant performance by Vampire Weekend this past week. It was a short set, lasting only an hour and interspersed with an interview and Kwame Dawes reading his poetry, but it was still a Vampire Weekend concert and it was amazing – especially because it was free and at a bookstore.

Heywood Hill, London
I’m always amazed by the variety of programs one can find at bookstores around the world. The most remarkable authors visit some of the smallest towns during their book tours and offer readings and signings for free. And in big cities like New York, popular bands join up with international poets to talk about cross-cultural influences. And that’s on top of the amazing books just waiting for you to open them and partake of their stories.

Heywood Hill, London
I’ve lived all over and spent many a happy day browsing through a bookshop; pausing to read sections of books I’d never seen before in addition to already memorized verses from old favorites. I will admit it’s sometimes a struggle to walk away without buying anything. But that’s why I have a library card (at least, until my budget allows me to buy books at will). Below is a list of a few of my favorite haunts. What’s your favorite bookstore? I’m always on the lookout for new places to browse!

Daunt Books, London
The Book House, St. Louis MO - I like to curl up in the poetry alcove here with the gray cat, or perch on a stool in the history room. Michelle also runs a brilliant online business if you're looking for used books.

Left Bank Books, St. Louis MO - The place for new and used books in St. Louis and also the place to see all your favorite authors.

The Lantern, Washington, DC - A Bryn Mawr bookshop, this little place in Georgetown is comprised of donated books.

Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café, Washington, DC - 'THE' DC bookstore. Catch up with friends over brunch or drinks (a must to be considered a true Washingtonian) and then browse the offerings. Open until 1 am most nights and 24 hours on Friday and Saturday, it's a great place to stop off after a night out in the Dupont area.

Politics & Prose, Washington, DC - The other DC bookstore. Just read the "About" page on the website and feel your heart swell with joy.

The Strand, NYC - 18 miles of books. Need I say more? They also have a little kiosk at the southeast corner of Central Park.

Housing Works Bookstore & Café, NYC - Fun store with a good selection and it benefits an amazing cause.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris - Jeremy Mercer entitled his memoir about his time here "Time Was Soft There". I couldn't agree more. If you're traveling through Paris and strapped for cash, ask to work in the store for a bit - you can sleep amongst the books. Attend a reading or take a literary workshop if you're in town. History mingles with the present in this amazing place.

Galignani, Paris - The first English bookshop on the European continent, this gem is on the Rue de Rivoli, across from the Jardin des Tuileries. Dark wood shelves and books from floor to the ceiling make this one of my favorite shops to explore on a rainy Parisian day.

Gibert Jeune, Paris - Not one bookstore, but eight! Spread around the area of Place Saint-Michel, each store carries a different subject

Village Voice, Paris - Tucked off the main roads, this store is a gathering place for American and British expats in Paris.

Hatchards, London - The oldest bookstore in London was founded in 1797 on Piccadilly, where it still is today. It seems every author dreams of getting to sign books at Hatchards, so there's always an interesting event on and always signed copies available.

Heywood Hill, London - My mother's favorite bookstore. Nancy Mitford worked here during WWII, as the blue plaque outside commemorates. The staff are the loveliest people in the world and will bend over backwards to find a book for you or let you know if a new title is coming out that they think might interest you. If I ever get married, my wedding registry is going to be through this bookstore, no joke.

Daunt Books, London - Known around the world as 'the' travel bookstore, Daunt actually stocks a range of genres. There are now five stores scattered around London, but the original Marylebone High Street shop is the most beautiful; an original Edwardian bookstore it features oak galleries, skylights, William Morris prints, soaring palladian windows, and plenty of chairs to sit and read in.

Blackwell, Oxford - The original store on the Broad is still my favorite, though they're spread out all over the town (and in London too). I usually give myself an entire day to wonder the flagship store, exploring all the nooks and crannies.

Images via moi, Heywood Hill, and Bookstore Guide.

Katharine Albritton is an art market specialist and writer. Read her art market blog and follow her on twitter.

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Tim Mooney said...

My top three...

(1) Powell's in Portland, OR (the full city block "City of Books" downtown is heaven on earth, but the smaller Hawthorne location also rocks)

(2) Tattered Cover in Denver (LoDo location)

(3) Elliot Bay in Seattle

kate said...

Wish I could remember the names, but I've stumbled on some amazing bookstores in NYC, one on the Upper East Side, another down in the Village. Highly recommend just wandering and finding. Also, some of the definitive bookstores are in the Bay Area, including City Lights in SF, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's place where all the Beat writers used to hang out.

Katharine Albritton said...

I am so not a west coaster! Thanks Tim & Kate for your additions to the list!

kimberly wilson said...

bookstores are ABSOLUTE magic. nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by a bunch of books! powell's is the BEST: an entire city block including new and used books. absolute dream. xx