Always a city of independent bookstores, there was a time when multiple Barnes & Nobles, Borders, and even a Waterstone’s at Quincy Market seemed to overshadow the smaller stores. Today, only the Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center remains as the last vestige of the big-box bookstores in the city, and while we have much love for the B&N at the Pru (our founder was once a bookseller there), independent bookstore have come to dominate the Boston literary landscape, bring an individualized, local, and dedicated presence. And they are damned passionate about books! Here’s where to go:
Harvard Book Store: A staple in the Square since 1932, the Harvard Book Store offers new releases and a used bookstore basement, as well as the fullest line-up of readings and events in the city. Browse their long shelf of signed copies, or pick up some book-y gifts.
Newtonville Books: Come for the counter made of books, stay for the full shelves, author readings in their manipulative space, and the multitude of book clubs offered. Check out this LitHub interview (http://lithub.com/interview-with-a-bookstore-newtonville-books/) with founder Mary Cotton. The team is also affiliated with the literary magazine Post Road, so they know their bestsellers and up-and-comers.
Porter Square Books: Located in Porter Square in Cambridge, Porter Square Books - in addition to being a warm, welcoming space - has been expanding its boundaries with its literary event offerings. They host a series called “Be the Change” on getting involved in your community, they’ve paired with Aeronaut Brewing Company in Somerville for Poems & Pints night, and they recently hosted an overnight read-a-thon.
Brookline Booksmith: Opened in 1961, Brookline Booksmith is a bookstore and central to the community; you’ll often run into folks from the neighborhood. The events are prolific, from local authors releases, to big names hosted at Coolidge Corner Theater, to book clubs, to the Breakwater Reading Series. Sign up for their newsletter to get a glimpse into what running a bookstore is really like, and look for bookseller recommendation cards everywhere.
Trident Booksellers & Café: The staff recommendations meet you as soon as you walk in, then the giant selection of magazines, then the giant selection of writing journals. Open since the mid-1980s, Trident has managed to integrate its restaurant into its bookstore to create a literary culture within its walls. Come for the books or the beer, stay for the readings or trivia or Plant Night, and browse the selection of Boston gifts on the way out.
Wellesley Books: Located in downtown Wellesley, this sprawling store features a large children’s section, lots of local events, book clubs, a gift section, and booksellers who read! Look for their recommendations throughout the store, or explore each bookseller’s favorites on the website. They also have a used book cellar.
IAM Books: Located in Boston's North End just across the street from the Paul Revere House, you can find IAM Books, "the country’s first Italian American bookstore." They specialize in - yes - Italian American authors, and feature sections on Italian travel guides, ancient Rome, Italian cooking, Italian language books, and more. They host a number of events with Italian American authors, and even feature an Italian-language kids storytime. Happy Birthday to them as well, as they just turned two!
Belmont Books: Belmont Books (finally!) opened their doors a few months ago in spring of 2017. Run by Kathy Crowley and Chris Abouzeid, Belmont Books has come out of the gate strong with a number of creative local events with area authors, including a pie baking competition. Be sure to pick up some goodies from the Black Bear Cafe, located inside.
Grolier Poetry Book Shop: Sometimes a bookstore can be a hub of culture, as the Grolier Poetry Book Shop has been for Cambridge since its founding in 1927. Devoted only to poetry, Grolier not only features a multitude of poetry volumes, they have been quintessential in establishing local poetry prizes and series, like the Blacksmith House Poetry Series.
Papercuts JP: Another newcomer on the scene, started by Kate Layte when she saw the need for an independent bookstore in Jamaica Plain. Don’t be fooled by the size: Despite Papercuts’ small space, they have hosted local author book launches, developed connections in the community, and even run a publishing house, Cutless Press, that has already published two Papercuts anthologies.
New England Mobile Book Fair: Located in Newton, the New England Mobile Book Fair is actually not mobile nor just a book fair. Rather, it’s a sprawling bookstore that has been serving the community for over 60 years. Recently moving into a much smaller space, the Mobile Book Fair is no longer as sprawling, but it is still committed to being a community book store.
Harvard COOP: Begun as The Harvard Cooperative Society in 1882, the COOP (not co-op) stands today as Harvard’s college bookstore, partnering with Barnes & Noble college division. Its three floors offer fiction and non-fiction, a children’s section, toys and games, and a wall of Harvard authors. Stop in the cafe before heading to get your textbooks, or a Harvard hoodie.
Barnes & Noble Prudential: Again, much love because of our founder’s former association. It’s also probably one of the biggest bookstores in the Boston area right now, and while the bookstock is being reduced in favor of more non-book items, there is still plenty to find here. You can find nearly daily children’s story times, and other local readings and signings. Ask for bookseller Carole if you want to discover some great reads.
Brattle Book Shop: This bookstore was founded in 1825, when it was located in Cornhill (formerly where Government Center now stands). Run by Ken Gloss, an expert in the antiquarian book field, Brattle is one of the largest antiquarian book shops in the country. Check out the outdoor bookstalls (probably one of the most Instagramed literary places in Boston). Need some rare books appraised? Brattle can do that, too; bring them in, or they will come to you.
Raven Used Books: Located just off of Harvard Square, Raven Used Books specializes in “philosophy, social theory, art and architecture, music, history, classical studies, science, religion, and literature,” and most are from university presses. Come browse to find something interesting, and come back often; the stock is always turning around.
Curious George Store: