Monday, June 20, 2016

Choosing a Town by its Bookstore: The Reds Dish

LUCY BURDETTE: I’m lucky to live in two places that are eminently retire-able with great bookstores. Not only is Madison, CT chockablock with New England coastal charm, it’s home to one of the best bookstores in the country: RJ Julia Booksellers Located on the adorable main street, RJ’s brings in a steady stream of bestselling authors from Anna Quinlan to Jane Hamilton to Linda Fairstein. A close relationship with the outstanding Scranton Library across the street and the local Congregational church means that big-draw authors can be accommodated as well as new writers. The bookstore itself is inviting and well-stocked with the newest releases and an impressive backlist.
Suzanne and Paul Orchard, owners
At the far south end of the east coast, funky Key West has scrapped its way back to becoming a 2-bookstore town. The Key West Island Bookstore, just steps off Duval Street, feels like moving back in time. The shelves are loaded with books by local writers, books about Key West, bestsellers, and a wonderfully interesting array of used books. Books and Books opened a Southernmost outpost last year, shepherded by Judy Blume and filled with new fiction and nonfiction and lots of art books and supplies. (It's attached to The studios of Key West, so art events and classes abound.) The town itself is known for warm winters, a thriving arts scene, and glorious water.

HALLIE EPHRON: If wishes were fishes… I’d retire to Corte Madera, California, a quiet residential neighborhood, a ferry ride from San Francisco and home to the world class Book Passage

bookstore. Go there and you’re likely to find Cara Black, Rhys Bowen(!), and and David Korbett schmoozing. They have a fabulous annual Mystery Writers Conference. One of the first times I was there they had a book signing for Bill Clinton and the line was out into the parking lot for signatures. Owners Elaine and Bill Petrocelli and their daughter Kathryn Petrocelli make those of us who write and read crime fiction feel right at home.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've only been once to Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, but I loved this store! It has a great history, a great staff, and is the kind of general bookstore I could spend hours in every day. And it has a coffee shop, for writing in. Iowa City came as a complete surprise to me. It's a university town with a tree-lined pedestrianized center and beautiful neighborhoods filled with the Arts and Crafts houses I adore. I think this would be a great place to live--although I might find the Iowa winters took a bit of adjusting...

RHYS BOWEN: Like Lucy I'm lucky to live in two places with great bookstores. I'm a hop skip and jump from Book Passage in Corte Madera, I've taught classes and run book groups there. As Hallie said, their list of speakers is mind blowing. And my winters are now spent near the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. They are strictly mystery, but again with all the big name speakers and an event every night. Barbara Peters, the owner, is a petite dynamo who interviews her guests rather than let them drone on. The result is always a lively discussion. Barbara puts out a monthly newsletter of recommendations. And they have a giant mailing list to send books all over the world. What's more Scottsdale in the winter is just about perfect with loads of cultural and outdoor activities, classes for older folks and good dining.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I love Boston, and with the Cape nearby and history everywhere and incredible culture, it’s a perfect city for all ages. Do we have to move? We’re thriving right now in nearby Newton. It’s ten minutes away--a diverse and cozy but cosmopolitan suburb comprised of eight separate villages, each with a square and lots to explore. Two fantastic independent bookstores (on opposite sides of the city) can provide every book you could imagine. And each has a brilliant and knowledgeable staff. Newtonville Books  is a warmly inviting nook of a shop, with one room devoted to the cream of the crop of new release-especially literary fiction) and old favorites (used and new shelved together!) and another whole room devoted to kids. We can hardly pry our grandson away. New England Mobile Book Fair is huge–almost a warehouse. Here, you could get happily lost in a world of the very latest bestsellers as well as all those books you meant to buy but didn’t. We can never leave either without purchasing way too many books and making new friends. Both stores–are stellar!

(And a bookstore extra: you’ll never keep me away from Concord Bookshop, in nearby historic Concord, where you can walk the same streets as Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott and Hawthorne. (Patricia Cornwell lives there, too.) Another treasure!

If I had to move from New England? My Midwestern roots might take Ann Arbor, home of Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore.  The bustle and the vibrancy of a college town with lovely tree-lined streets, fascinating homes, arts festivals galore, and…football.  And mystery fans especially will flock to the inimitable Aunt Agatha’s, where owners Robin and Jamie Agnew will wow you with their knowledge, enthusiasm, and shelves of crime fiction treasures.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Agreed, Hank - we're blessed with an abundance of fabulous bookstores in New England. I live in rural Maine - I can literally hear the rooster across the road crowing as I type this! But within a half hour drive, I can visit Longfellow Books, Letterpress Books and Sherman's Bookstore in Portland, Nonesuch in Biddeford and South Portland and the Book Burrow in Kennebunk. If I want to take a pleasant drive for an hour or so - maybe get a nice lunch while I'm out? - I can reach the wonderful RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH, the delightful White Birch Books in North Conway, NH, and the heavy-hitting Maine Coast Books in Damariscotta. (All this stores are near wonderful restaurants, and I know, because I've eaten there after appearances!)
So you all now know you should visit Maine, yes? 

If I had to move away, though? Well, if I could stay in New England, I'd relocate to South Hadley, Mass, where the Odyssey Bookshop sits practically across the commons from Mount Holyoke. I love that area of the Bay State - rural, with gem-like small towns that are home to some of the country's most distinguished small colleges. The Odyssey itself is one of those everything bookstores; you can get obscure poetry, the latest big thriller, and Orange Award nominees straight from Great Britain. The staff is cheerful and knowledgeable, and there are lots of nooks and crannies and chairs. Plus, they get an amazing list of authors to appear (including our friend Cara Black, who will be there July 8th!) 
If Ross and I were retiring somewhere warm, I'd head for San Diego and Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. I love mystery, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, and Mysterious Galaxy is THE specialty store. It hits all my buttons, with a fantastically knowledgeable staff who make eye-opening recommendations. I've only appeared there twice, but both times I walked away with new authors in my bag. Since sooner or later, they host everyone in the mystery-writing world, I'd get a steady stream of friends coming to visit.  Plus, it's a half hour from the beach! Pretty sweet.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I'm going to choose Houston, because of Murder By the Book. OK, I've only been to Houston once, and it was a pretty short trip, but I LOVED it! The book store (of course), the amazing store staff (shout-out to John and Sally!), the BBQ, the hot sauce. Have I ever mentioned my obsession with hot sauce? Well, Texas has some great stuff... After growing up in Buffalo and living in New York City, I think the warm winters in Houston might be perfection. Plus the Museum of Fine Arts, the Butterfly Center, the Space Center....


  1. New England certainly has an abundance of bookstores, all of which sound quite appealing. But for all those science fiction and mystery books, I’d certainly like to check out the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore.

  2. So glad to read that Key West now has TWO bookstores. We were living there the year the last one died. The grande dame of town seemed brokenhearted. As a former Miamian, I've followed Books and Books from Coral Gables, to Lincoln Road Mall, and to the Arsht Center. They will be a great and vibrant asset to Key West.

    New England sounds like reader central. What great bookstores, what great reading weather. It's win/win. Thanks for the tour.

  3. Time was I spent at least an hour every Sunday in City Lights bookstore, North Beach, in San Francisco. It was close to our church, the Shrine of St.Francis, and favorite coffee shop, Café Puccini.

    There are a few little bookstores left in Rochester, but most of them got swallowed up a decade or two ago. Thank you Borders and B & N. I shed no tears for the last two as they were in turn pretty much put out of business by Amazon. The only chain stores left are those that have contracts with some of the seven colleges and universities here.

    However there is a resurgence of small stores, particularly along the Avenue of the Arts. Unfortunately as an e-book convert, I go there pretty much only to look. The arthritis in my hands precludes holding a heavy hardback with any comfort. I do treasure the ARCs that I receive now and then (Thanks Hank.)

    My current favorite all time book store is this tiny one across the border in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It contains fewer books than I have in my bedroom, but it is a treasure for finding one of those Canadian authors that still don't publish here. The proprietress, and I use that word carefully, is a maiden lady of an uncertain age, carefully coiffed and corseted. She speaks in a library whisper and frowns on any customer who dares to use a normal tone of voice. She stocks no more than two or threecopies of any given book. They are carefully arranged with no particular attention paid to the alphabet or Dewey. It is obvious that economy of scale is an unfamiliar term. You can find Jane Austen there but nothing even faintly erotic nor exotic. Four letter words are forbidden, which is very confining. It is as if time stopped about 1957. I long to see her lock up in the evening and see if she wears a hat and nice gloves along with her sensible skirt and shoes.

    Back to e-books, I feel so disloyal to all of you. I know how carefully you choose covers and type and how wonderful it must be to see your books stacked at the front of the store, flying off the table. I do treasure my signed 1st editions. But to be truthful, 99% of my reading is Kindle powered. Please forgive me for what I have done and what I have failed to do.

    And keep writing.

  4. I have to say this is also making me think of all the bookstores I wish I could visit that are gone... some of them long gone. Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge. The store I grew up with, Martindales in Beverly Hills. Dutton's in Brentwood. In New York City there are too many to count.

  5. There are two things I miss acutely where I live now--bookstores and a diversity of good places to eat. There's a BAM at the local mall and that's about it. When I travel, though, my greatest pleasure is to browse independent bookstores (and look for interesting places to eat). And Julia, I lived near South Hadley once--and loved the location--but if I could pick an ideal place to retire to--I think I'd pick somewhere warm year-round.

    And Ann, I broke my left arm (I'm left-handed) once, making it impossible to hold a book open to read--I'd have given my eyeteeth for an e-reader then. Enjoy your reading and please don't feel guilty for not buying books!

  6. Oh Ann, please no feeling guilty. We just want people reading!

    Here's one I forgot to mention, McIntyre's in Fearrington Village NC, which would be a wonderful place to retire (except for Hallie LOL, too rural for her. The big event is watching the beltie cows.)

    And then there's Page and Palette in Fairhope AL (haven't been there but would love to go!)

  7. Now I want to do a Great Bookstore Tour! So many to see....

  8. Susan, put Cincinnati on your list! No mystery-only stores, but we are blessed with a couple chain stores, plus some local favorites

    We have Joseph Beth--two locations, a large one with the wonderful Bronte cafe in the center of a bustling shopping area in town, and a slightly smaller one (with a coffeeshop-level cafe, without wine) in northern Kentucky. But best of all, we have two children's bookstores, one on either side of the river: Blue Manatee, in Cincinnati, with a coffeeshop, and a wonderful author wall. And Blue Marble, in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where an upstairs room is decorated to the smallest detail like the room in the children's classic, GOOD NIGHT, MOON.

    And several used bookstores, as well.

    Which may account for why our house is bursting at the seams with books. And that doesn't even count my e-book collection. I can't imagine retiring elsewhere, to tell you the truth.

  9. I'm choosing Topsail Island, NC and hanging out at Quarter Moon Books on a daily basis. But, while I'm here in Boone, I'm tickled pink to have Malaprop's in Asheville not too far away.

  10. What a great array of indies! We're lucky in my neck of the woods (northeastern Massachusetts) to have Jabberwocky Bookstore. Welcoming, well-stocked, and with a parade of well-known authors. I've had several packed launch parties there, and I know at least Hank and Debs have spoken there, too.

  11. Those of us in Portland, OR have the amazing Powell's books to draw on -- the main store covers a whole city block jam packed with old and new, hardback and paperback, all grouped together. They mystery section alone is bigger than many specialist stores. Author events all the time.

  12. I love the Concord Bookshop! I don't know if they still do it, but back in the day (no, I will not be more specific) they used to allow Concord Academy students to run a tab. There is nothing in this world better than a bookstore that allows a running tab...

  13. I'm fortunate to live in a city that now boasts three, thriving independent bookstores, although I've only visited one (because in Pittsburgh, that five-mile drive will take an hour - you just can't get there from here).

    Topping the list is the fabulous Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA - right next door to where I live. The owners, Natalie and Trevor, are really delightful people and I hope they own the store for a good long time (they say that's their plan). They kept all the staff when they purchased, so you'll always get a good recommendation. While they specialize in mystery, they'll order anything. They've really amped up their children's/YA section. They've hosted some of the Reds (Hank, Debs definitely - anyone else?) and always have great visitors (I need to stop this week and pick up my copy of Rachel Howzell Hall's latest since I couldn't make the signing on Saturday).

    Then there's Penguin and City Books. Those two are more general and City used to have an extensive used book collection, specializing in stuff that you just can't find any more.

    So aside from the cold winters (San Diego sounds nice), I'm pretty happy where I am.

  14. Well, Plumgaga beat me to it. I live in Portland (the left coast one) and POWELL'S is the bookstore to visit. There are three locations, the main store downtown, that's the whole-city-block one, as well as a large one east of town on Hawthorne that has mostly used books - tons of old paperbacks, which are hard to find these days - and another branch several miles west of the city. Though Powell's is a pretty large store, the staff make it feel like that small bookstore you love.

    When visiting my wife's daughter and grandkids in San Diego, Mysterious Galaxy is a fun place to stop.

  15. Oh, Jennifer! A running tab! That is SO dangerous!

    I'm in the first editions book club at Brookline Booksmith--it's great, each month they choose a fabulous new book, and have the author sign it, and you get it automatically. Just like COlumbia Record Club! WIthout the 10 free :-) ….oxo

  16. Susan and I have spoken together at Jabberwocky! SO fab.

    WOuld it be even possibly possible to do a Jungle Red tour???

  17. So many of these stores I love! And so many I've been to and would love to go back. Looking very much forward to visiting Powell's in Portland for the first time next winter!

  18. How could I forget the Tattered Cover in Denver? Both locations! Seriously, I'd plan a vacation all around visiting tht bookstore -- so amazing. When I was there I found not only lots of terrific history books for research, but one of the Magic Treehouse books, the one with Charles Dickens, that I bought for Kiddo and was his gateway book to loving reading.

  19. Great comments above! Thank you for new places to visit when I visit your town(s).

    This post reminded me of an article in the Sunday New York Times a while ago about an author who bought a historic building in a small town and set up a big bookstore in that building. I cannot recall where!

    When I lived in DC, one of my favorite bookstores was an indie and I think it is still in DC. It is called Politics and Prose and it was a cool bookstore.

    Another great bookstore in the SF Bay Area is Kepker's )sp?). It is within walking distance from the Cal Train stop in Menlo Park.

    After years of empty space where Black Oak Bookstore used to be, there is another indie bookstore, which opened some months ago (perhaps a year ago?). It is called Books Inc.


    Love Book Passage. However, if you take the ferry from SF to Larkspur Landing, I think you will need to take a taxicab from Larkspur Landing to the bookstore. It is on the other side of the freeway so I do not know if it is possible to walk from the ferry landing to the bookstore.

    Do you still live in Los Angeles area? Is there a bookstore called Mr. Pickwick's Books?


    Loved Powell's Books when we visited Portland. Reminded me of Cody's Books in Berkeley. Sad to say that Cody's Books is Not there anymore,

    Someone mentioned children's bookstores in one of the comments above. Loved children's bookstores. When I was little, there was a children's bookstore at a big shopping mall. That is where I got a children's book about Elizabeth Fry. It is not there anymore.


    A tour of bookstores across the country sound like a great idea!


    One of these days I would love to visit Poisoned Pen bookstore in Arizona. I saw Barbara Peters at Malice this year.


    I am surprised that there are no Indie bookstores in New York City. For some reason, I thought there would be an indie bookstore in Greenwich Village?

    Thanks again for great comments!


  20. started in Tucson, and has locations in Flagstaff, Mesa & Phoenix. This is a great used & new bookstore - they have a coffee shop, readings & musical events, exchange program where you bring in all your unwanted books and get store credit or cash.

  21. I'm game for a Jungle Reds Book Tour and Traveling Kaffeeklatch!

    Karen, your remarks about Joseph Beth made me think of a few other terrific midwestern bookstores: The Velveteen Rabbit in Fort Atkinson, WI, which partners with the delightful Dwight Foster Library for the best events. The town is midwestern-ideal as well, wide shady streets with pristine Italianate and Gothic Revival houses.

    Then there's the Raven in Lawrence, Kansas - well worth the trip - and the beautiful Prairie Lights in Iowa City, which has an amazing staff and a first rate series of events.

    Finally, I spent a wonderful afternoon at The Bookworm in Omaha (which has a surprising number of good restaurants that aren't steakhouses) which has been in business for thirty years now. They're a general interest store but very strong in mysteries.

  22. Lawrence is one of my all-time favorite towns! And Omaha is a wonderful city. The Henry Doorly Zoo alone is worth a visit.

  23. I agree that a bookstore tour across the country would be an awesome trip. There are so many of these bookstores that I am constantly hearing about and would love to visit. Of course, as a reader, I can still read about bookstores and bookselling and the love of books. One of my favorite books is entitled The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee, published in 2006. Buzbee started working in a bookstore as a teenager and was a bookseller at City Lights in San Francisco. Anyone, and that's most everyone I know, who has a love affair with books would enjoy his book. Here's a description of it. "In The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, a Book Sense selection, Lewis Buzbee celebrates the unique experience of the bookstore-the smell and touch of books, the joy of getting lost in the deep canyons of shelves, and the silent community of readers. He shares his passion for books, which began with ordering through the Weekly Reader in grade school. Woven throughout is a fascinating historical account of the bookseller trade-from the great Alexandria library to Sylvia Beach's famous Paris bookstore, Shakespeare & Co. Rich with anecdotes, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop is the perfect choice for those who relish the enduring pleasures of spending an afternoon finding just the right book."

    Karen mentioned Joseph-Beth Booksellers, a store that I've long been acquainted with due to its origins in Lexington, KY. It opened its first store there in November of 1986, and although I'm three hours away from it, I grew up around Lexington and went to the University of Kentucky for college, so it's my old stomping grounds. I've been to some great book events there, including Diana Gabaldon, which involved a dark and stormy night, getting lost on country roads between Lexington and Shakertown, and several more mishaps. And, of course, there was the fabulous visit from Debs at the Cincinnati Joseph-Beth's, which I had to miss. Oh, how I hated missing that.

    One bookstore that I have been wanting to visit is Parnassus Books in Nashville, which is a little over two hours from me. Author Ann Patchett is co-owner with Karen Hayes of this bookstore, which she opened partly in response to the closing of too many independent bookstores around her. In fact, Davis-Kidd, the local Nashville independent had closed in 2010 after selling out to Joseph-Beth. So, anyway, Parnassus is now a thriving bookstore and has great events, so I need to get myself there in the near future.

    The only bookstore in my town is Books-A-Million, which I'm not crazy about at all and don't patronize very often. It seems every time I go in that store, I come away grumbling how everything in the store should be done differently. It is not a book lover's atmosphere. Barnes and Noble is 40 minutes away, and I do like it, much more conducive to my book loving whims.

