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The 10 Best Bookstores in Nashville

By: Author Amar Hussain

Posted on Last updated: February 27, 2023

Search for a rare first edition, pick up a used novel, or find the most recent best-seller.

Books are one thing that will never go out of style, and plenty of titles are available across Nashville.

The Bookshop

Defunct books, elder’s book store, fairytales bookstore, grimey’s new + preloved music, half price books, mckay’s nashville, novelette booksellers, parnassus books, rhino booksellers, final thoughts, the best bookstores in nashville.

Be sure to check out this cozy and modern bookstore, the perfect nook for any lover of books.

Here at The Bookshop , you’ll find mostly newer books, including best sellers and new releases.

They also highlight collections of staff picks, like favorites from the previous year.

Plus, they sell signed pre-orders and a wide collection of literature covering almost any subject, from young adult options, children’s books, graphic novels, and, of course, lengthy chapter books.

The Bookshop has something for every avid reader and should be a go-to stop in Nashville for books.

  • Location: 1043 W Eastland Ave, Nashville, TN 37206

This store specializes in rare books, including first editions, used, out-of-print, and collectibles.

Defunct Books is located within Five Points Alley Shops, making it the perfect addition to a day of shopping.

They’re also the perfect place to sell any books you may want to part with. While they won’t take your encyclopedias, they are interested in anything they think they can sell.

Their collection includes literature from every subject matter and in every category, so you’ll find something for every reader.

Don’t miss out on this unforgettable and rare collection at Defunct Books.

  • Location: 1108 Woodland St A, Nashville, TN 37206

The hunt is over if you’re searching for rare, well-loved, or antique books.

Elder’s Book Store includes a collection of hard-to-find and even out-of-print novels that any avid reader won’t want to miss.

Their collection includes a large and diverse selection of literature covering almost any subject matter.

This quaint shop was originally opened in 1930, making it one of the oldest bookstores in Nashville.

Elder’s Book Store is a well-loved favorite in the Nashville area for those hard-to-find editions of sought-after books.

  • Location: 101 White Bridge Pike, Nashville, TN 37209

When whimsical and fun children’s books are the focus of your shopping, you’ll only need to make one stop in the Nashville area.

Fairytales Bookstore is a tiny shop filled with a large assortment of children’s books and toys.

You’ll be able to pick from new releases, best sellers, and classic stories and tales that won’t be forgotten.

They even have monthly features surrounding a theme meant to educate or share specific cultures or topics.

Everything here is split by age range and then the topic, making it easy to pick the perfect title for the kid in your life.

Fairytales Bookstore is making literature-based dreams come true for little readers of any age.

  • Location: 1108 Woodland St, Unit G, Nashville, TN 37206

While this store is dedicated mostly to selling new and used music selections, their bookshop is one that can’t be overlooked.

Grimey’s New + Preloved Music has a large selection of vinyl, CDs, cassette tapes, and books.

Not only will they buy gently used books from patrons just like you, but they also collect and sell a curated collection of literature.

There’s even a small selection of brand-new titles for you to pick through.

If there’s something specific you’re looking for, give them a call or be sure to ask the friendly staff, they know a thing or two about the used book world.

Grimey’s New + Preloved Music is giving new life to a few of your favorite things, books, and music.

  • Location: 1060 E Trinity Ln, Nashville, TN 37216

As the name states, this bookstore sells used books at great prices.

Half Price Books is a family-owned chain that resells used novels, literature, movies, and music.

Everything here is gently used, but there are amazing collections, including sought-after best sellers and a special selection of staff picks they highlight each month.

You can even sell your well-loved books back to this store, so they can go on to live another life and continue to be enjoyed.

Spend your hours browsing their hand-built shelves and feel good about giving a new life to a used title at Half Price Books.

  • Location: 21 White Bridge Pike, Nashville, TN 37205

Buying new isn’t always the way to go, and that’s what this bookshop is all about. McKay’s Nashville is a used book and record store, making it a one-stop shop for literature and music.

Buy, sell, and trade your goods here, from CDs to DVDs and nearly any type of written book. You can even drop off games and some electronics to be resold or recycled.

This massive space is filled with rows upon rows of gently loved books awaiting their new home.

From classics to graphic novels, fiction stories, and children’s books, McKay’s Nashville has all the used titles you’ve been looking for.

  • Location: 636 Old Hickory Blvd, Nashville, TN 37209

Head to East Nashville to visit this fun and vibey space where books seem endless.

Novelette Booksellers is a go-to spot for book lovers of any age, with a highly curated collection of fiction and nonfiction titles.

The owners here have an eye for the book industry and like to celebrate differences, so this space strives to be inclusive to all visitors of any background.

Search for the most recent bestsellers, classic novels, young-adult titles, and even pre-order books that haven’t hit shelves yet. Novelette Booksellers is the perfect shop for any reader, from young to old.

  • Location: 1101 Chapel Ave, Ste 108, Nashville, TN 37206

You’ll find this independently owned bookstore conveniently located in a strip mall collection of stores.

Parnassus Books has a large collection of new and used novels and literature, including best sellers, new releases, staff picks, and even classics.

This store was opened by novelist Ann Patchett so you’ll also find a large display of her writings.

Named after the Greek temple for everything literature, learning, and music, this Nashville store strives to be the same thing for Music City.

Be sure to check out their airport bookshop when you’re on the go. Parnassus Books is the perfect place for any reader.

  • Location: 3900 Hillsboro Pike, #14, Nashville, TN 37215

This neighborhood bookstore is dedicated to supporting the creative community within Nashville, including avid readers and writers.

Rhino Booksellers   welcomes all to browse their shelves of used, rare, and endangered titles.

You can come here to find almost any title, from fiction to nonfiction, by writers all across the globe.

They’re always searching for gently-used hardcover and paper-bound books, so if you have a collection you’re ready to part with, this is the place to go.

Rhino Booksellers is a Nashville go-to for everything books.

  • Location: 4918 Charlotte Ave, Nashville, TN 37209

Give a new novel a try, or give new life to a used title. Either way, these bookstores across Nashville will have every book you’ve been looking for.

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literature book store near me

Fun fact about Antigone Books: it’s 100% solar powered.

  • Rebecca Sasnett, Arizona Daily Star
  • Copy article link

Exterior of Antigone Books in Tucson, AZ. on Wednesday, October 12, 2016. 

  • Ron Medvescek / Arizona Daily Star

Books are on display around a light up books sign, made by Syrena Arevalo-Trujilo and her husband, at Barrio Books at Hotel McCoy, 720 W. Silverlake Road.

  • Rebecca Sasnett, Arizona Daily Star 2020

Cassidy Crone stocks books in the young adult section at Bookmans Entertainment Exchange, 6230 E. Speedway.

  • Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star

Kathleen Greiner peruses a small portion of the fiction section at the 35th annual Friends of the Tucson-Pima Public Library Book sale.

  • Chris Richards / Arizona Daily Star

Cassie Smith, left, flips through a book as her husband, Steven, is seated beside her at The Littlest Bookshop.

  • Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star 2021

Children's books on display at Mildred and Dildred located at 1725 N. Swan Road, on Jan. 7, 2021.

  • Josh Galemore / Arizona Daily Star

Jody Hardy, store manager at Mostly Books, flips through a paperback as she tries to choose a book for a Book Lover's Surprise subscriber at the independent book store located at 6208 E Speedway Blvd, on Aug. 5, 2020. 

The Book Stop located at 214 N. 4th Ave. has been open since 1967 and carries a variety of books. March 6, 2020.

  • Mamta Popat / Arizona Daily Star

#ThisIsTucson's list of 11 local bookstores and pop-up book shops in Tucson, Arizona.

11 local bookstores where you can find your next must-read book 📚

What book are you picking up first.

Elvia Verdugo

Elvia Verdugo

Digital Features Reporter

  • Author twitter
  • Author email
  • Oct 8, 2022
  • Oct 8, 2022 Updated Oct 27, 2023

Tucson ❤️’s reading. 

We are a city filled with bookworms interested in all genres of literature. Fortunately for us, we have plenty of locally-owned bookstores and pop-up book shops to help you find your next must-read book.

Here is our updated list (in alphabetical order) of local bookstores to check out. Happy reading, Tucson! 📚

Antigone Books

Antigone Books has been a Tucson staple since the 1970s. The woman-owned bookstore has a diverse collection of regional, kids, LGBTQ+ and non-fiction books. Plus, the store is 100% solar-powered! 

Where: 411 N. Fourth Ave .

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; Closed on Monday.

For more information, visit their website .

Barrio Books

Barrio Books started as a pop-up book shop in 2019 and quickly caught the attention of many Tucsonans. The locally-owned shop is now housed at Hotel McCoy on Tucson’s west side. According to their  website , you'll be able to find books by local, Indigenous, Black and LGBTQ+ authors at this hidden bookshop.

Where:   720 W. Silverlake Road

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; Closed on Monday.

Bookmans is an Arizona-based bookstore that has multiple locations throughout Tucson. The store offers tons of used (and some new) books from every genre. They have a large collection of kids' books, too! 

Where:   6230 E. Speedway ; 3330 E. Speedway ; 3733 W. Ina Road

Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

For more information, visit their  website .

literature book store near me

Friends Book Barn

Buy books online and pick them up in person through the Friends of the Pima County Public Library’s online “book barn.” The best part? Books only cost $5 and all proceeds benefit the Pima County Public Library system here in Southern Arizona. 

Where: 3121 E. Bray Road

Hours: 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Saturday (for pick-up)

Littlest Bookshop

The Littlest Bookshop is one of Tucson’s newest kids’ bookstores that opened at the beginning of this year. The shop offers a wide variety of children’s books and hosts a weekly story time session on Saturdays. 

Where:   5011 E. Fifth St.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; Noon to 4 p.m. Sunday; Closed on Monday.

Mildred & Dildred

Local toy store Mildred & Dildred offers books for babies, toddlers, kids and teens. They also have a collection of bilingual books!

Where:   1725 N. Swan Road

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

For more information, visit Mildred & Dildred’s website .

Mostly Books

This independent bookstore sells books from a variety of genres. The shop also hosts numerous virtual book clubs! When you stop by, make sure you ask store manager Jody Hardy about the Tucson Tome Gnome . 

Where: 6208 E. Speedway

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; Noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Nexus Occult Books & Oddities

Don’t let the word “occult” deter you from checking out this unique local bookstore. The shop carries books about astrology, dreams, herbalism, medieval history, the paranormal and more. 

Where:   4865 E. Speedway

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

For more information, visit their Instagram page .

Revolutionary Grounds Books and Coffee

This coffee shop and social-justice-focused bookshop closed up its original location on Fourth Avenue in 2018 and later reopened at its current location on Speedway. Find books on social justice issues and more here. Don’t forget to grab a coffee while you’re there!

Where:   4675 E. Speedway

Hours: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; Closed on Monday.

Stacks Book Club

While this pop-up indie bookstore doesn’t have its brick-and-mortar shop open yet, you can purchase books through their online shop, or visit them at one of their pop-up events in Tucson or Oro Valley.

For more information, check out their  website .

The Book Stop

The Book Stop opened its doors at its original location on Campbell Avenue in 1967. The bookstore moved to its current location on Fourth Avenue 15 years ago, where it has remained since. You can find “used, rare, out of print and scholarly books” at this bookstore, according to their website .

Where: 214 N. Fourth Ave .

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; Closed on Monday and Tuesday.

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Group browsing books at Julia de Burgos Bookstore at Taller Puertorriqueño

Read This: A Guide to Philly Bookshops

Twenty independently owned bookstores to start your philly literary journey....

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Literary roots run deep in Philadelphia, a city that has inspired writers (think: Poe, Buck, Whitman, Alcott, Chomsky and Michener) and continues to nurture their legacies. But the heart of literary Philly lies in its legacy of — and love for — independent bookstores.

From massive book archives with thousands of titles to important diversity-first bookshops to comfy, cozy coffee shop booksellers, Philly is tuned into reading and book collecting culture in a major way.

The smells of a beloved paperback and the sounds of a new novel cracking open can be found across the city and region at favorite hangs like East Passyunk’s A Novel Idea , Harriett’s Bookshop in Fishtown, West Chester’s magical Baldwin’s Book Barn and Italian Market cookbook staple Molly’s Books & Records .

And the strength in Philly’s indie bookstore scene lies in its diverse bookrooms, including Latino-owned Julia de Burgos Bookstore , Hakim’s Bookstore — the East Coast’s oldest Black-owned bookstore — and the Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room , the oldest LGBTQ+ bookshop in the country.

To start your Philly literary journey any day of the year, hit the bookshelves at any of these 20 independently owned booksellers, and don’t forget to check out the official Philadelphia Bookstore Map for more inspiration on where to get your reading on.

A Novel Idea

Owners (and Tinder-matched married couple) Alexander Schneider and Christina Rosso-Schneider opened A Novel Idea as a way to give back and focus on their East Passyunk neighborhood through diversity, inclusion, and a shared love of books and local authors. The community-minded bookstore and artist event room fills a need for a reading space in the tight-knit neighborhood where Rosso-Schneider dreamed of owning a bookstore. The shop has a heavy focus on hyper-local creators in their Philadelphia Author and Small Press sections.

Where: A Novel Idea, 1726 E. Passyunk Avenue

Baldwin’s Book Barn

First established in Delaware in 1934, Baldwin’s Book Barn has been offering used, rare and fine books (along with manuscripts, maps, paintings, prints and more) in the Baldwin family’s West Chester location since World War II. The bookstore — named one of the “ World’s Most Beloved Independent Bookstores ” by Architectural Digest — is located inside a 200-year-old stone barn, which houses a collection of more than 300,000 titles crammed into every corner and hideaway (with plenty of cozy reading nooks and a wood-burning stove on site for good measure).

Where: Baldwin's Book Barn, 865 Lenape Road, West Chester

Big Blue Marble Bookstore

After growing up in Washington, DC and learning the trade in the Midwest, Sheila Allen realized her lifelong dream of owning her own progressive, feminist bookstore in a diverse neighborhood when she opened Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy in 2005. The lesbian-owned (and mostly staffed) shop specializes in children’s books, sci-fi, poetry and literary fiction, along with highlighted sections for queer literature and Black non-fiction, history and politics. The store features a café (with excellent tea) and hosts writing classes, book clubs and book signings.

Where: Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane

Bindlestiff Books

West Philly’s Bindlestiff Books is a true neighborhood bookstore, with a staff consisting entirely of volunteers living in the neighborhood it serves. Opened in 2005, the majority of Bindlestiff’s collection are deeply discounted, specializing in children’s books, literary fiction, labor studies and politics, and graphic novels. Pro tip: On a nice day, grab a good read, head two blocks to beautiful Clark Park and find a spot under a shady tree to dig into your new purchase.

Where: Bindlestiff Books, 4530 Baltimore Avenue

Black and Nobel

Despite moving from Broad and Erie to South Street during the pandemic, Black and Nobel remains true to its mission to be a vital community gathering space. More than a bookstore, the former Best of Philly winner also offers hard-to-find items like educational DVDs and CDs, skin and hair products, smoothies, and homemade sea moss products. But owner Hakim Hopkins (named for the founder of legendary Hakim’s Bookstore, see below) remains clear that his shop will always be a bookstore first — one that ships dozens of books to local prisons each week.

Where: Black and Nobel, 422 South Street

The Book Trader

The Book Trader is everything you’d want from a secondhand bookstore: a jam-packed 5,000-square-foot maze of crowded aisles lined with rows of used books from floor to ceiling (plus a second-floor record room). The spot is one of Philly’s oldest and largest used bookstores (it operated for 30 years on South Street before moving to the heart of Old City in 2004), with giant selections of both fiction and non-fiction titles. Bring your stacks of trades, as the shop offers 10-20% of the original sale price in store credit.

Where: The Book Trader, 7 N. 2nd Street

Farley’s Bookshop

Situated right on the Delaware River waterfront, Farley’s Bookshop has an impressive heritage — and an even more impressive history. The charming New Hope shop was founded in 1967 by Jim and Nancy Farley with help from two famous Pennsylvania friends: Mr. Rogers and author James Michener. The shop — occupying a building that dates to the turn of the 19th century — recently reopened after months of renovations. Farley’s houses the largest (and most diverse) collection of books in Bucks County and features a cozy atmosphere for reading in its aisles and reading nooks.

Where: Farley's Bookshop, 44 S. Main Street, New Hope

Hakim’s Bookstore & Gift Shop

Founded in 1959, Hakim’s Bookstore and Gift Shop is the oldest Black-owned bookstore on the East Coast and one of the oldest in the nation. With a collection devoted to Black studies and history, as well as children’s literature, biographies, memoirs and rare books from Black authors, Hakim’s has long been a gathering spot for activists, intellectuals, academics and community leaders. Founded by historian and scholar Dawud Hakim, the shop was an important location during the Civil Rights Movement and remains a vital fixture today under the leadership of Hakim’s daughter Yvonne Blake.

Where: Hakim's Bookstore & Gift Shop, 210 S. 52nd Street

Harriett’s Bookshop

Harriet's Bookshop

A bookstore named for Harriet Tubman will never turn away a challenge. Enter Harriett’s Bookshop , which opened its doors a month before the pandemic hit. Founder Jeannine Cook then turned her new store into a rallying point, providing literary diversions for locked-down neighbors. The activism-forward Fishtown shop celebrates “women authors, women artists and women activists,” particularly Black female icons like Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and Octavia Butler.

Where: Harriett’s Bookshop, 258 E. Girard Avenue

Head House Books

Seeing a need for community inspiration and a friendly debate space that only a bookstore can provide, Head House Books opened in 2005 on the border of Society Hill and Queen Village . Owner Richard De Wyngaer founded his shop with several core principles: curated experience over volume, discovery over sales, reading what truly matters and honoring the customer. Visitors find that and more in the aisles of bestsellers, classics, young adult and new releases in a friendly and bright atmosphere that has been honored as Best Bookstore by Philadelphia magazine.

Where: Head House Books, 619 S. 2nd Street

House of Our Own

Across from the University of Pennsylvania campus, House of Our Own is a stylish 1890 Victorian house in the heart of Penn’s fraternity and sorority row. As an Ivy League campus-adjacent shop, the two-story bookstore, open since 1971, specializes in academic pursuits like history, literary criticism, cultural studies and poli-sci. While House of Our Own offers a small selection of titles on their website, it’s well worth an in-person visit to experience the full scope of the late 19th-century building’s majesty and the shop’s full collection of titles.

Where: House of Our Own, 3920 Spruce Street

Ibrahim Books & Gifts

Tioga-Nicetown’s Ibrahim Books & Gifts was founded with the goal of providing a place for the city’s Muslim community to find books and publications that foster an understanding of Islam from traditional sources. As such, the shop’s staff spends hours curating the scores of available titles for authenticity before placing them on the shelves. The foundation of Ibrahim’s collection, accessible to the average Muslim (and anyone wanting to expand their knowledge of Islamic culture and religion), is contemporary Arabic texts from religious scholars translated by their students.

Where: Ibrahim Books & Gifts, 3920 Germantown Avenue

Julia de Burgos Bookstore at Taller Puertorriqueño

Inside of Julia de Burgos Bookstore at Taller Puertorriqueño

The only Spanish/English bilingual bookshop in Philadelphia, Julia de Burgos Bookstore specializes in titles from Latino authors (with a slight focus on Puerto Rican literature) and books about Latin American culture and social justice. The shop is part of Taller Puertorriqueño, a Puerto Rican and Latino community arts and culture center in the city’s West Kensington neighborhood, which provides year-round education programs, author events and art exhibitions. The bookstore also offers handcrafted art and other products from local Latino artisans.

Where: Julia de Burgos Bookstore at Taller Puertorriqueño, 2600 N. 5th Street

The Last Word

Inside The Last Word bookstore

The last word on used books in University City is Last Word Bookshop , popular with West Philly residents and University of Pennsylvania students alike. Founded in 1979, the shop is in its third incarnation, occupying its current space since 2016. Last Word stocks more than 80,000 used and out-of-print titles from nearly every genre curated by its famously helpful staff. One of the store’s best features is its hours, open daily until 10 p.m. for those late-night literary cravings.

Where: The Last Word, 220 S. 40th Street

Making Worlds Cooperative Bookstore and Social Center

Speaker at Making Worlds Cooperative Bookstore and Social Center

The Zapatista movement’s commitment to “making a world where many worlds fit” is where Making Worlds Cooperative Bookstore and Social Center found its name. The collectively run, self-managed nonprofit cooperative bookstore uses books as a gateway to provide a vibrant space for diverse educational, political and cultural programming. But that doesn’t mean the West Philly shop isn’t a haven for readers, with floor-to-ceiling collections (heavy on BIPOC authors) lining the quaint spot that also houses a pay-as-you-wish cafe with window seating.

Where: Making Worlds Cooperative Bookstore and Social Center, 210 S. 45th Street

Miscellanea Libri

With its Fishtown storefront windows proclaiming “BOOKS!,” Miscellanea Libri sits right on popular Girard Avenue along the Route 15 trolley line. The esoteric shop held court in Reading Terminal Market for nearly 30 years before moving to its current location in 2019. Its collection of new, used and rare books covers topics from art, history and religion to philosophy, poetry and culture. A Black-, veteran- and woman-owned space, Miscellanea Libri also features a “Bare Wall” space open to local artists to exhibit original works.

Where: Miscellanea Libri, 454 E. Girard Avenue

Molly’s Books & Records

If you’re going to run a bookshop in Philly’s famous Italian Market , you best carry a fantastic collection of cookbooks. Molly’s Books & Records offers an unmatched used cookbook and food-lit collection — including vintage and global cuisines — described as “ the best cookbook bookstore in Philadelphia ” by Eater. But the secondhand shop is more than just The Joy of Cooking , as Molly Russakoff’s family business (right down to Mrs. Stevenson, the shop cat ) offers plenty of cult, pulp, sci-fi and poetry titles, plus an extensive collection of vinyl records curated by husband Joe Ankenbrand.

Where: Molly's Books & Records, 1010 S. 9th Street

Mostly Books

Every part of Mostly Books Warehouse ’s name is true. The Queen Village spot is immense (somehow bigger inside than it appears on the outside), a cluttered and chaotic space selling, well, mostly books. Sporting a true eclectic funky South Street vibe, Mostly Books is a multi-roomed used-book haven with a remarkable selection of more than 100,000 titles alongside shelves full of DVDs, CDs, vinyl records, photographs and even VHS tapes.

Where: Mostly Books, 529 Bainbridge Street

Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room

Named for James Baldwin’s classic gay novel, Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room is the oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore in the nation. Founded in 1973, non-profit thrift store Philly AIDS Thrift took over management in 2014. A landmark in Philly’s Gayborhood , the store — which operates in buildings dating back to the 1800s — offers thousands of queer books and magazines (and even Playbills), feminist literature, plus shelves of art, movies, music and apparel from the thrift shop. When you stop by, be sure to check out the curated window displays and the historical marker outside.

Where: Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni's Room, 345 S. 12th Street

Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books

Name a more iconic pair than a cup of coffee and a good book. That’s the thinking behind Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books , a Black-owned community spot in Germantown named after owner (and author, professor and TV commentator) Marc Lamont Hill’s favorite uncle. With an inviting living room atmosphere, the shop lives by the motto: “Cool People. Dope Books. Great Coffee.” Order a latte or espresso along with a Danish or vegan brownie, and peruse the aisles filled with fiction and nonfiction titles with a focus on Black authors.

Where: Uncle Bobbie's Coffee & Books, 5445 Germantown Avenue

BONUS: Philadelphia Bookstore Map

Philadelphia Bookstore Map

The list above is just a small sample of the dozens of bookstores, shops and emporiums in Philadelphia. For more spots in which to find your next great read, hard-to-find secondhand book or perfect gift for the bibliophile in your life, check out the official Philadelphia Bookstore Map , a gorgeous hand-drawn reference guide (designed by visual artist Henry Crane) featuring 46 bookstores across the city.

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35 of the Best Bookstores in the USA

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Leah Rachel von Essen

By day, Leah Rachel von Essen is the editor-in-chief of Chicago Booth Magazine at the University of Chicago. By night, she reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist , and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram . She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

View All posts by Leah Rachel von Essen

Independent bookstores are the backbone of our communities — event spaces, community centers, and refuges, as this list of the best bookstores in the USA will show. I grew up in a town with a single brick & mortar Barnes & Noble, and I loved it — but nothing has compared to growing up and finding independent bookstores across this country where I can find love, acceptance, and validation. Through queer and woman-owned spaces — community spaces — I have found friendship, good reads, and new discoveries in gorgeous bookish spaces from San Francisco to New York City and from Austin, Texas, to my adopted city, Chicago.

Now, lists like this have been written before. So forgive me if I skip some of the bigger stores, the classics that get most of the attention. The Strand in New York City, Powell’s in Portland, and City Lights in San Francisco are stunning, much-loved bookstores, and I’ve been to them, and loved them. But I suspect most of you know them already. So we’re going to skip them and get straight to the best bookstores in the U.S. that you may not already know about.

Many of my fellow contributors wrote their own love letters to the bookstores across the U.S. doing good and valuable work, and I filled the spaces in between. Enjoy this list of beautiful bookstores doing community, activist, and bookish work that matters to their communities and to the reading world at large.

The Best Bookstores in the USA

Talking Leaves Books (Buffalo, NY)

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I’ve been going to this bookstore since I was small, but only as an adult did I realize just how good of a store it is. The selection is superb — they have a books-in-translation shelf, a great young adult section, and small but well-crafted shelves throughout. Their staff recommendations are always good, but more importantly, I can consistently find books there that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. They hold many events throughout the year and partner with the BABEL speaker series with Just Buffalo Literary Center that brings authors to speak throughout the year.

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Loyalty Bookstores (Washington, D.C. / Silver Spring, MD)

“I live in Washington, D.C., where I’m lucky to have access to a ton of phenomenal independent bookstores, but Loyalty Bookstore is my happiest of happy places. It’s a Black and queer-owned small business that centers books from diverse and unique perspectives. The owner, Hannah Oliver Depp, is a former Book Riot contributor and all-around wonderful person, and WOW does Hannah know how to find the best booksellers in the business to work at Loyalty. They put together fantastic events, both virtual and in-person, and are always looking for new ways to get books in the hands of readers. You can see the team featured on Good Morning America , which recently gave Loyalty a giant check to help them get a bookmobile up and running in DC!” — Susie Dumond

The Golden Notebook (Woodstock, NY)

“This is my childhood bookstore, and I am definitely biased, but it has so many books packed into its fairly small space, and is where I met my childhood writing hero, Paula Danziger, back in the ‘80s. It’s such a joy to still be able to visit when I’m in town, and they always have something I didn’t know I was looking for.” — Annika Barranti Klein

Greenlight Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)

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Greenlight was founded in 2009 in Brooklyn, and has grown to its huge level of success today. It has two locations, a big feat in an age when brick-and-mortars can struggle, and is truly a neighborhood bookstore. On the business end, Greenlight is known for its startup model. Their “community-lender” model has been used around the country by other bookstores — asking the community to give loans for the new location, which would be repaid and also give each lender “employee” discounts until repaid. It was explicitly a loan system rather than a donation one in order to emphasize that independent bookstores are a community asset and institution.

Harriet’s Bookshop (Philadelphia, PA)

Jeannine Cook is the founder of Harriet’s Bookshop, which was founded to “celebrate women authors, women artists, and women activists,” and named after Harriet Tubman. I’ve been in love with Cook ever since her article in Oprah Daily — she also owns Ida’s Bookshop in Collingswood, New Jersey, named after Ida B. Wells. Every month, the inventory changes based on a theme. There are musical performances in-house for browsers and exciting events hosted each month. The Black-owned bookstore is an exciting rising star in the indie world.

Three Lives & Company (New York, NY)

“I discovered this magical bookstore in the ‘90s, and try to visit it every time I am in New York…even though sometimes it isn’t there . This tiny store is jam-packed full of excellent fiction, if you can find it in the first place.” —Annika Barranti Klein

Three Lives is a New York icon. Founded by three women in 1978, Jill Dunbar, Jenny Feder and Helene Webb, and now owned by Toby Cox, it has been lauded by The Hours author Michael Cunningham, and other fans include Sarah Jessica Parker, Zadie Smith, and Patti Smith.

Book Moon Books (Easthampton, MA)

“This small but delightful bookstore is owned by author Kelly Link, and it is one of the coziest and most joyful bookstores I’ve ever had the pleasure to browse. They sell both used and new books, but what really sets them apart is the selection. I’ve found books at Book Moon that I’ve never seen on a shelf in any other bookstore! They support tons of small indie presses, stock brilliant but lesser-known titles, and have an incredible selection of queer lit, especially given the store’s small size. And if all that wasn’t enough, Kelly Link also runs Small Beer Press, whose books are always in stock in the store, and the wonderful booksellers of Book Moon are the geniuses behind the Reader’s Guide to Western Massachusetts map — an incredible resource for book lovers!” — Laura Sackton

McIntyre’s Books (Pittsboro, NC)

“This is a super cute independent bookstore in Fearrington Village, home to the beltie cows, or the “Oreo cows,” as they’re known. (Full disclosure, I worked here a little more than a decade ago). If you’re looking for a well-read staff who’s enthusiastic about books (just ask Pete about the mystery section!) and is always up for picking just the right book, this is the place for you. Author events, a delightful children’s section, a diverse and inclusive selection of books and gifts, and a great staff make this a fun place to visit.” — Jaime Herndon

Housing Works Bookstore (New York, NY)

Join us to observe World AIDS Day in Manhattan on Thursday, December 1. We'll return to reading the names of those we've lost. Sign up to attend or read names here ⬇️ https://t.co/r8t5oM1TRi pic.twitter.com/vr2GsUjo0R — Housing Works (@housingworks) November 29, 2022

This bookstore and café in SoHo hosts performances, The Moth StorySLAM, readings, and more, and sells a fantastic selection of donated used books. But most importantly for me, 100% of the profits go to the Housing Works nonprofit, which was founded by four members of activist group ACT UP to fund social justice work fighting HIV, AIDS, and homelessness across the city. When you buy books from this stunning bookstore, you’re not only getting wonderful reads, but you’re also funding vital and meaningful work.

Longfellow Books (Portland, ME)

Longfellow describes itself not just as independent, but “fiercely independent.” Named after poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, this bookstore is much-loved by people for their knowledgable staff and all their recommendations and curation — in other words, the things that most make independent and local bookstores what they are.

Midwest & Great Plains

Moon Palace Books (Minneapolis, MN)

I love @MoonPalaceBooks so much and it was such a treat to stop back in this morning. ❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/E5fb3BzhRG — Celeste Ng (@pronounced_ing) October 26, 2022

First and foremost, the logo for this bookstore is the most amazing reading sloth, and I love it. The bookstore has been open since 2012. In the #BlackLivesMatter protests following George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Moon Palace Books was actively supportive, making pizzas for and talking with protestors. The owners Angela and Jamie Schwenedl won the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association Booksellers of the Year award in 2020, and were praised for their “radically welcoming generosity of spirit that radiates throughout the community and the book industry at large.” The bookstore is currently open to those wearing masks, and supports a queer book club, cinema book club, book launches, and more.

Semicolon Bookstore & Gallery (Chicago, IL)

This Black woman–owned bookstore and cultural community center opened in Chicago in 2019, and showcases authors of color and work by local artists. It is currently in the process of moving back to its original location, and I can’t wait to visit! In Fall, it held its first-ever Lit Fest, which featured food trucks, cocktails, and authors including Jessamine Chan, Dr. Tara Betts, and José Olivarez. The store has a nonprofit, Parenthesis, that supports closing the literacy gap in marginalized communities by working with Chicago Public Schools.

Seminary Co-op Bookstores / 57th Street Books (Chicago, IL)

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After decades of being incorporated as a cooperative, the Seminary Co-op transitioned to be a nonprofit in 2019: all profits are reinvested to support the cultural mission of bookselling. Led by director Jeff Deutsch, they’re making the case for a new way to sustain our local, indie bookstores and acknowledge them as not just a place to buy things, but as the neighborhood institutions they are. Plus, Seminary Co-op and its second location at 57th Street Books (just two blocks away) are beautiful, maze-like bookstores with fantastic selections.

Eyeseeme African American Children’s Bookstore (University City, MO)

This children’s bookstore describes its mission as: “to be a resource to parents, teachers, and schools in providing the very best children’s books on the market that promote positive images and stories about African American culture and history.” I mean! The founders are themselves parents, and have created the kind of bookstore they would want children to have. Not only is their selection based in this, but they also host book fairs, a mentorship program, history presentations, and more.

Books & Mortar (Grand Rapids, MI)

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Jenny Kinne, who became the owner in 2018, describes Books & Mortar as “proudly progressive, consciously curated, and fiercely independent.” There’s something deeply satisfying about an independent bookstore named after the brick & mortar model. This store is politically active and a true integrated part of the community, rich with the feeling that you truly know your booksellers in all the best ways.

