I don’t know if you heard the news, but Boston was recently voted #1 Best U.S. City for Book Lovers, and I fully endorse this ranking.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I don’t miss about Boston – the frigidly miserable winters, the brash rapport between pedestrians and drivers, the underlying layer of pretentiousness amongst the vast academic population. However, I do miss the abundance of scenic, cozy independent bookstores that were sprinkled throughout the city and suburbs.
Unfortunately, Atlanta’s selection of bookstores aren’t nearly as numerous. In addition, the library system here has a great selection, but the locations are not particularly aesthetically pleasing (anyone who’s been lucky enough to walk through the Boston Public Library’s Reading Room and view the John Singer Sargeant murals understands what I’m talking about).
But drooling over the BPL is for another time and post. Here’s a few of my favorite independent bookstores in Boston you should visit!
Harvard Book Store – Harvard Square, Cambridge
Harvard’s campus, at times, feels like a more popular tourist destination than Disney World or Paris. Every summer, tour buses would arrive in droves, doubling the lines at my favorite lunch spots, and every morning on my way to the subway I would be approached by tour guides offering me a special deal to see the campus. My sanctuary was Harvard Book Store.
Do not confuse this independent haven with the campus bookstore that sells textbooks and campus memorabilia -although the Coop also has an excellent selection of books and I would also frequent this store, it tended to be quite chaotic as it was in the heart of Harvard Square.
Harvard Book Store, by contrast, is a lovely bookstore with displays of upcoming speakers and their relevant books, featured titles at 20% off, and excellent staff recommendations. The booksellers tend to leave you alone, which is always key for me in a bookstore, but are more than happy to help if you’re having any trouble finding a particular book.
(Sidenote: right around the corner from HBS is the Grolier, a cozy poetry book shop. I didn’t go in very often as my literary interests do not typically include poetry, but I highly recommend a little dip into the store!)
To get to Harvard from Boston, take the red subway line toward Alewife and stop at the Harvard Square stop.
Porter Square Books – Porter Square, Cambridge
I discovered this gem late in my Boston life, after going to the grocery store one day that happens to be right next door to Porter Square books. This place is known for its author events and signed copies of popular books.
To get to Porter Square Books from Boston, take the red line like you’re going to Harvard Square, but take one extra stop to get to Porter Square!
Brookline Booksmith – Coolidge Corner, Boston
On the outside, this bookstore may look like a nondescript chain, but on the inside you step into another bookish world.
Tables of books with excellent themes, a used book cellar, discounted books, a beautiful cookbook display…this place was my absolute favorite when I lived in Boston proper. Like Harvard Book Store, the staff had little placards of recommendations, but they changed the rec’s more often in Brookline Booksmith, which I appreciated since I was such a frequent customer!
I also felt like their prices were quite fair, since as you know, the downside of shopping at local stores vs. Amazon is the increased price tag. Can’t recommend this store enough!
To get to Brookline Booksmith from downtown Boston, take the Green C Line toward Cleveland Circle and stop at Coolidge Corner.
Brattle Street Bookstore, Downtown Boston
This bookstore was right beside my school, so I passed it nearly every day (though usually late at night after it had closed because I had no life outside of school most days). The coolest part about this used bookstore is that it has an outside sale section where you can peruse the hodgepodge of books available under the New England sun!
…or under the New England gray skies, more likely…in any case it was a fun place if you were in the mood for a good book browsing session!
To get to Brattle Street Bookshop, take the subway to Park Street station on either the red or green lines, or Downtown Crossing on the orange line. It’s right in the middle of downtown Boston.
Trident Booksellers and Cafe
Many a boozy brunch and book browsings happened here with my bookish dental school friends. This place not only hosts a wide array of books, magazines, and literary gifts, but ALSO an excellent cafe that serves breakfast all day, as well as sandwiches and other comfort food.
I recommend coming here early-ish on a Saturday morning, before the crowds, and enjoy a couple of hours of a leisurely breakfast before spending another hour or three perusing their many shelves! It’s on the tail end of Newbury Street, the famous shopping avenue of Boston, so you could spend your whole day people watching in this area.
To get to Trident Booksellers, take the green line (any of the letters) to Hynes Convention Center.
New England Mobile Book Fair
Saving the (possibly) best for last. Y’all, this place might be my favorite, though I didn’t discover this diamond in the rough until only TWO MONTHS before our big move to Atlanta. That’s because this store is technically not in Boston proper, but in the nearby suburb of Newton.But, you guys, this place is INCREDIBLE.
Housed in an old building, so run down that at first I thought Google Maps had sent me to the wrong place, you walk in to a cavern of new and used books. You will get lost in the maze of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and hidden nooks. You will spend hours debating if you can truly afford to buy 9 books that day. You will head toward the checkout and pass a table full of more delicious books and have to stop for another half hour to debate on your final decisions. This. Place. Is. MAGIC. And because it’s not in the heart of the city, it feels like your own special little store.
You honestly will have to either take an Uber or have a friend drop you off, because it’s not convenient to the subway and I have no idea about the bus system, but it. Is. WORTH IT.