    Lucy, I'm glad to know that there is another bookshop in Key West now. That's something I found a bit lacking about my favorite vacation spot. Now, yet another reason to visit, and I love that it's connected to the art community.

  24. The Book Loft in Solvang Ca is a "must visit" every time we are in Pismo Beach. In fact we were there so many times last year, that the owner commented "you folks are local....right?".......Well....we actually live four hours away in Northern California :). Great selection of Scandinavian literature.....adults and children, and well selected and diversified non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, with some book/writing related unique gift items as well as a great selection of puzzles! Nice coffee house attached.

  25. Love all these bookstore ideas!

    Karen, I would love to see the GOOD NIGHT MOON room!

    I have been to Portland and Powell's--that's a find! and also used to love the Mystery Lovers Festival in Oakmont--it was always a party with authors and booklovers and Mary Alice and Richard...

    Diana, The Mysterious Bookshop is on Warren St in New York City, and I profess a serious weakness for the Strand...

    Would love to visit Joseph Beth, and especially Parnassus, because it's in Nashville and founded by Ann Patchett!

    Also Nora Roberts founded Turn the Page in Boonsboro, MD.

    and Kaye--your suggestions are great.

    A grand tour is in order!

  26. Roberta/Lucy: I know several authors who have petitioned for the return of the Festival of Mystery. Maybe someday...

  27. I haven't traveled enough to see many bookstores. I've HEARD of many of these and want to see them. Where I live there just aren't many bookstores anymore. Our town had one that went out of business because they couldn't afford the new owner's rent. It was there more than ten years. Three businesses since haven't been able to make it there.
    Maybe someday I'll get to visit your faves and maybe bump into you. 😉

  28. When I travel I look for independent bookstores, coffee shops and shops that carry cross stitch and quilting supplies. Gives a clue as to how I spend my time. Last summer I was in the Carolinas. Biltmore was quite impressive, sort of Downton Abbey on steroids but Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville was just wonderful. I spent a lovely rainy morning there browsing the shelves and finding wonderful books to follow me home. This was topped off with coffee in the coffee shop corner of the bookstore. The staff is simply grand.

    I live in southeast New Mexico next to the Texas border. Post, Texas, a small town near Lubbock has a delightful bookstore called Ruby Lane Books and Gallery. The owner is also an author who has written a series of books about the history of Harvey Houses in several states. Ruby Lane is a Siamese kitty that lives in the store and is the official greeter. If you find yourself in Lubbock a short trip to Ruby Lane is worth the trip.

  29. As another Portlander, I must stick up for three "curated" bookstores that also are very author-friendly. Broadway Books, Annie Bloom's Books, and Another Read Through (a used bookstore) all hold many events that support local and not-so-local writers. Powell's is for the browser; these three are for readers who want someone to have culled out much and left the rest. We all lament the loss of Murder By the Book... I'm sure fellow Portlanders Cindy Brown and Lisa Alber would agree with me on all of these choices...

    Deborah: if you're coming to Portland and need a wrangler, Rhys can attest that I am a pretty good squire if you need help getting to events if you have them scheduled...

  30. The COOP in Harvard Square was my favorite for years and Vromans in Pasadena are favorites. I cherish the books my mother got for me from Vroman's.

  31. Interesting how many of us plan visiting bookstores into our vacations. I try to buy one item in each of the bookstores in the town where we vacation. A couple of gift shops have large book sections. Last summer I found myself returning to one of them every couple of days. The couple that owned the gift shop/bookstore sold both new and used books and gave me the impression they loved selling books more than anything else.

    Ann, thanks to arthritis I can't hold large books anymore. If a book I'm interested in has more than a certain number of pages I'll check to see if there's an e-version.(I once sprained my shoulder trying to manage a large book, and I was much younger then!) Also, I can't read really small fonts any longer. Being able to adjust the font size on my e-reader is such a blessing!

    Deb Romano