The Raven Bookstore (Lawrence, KS)

Today a customer mentioned that she could get a new hardcover book online for $15. Our mission is not to shame anyone for their shopping practices, but we do feel a responsibility to educate about what it means when a new hardcover is available for $15 online. — Raven Book Store (@ravenbookstore) April 17, 2019

I first discovered the Raven through their sharp and vital advocacy in support of independent bookstores online, and have more and more fallen in love with this store that fights against Amazon and for the USPS on its social channels. Originally founded as a mystery book shop, it’s now an employee-owned business that was Publishers Weekly’s 2022 bookstore of the year. It is integral in the Lawrence, Kansas community and a vital piece in the independent bookstore fight to thrive across the U.S. Oh…and they have two bookstore cats, Dashiell and Ngaio, who I love unconditionally even though we’ve never met.

Brain Lair Books (South Bend, IN)

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This Black-owned, woman-owned children’s bookstore focuses on stocking an inclusive selection of books — children’s and YA books written by and written for the BIPOC, queer, and disabled communities — plus adult nonfiction as well. This is the kind of bookstore I wish was available to me as a kid. They host fantastic readings and in-person events, including a Social Justice Book Club and author readings by writers such as Anna-Marie McLemore and Aiden Thomas.

Prairie Lights (Iowa City, IA)

This bookstore is best known for its nearness to the University of Iowa’s writers’ workshop, making it a center for literary life in the U.S., having hosted authors from Toni Morrison to Susan Sontag. It also hosts “Live from Prairie Lights,” a reading series, that ran for 18 years on WSUI and now runs on college radio station KRUI-FM and online. This iconic indie is huge, and has a coffee shop where writers like E.E. Cummings and Robert Frost used to gather. Its poetry section is particularly iconic.

Women and Children First (Chicago, IL)

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“In my humble opinion, this is one of the best independent bookstores in Chicago. Located in the Andersonville neighborhood, this women-owned indie bookstore is dedicated to amplifying underrepresented voices, and they focus on maintaining an intersectional, trans-inclusive feminist space. Women & Children First also has an incredibly large and diverse LGBTQIA+ book selection, and regularly hosts fantastic author and community-based events. They also have a strong partnership with Chicago public schools and a number of other Chicago local organizations. They’ve created such a welcoming, inclusive space, and it is a genuine joy to shop here and contribute to the good work that they do on a daily basis.” — Melissa Baron

Skylight Books (Los Angeles, CA)

“Chris Pine (objectively the best Chris) shops here, and they have the best book events of any store around. Add in a huge range of genres and an actual tree growing through the middle of the store right up to the literal skylight, and you’ve got a perfect bookstore. And I love their friends with benefits program — the benefits are books! Well, discounts on books, which is basically the same thing.” —Annika Barranti Klein

Sour Cherry Comics (San Francisco, CA)

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Lesbian-owned Sour Cherry Comics is one of a few really exciting new minority-owned bookstores opening up across the U.S. that has me really excited for the future of indies. When I visited in early spring, it was brand new, and owner Leah Morett and her precious small dog welcomed us. The selection was incredible for such a small, up-and-coming spot — a shelf of radical nonfiction and memoir, a shelf of adult and YA queer fiction, art and zines from local artists, manga and comics for all ages, and space for community events. Since then, I’ve seen them host workshops, comic release parties, readings, open mics, and more, and they always are the first to have your queer comic faves.

Broadway Books (Portland, OR)

This women-owned independent bookstore has been thriving in Portland since 1992. This year they promoted what they called The Year of Reading Ursula K. Le Guin. I was lucky enough to visit and it was warm, friendly, and a cozy place to spend a rainy day. They try to keep their selection eclectic and diverse, highlighting a wide range. They have a frequent buyer program and celebrated their 30th anniversary last May with custom jigsaw puzzles, cupcakes, and the promise that anyone who wore their Broadway Books T-shirt or hoodie in-store would get something extra-special.

Bel Canto Books (Long Beach, CA)

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Last year, contributor Stacey Megally wrote in her excellent piece on AAPI-owned bookstores and their recommendations: “Bel Canto Books’  community-led book clubs ,  monthly events , and  three shopping options  make it easy for readers everywhere to engage with them.” This bookstore, owned by Filipina-American poet Jhoanna Belfer, offers a curated selection of books particularly by women and people of color, and hosts pop-up events and personalized recommendations. The bookstore is currently gathering donations to support a second location in Bixby Knolls, and describes itself as a “proud member of the #StandUpForAAPI awareness and action campaign.”

Changing Hands (Phoenix, AZ)

“This is a store that is so engaged with its community, with an almost constant stream of events featuring nationally-recognized to more local authors. They also host writing workshops, book clubs, and even crafting circles at their bookstore/bar location in downtown Phoenix. And, have we talked about the books? Both locations are so relaxing to browse and discover new authors, with book sellers that take time to highlight and amplify underrepresented voices.” — Nikki VanRy

Sistah Scifi (Oakland, CA)

This indie bookstore founded by Isis Asare (which is in the midst of crowd-funding ) is the first Black-owned SFF bookstore in the US. It describes itself as “a cauldron of all things afro-futurism — mysticism, science fiction, voodoo, magical realism, speculative fiction, and horror — casting spells to uplift literature written by Black and Native American women.” Their calendar boasts book clubs and watch parties, and their Wine Down Wednesdays have hosted guests, including Sheree Renée Thomas, Kosoko Jackson, and more.

The Ripped Bodice (Culver City, CA)

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“The first all-romance bookstore in the United States is owned by queer, Jewish sisters, and it’s genuinely one of the most pleasant spots in the greater Los Angeles area. Everyone who works there is a true romance expert, and they carry every sub-genre and a range of age categories. I adore this store!” —Annika Barranti Klein

Under the Umbrella Bookstore (Salt Lake City, UT)

This “little queer bookstore” recommended by contributor CJ Connor is a place of refuge for queer people that’s just getting started. They stock queer authors, queer stories, and queer perspectives, and all other items and gifts in their store are made by queer artists or businesses. Their website states that “Under the Umbrella is meant to help bridge the gap between what Salt Lake City currently has and what the city needs by providing a safe, accessible, and inclusive space for everyone.”

Fabulosa Books (San Francisco, CA)

I just signed every copy of ¡Hola Papi! at Fabulosa Books so if you’re in the Castro go get your copy! It’s a GREAT STORE pic.twitter.com/86J8l9aFE2 — JP (@jpbrammer) March 9, 2022

Smack in the middle of the very historically queer Castro District is a beautifully gay bookstore. Formerly a branch of Dog Eared Books, when it was going to close after struggling despite a GoFundMe during the pandemic, 20-year employee Alvin Orloff bought it instead, and reopened it as it is today. “We were determined to survive because a neighborhood without a bookstore is like a day without sunshine,”  he said when it was purchased . “We’re very mindful of the fact we’re occupying the same space as A Different Light Books, which served queer San Francisco during the difficult years of the 1980s, ’90s, and early 2000s.” I’ve been there, and it’s wonderful.

Magic City Books (Tulsa, OK)

“The best bookstores not only celebrate literature; they celebrate their community and try to shape it for the better. Magic City Books, an amazing bookstore in Tulsa, Oklahoma, does just that. I love how thoughtfully they promote Oklahoma voices among their titles, like books about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, local Indigenous perspectives and history, and thoughtful investigations of the oil industry. Their Advisory Board is made up of prolific authors including born and raised Tulsa poet Joy Harjo, David Sedaris, Sir Salman Rushdie, and many more. MCB and its nonprofit owner, the Tulsa Literary Coalition, have been doing the incredibly important work of pushing back against Oklahoma book bans. I’m so grateful for all they’re doing to build Tulsa’s literary community.” —Susie Dumond

Black Pearl Books (Austin, TX)

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“This Black-owned bookstore is beyond amazing for multiple reasons. It is family-owned and this love is apparent from the moment you walk into the store, where you’re greeted with a smile and salutation. They work closely with the local school district through numerous initiatives, such as the Redacted Reads Club which helps to get banned/challenged books in the hands of the students. They also started a non-profit called Put It In a Book, which is designed to promote representation, inclusion, and diversity in literature. In short, everything about this store is amazing!” — P.N. Hinton

WordsWorth Books (Little Rock, AR)

“Arkansas, the home of Walmart, can be a difficult place for a small local business to thrive. I grew up there and saw way too many beloved places close. But WordsWorth Books has stuck around for 40 years now thanks to its ties to the Little Rock community and its passionate booksellers. From celebrating local authors to partnering with the Clinton School of Public Service to supporting local hospitals and libraries, WordsWorth is right at the center of Arkansas’s literary heart. And although it’s not a huge storefront, they somehow always seem to have just the book you’re looking for — along with a great recommendation for a new favorite.” —Susie Dumond

Parnassus Books (Nashville, TN)

Founded by novelist Ann Patchett and Karen Hayes, Parnassus Books describes itself as “the independent bookstore for independent people.” They have an online magazine that includes Patchett’s blog, reading lists, and most importantly, stories from the store’s shop dogs (and there are a lot of them). The bookstore was built to be a true neighborhood bookstore from events to collaborations with local organizations. Patchett’s prestige in the book world community and the rich atmosphere that Parnassus has forged brings authors to the store. And their subscription boxes are carefully curated.

Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, SC)

Each year, book lovers and authors swarm to YALL Fest, a young adult book festival in Charleston, South Carolina. And Blue Bicycle Books is behind it all, their staff working overtime to get it going. In 2022, authors including Adam Silvera, Angie Thomas, Casey McQuiston, Cassandra Clare, Daniel José Older, Dhonielle Clayton, Neal Shusterman, Nic Stone, and many, many more gathered to discuss their work and the state of YA today. And of course it’s a wonderful bookstore in its own right.

Lark & Owl (Georgetown, TX)

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“This is a woman-owned bookstore close to downtown Georgetown. When you walk in, you’re immediately greeted by a staff member so you feel welcomed from the start. They also regularly will host live podcast recordings and have multiple book clubs available. No matter what your preferred genre is, you’ll be able to find one for you. In addition to promoting an open and safe environment for everyone, they also believe in civic duty and will open up their bistro to the Voter’s League and close down to give their employees the opportunity to go vote. They also highlight local artists and authors and will regularly open up their courtyard for Market Days for them.” —P.N. Hinton

Did we miss a bookstore that has to be on this list? I am absolutely certain we did. Let me know on Twitter!

For more of the best bookstores in the U.S. and beyond, check out our list of indie bookstores you can shop at from around the world , the 15 most Instagrammed bookstores in the world , our list of the best bookstores in all 50+ states , and other lists of amazing indie bookstores .

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Once Upon a Time, the World of Picture Books Came to Life

The tale behind a new museum of children’s literature is equal parts imagination, chutzpah and “The Little Engine That Could.”

Four people sitting in an illustration from the book "Caps for Sale." A woman holds a copy of the book and is reading it to to two small children and a man.

By Elisabeth Egan

Photographs and Video by Chase Castor

Elisabeth Egan followed the Rabbit Hole as it was nearing completion. She has written about several of its inhabitants for The Times.

On a crisp Saturday morning that screamed for adventure, a former tin can factory in North Kansas City, Mo., thrummed with the sound of young people climbing, sliding, spinning, jumping, exploring and reading.

Yes, reading.

If you think this is a silent activity, you haven’t spent time in a first grade classroom. And if you think all indoor destinations for young people are sticky, smelly, depressing hellholes, check your assumptions at the unmarked front door.

Welcome to the Rabbit Hole, a brand-new, decade-in-the-making museum of children’s literature founded by the only people with the stamina for such a feat: former bookstore owners. Pete Cowdin and Deb Pettid are long-married artists who share the bullish determination of the Little Red Hen. They’ve transformed the hulking old building into a series of settings lifted straight from the pages of beloved picture books.

Before we get into what the Rabbit Hole is, here’s what it isn’t: a place with touch screens, a ball pit, inscrutable plaques, velvet ropes, a cloying soundtrack or adults in costumes. It doesn’t smell like graham crackers, apple juice or worse (yet). At $16 per person over 2 years old, it also isn’t cheap.

During opening weekend on March 16, the museum was a hive of freckles and gap toothed grins, with visitors ranging in age from newborn to well seasoned. Cries of “Look up here!,” “There’s a path we need to take!” and “There’s Good Dog Carl !” created a pleasant pandemonium. For every child galloping into the 30,000 square foot space, there was an adult hellbent on documenting the moment.

Did you ever have to make a shoe box diorama about your favorite book? If so, you might remember classmates who constructed move-in ready mini kingdoms kitted out with gingham curtains, clothespin people and actual pieces of spaghetti.

Cowdin, Pettid and their team are those students, all grown up.

The main floor of the Rabbit Hole consists of 40 book-themed dioramas blown up to life-size and arranged, Ikea showroom-style, in a space the size of two hockey rinks. The one inspired by John Steptoe’s “ Uptown ” features a pressed tin ceiling, a faux stained-glass window and a jukebox. In the great green room from “ Goodnight Moon ,” you can pick up an old-fashioned phone and hear the illustrator’s son reading the story.

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One fictional world blends into the next, allowing characters to rub shoulders in real life just as they do on a shelf. Visitors slid down the pole in “The Fire Cat,” slithered into the gullet of the boa constrictor in “ Where the Sidewalk Ends ” and lounged in a faux bubble bath in “ Harry the Dirty Dog .” There are plenty of familiar faces — Madeline , Strega Nona , Babar — but just as many areas dedicated to worthy titles that don’t feature household names, including “ Crow Boy ,” “ Sam and the Tigers ,” “ Gladiola Garden ” and “ The Zabajaba Jungle .”

Emma Miller, a first-grade teacher, said, “So many of these are books I use in my classroom. It’s immersive and beautiful. I’m overwhelmed.”

As her toddler bolted toward “ Frog and Toad ,” Taylar Brown said, “We love opportunities to explore different sensory things for Mason. He has autism so this is a perfect place for him to find little hiding holes.”

A gaggle of boys reclined on a bean bag in “ Caps for Sale ,” passing around a copy of the book. Identical twins sounded out “ Bread and Jam for Frances ” on the pink rug in the badger’s house. A 3-year-old visiting for the second time listened to her grandfather reading “The Tawny Scrawny Lion.”

Tomy Tran, a father of three from Oklahoma, said, “I’ve been to some of these indoor places and it’s more like a jungle gym. Here, my kids will go into the area, pick up the book and actually start reading it as if they’re in the story.”

All the titles scattered around the museum are available for purchase at the Lucky Rabbit, a bookstore arranged around a cozy amphitheater. Pettid and Cowdin estimate that they’ve sold one book per visitor, with around 650 guests per day following the pink bunny tracks from the parking lot.

Once upon a time, Cowdin and Pettid owned the Reading Reptile, a Kansas City institution known not just for its children’s books but also for its literary installations. When Dav Pilkey came to town, Pettid and Cowdin welcomed him by making a three-and-a-half foot papier-mâché Captain Underpants. Young customers pitched in to build Tooth-Gnasher Superflash or the bread airplane from “In the Night Kitchen.”

One of the store’s devotees was Meg McMath, who continued to visit through college, long after she’d outgrown its offerings (and its chairs). Now 36, McMath traveled from Austin, Texas with her husband and six-month-old son to see the Rabbit Hole. “I’ve cried a few times,” she said.

The Reading Reptile weathered Barnes & Noble superstores and Amazon. Then came “the Harry Potter effect,” Pettid said, “where all of a sudden adults wanted kids to go from picture books to thick chapter books. They skipped from here to there; there was so much they were missing.”

As parents fell under the sway of reading lists for “gifted” kids, story time became yet another proving ground.

“It totally deformed the reading experience,” Cowdin said. Not to mention the scourge of every bookstore: surreptitious photo-snappers who later shopped online.

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In 2016, Cowdin and Pettid closed the Reptile to focus on the Rabbit Hole, an idea they’d been percolating for years. They hoped it would be a way to spread the organic bookworm spirit they’d instilled in their five children while dialing up representation for readers who had trouble finding characters who looked like them. The museum would celebrate classics, forgotten gems and quality newcomers. How hard could it be?

Cowdin and Pettid had no experience in the nonprofit world. They knew nothing about fund-raising or construction. They’re ideas people, glass half full types, idealists but also stubborn visionaries. They didn’t want to hand their “dream” — a word they say in quotes — to consultants who knew little about children’s books. Along the way, board members resigned. Their kids grew up. Covid descended. A tree fell on their house and they had to live elsewhere for a year. “I literally have told Pete I quit 20 times,” Pettid said.

“It has not always been pleasant,” Cowdin said. “But it was just like, OK, we’re going to do this and then we’re going to figure out how to do it. And then we just kept figuring it out.”

Little by little, chugging along like “ The Little Engine That Could ,” they raised $15 million and assembled a board who embraced their vision and commitment to Kansas City. They made a wish list of books — “Every ethnicity. Every gender. Every publisher,” Pettid said — and met with rights departments and authors’ estates about acquiring permissions. Most were receptive; some weren’t. (They now have rights to more than 70 titles.)

“A lot of people think a children’s bookstore is very cute,” Pettid said. “They have a small mind for children’s culture. That’s why we had to buy this building.”

For $2 million, they bought the factory from Robert Riccardi, an architect whose family operated a beverage distribution business there for two decades. His firm, Multistudio, worked with Cowdin and Pettid to reimagine the space, which sits on an industrial corner bordered by train tracks, highways and skyline views.

Cowdin and Pettid started experimenting with layouts. Eventually they hired 39 staff members, including 21 full-time artists and fabricators who made everything in the museum from some combination of steel, wood, foam, concrete and papier-mâché.

“My parents are movers and shakers,” Gloria Cowdin said. She’s the middle of the five siblings, named after Frances the badger’s sister — and, yes, that’s her voice reading inside the exhibit. “There’s never been something they’ve wanted to achieve that they haven’t made happen, no matter how crazy.”

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During a sneak peek in December, it was hard to imagine how this semi-construction zone would coalesce into a museum. The 22,000 square foot fabrication section was abuzz with drills and saws. A whiteboard showed assembly diagrams and punch lists. (Under “Random jobs,” someone had jotted, “Write Christmas songs.”) The entryway and lower level — known as the grotto and the burrow — were warrens of scaffolding and machinery.

But there were pockets of calm. Kelli Harrod worked on a fresco of trees outside the “ Blueberries for Sal ” kitchen, unfazed by the hubbub. In two years as lead painter, she’d witnessed the Rabbit Hole’s steady growth.

“I remember painting the ‘ Pérez and Martina ’ house before there was insulation,” Harrod said. “I was bundled up in hats, gloves and coats, making sure my hands didn’t shake.”

Leigh Rosser was similarly nonplused while describing his biggest challenge as design fabrication lead. Problem: How to get a dragon and a cloud to fly above a grand staircase in “ My Father’s Dragon .” Solution: “It’s really simple, conceptually” — it didn’t sound simple — “but we’re dealing with weight in the thousands of pounds, mounted up high. We make up things that haven’t been done before, or at least that I’m not aware of.”

Attention to detail extends to floor-bound exhibits. The utensil drawer in “Blueberries for Sal” holds Pete Cowdin’s mother’s egg whisk alongside a jar containing a baby tooth that belonged to Cowdin and Pettid’s oldest daughter, Sally. The tooth is a wink at “ One Morning in Maine ,” an earlier Robert McCloskey book involving a wiggly bicuspid — or was it a molar? If dental records are available, Cowdin and Pettid have consulted them for accuracy.

“With Pete and Deb, it’s about trying to picture what they’re seeing in their minds,” said Brian Selznick , a longtime friend who helped stock the shelves in the Lucky Rabbit. He’s the author of “ The Invention of Hugo Cabret ,” among many other books.

Three months ago, the grotto looked like a desert rock formation studded with pink Chiclets. The burrow, home of Fox Rabbit, the museum’s eponymous mascot, was dark except for sparks blasting from a soldering iron. The floor was covered with tiny metal letters reclaimed from a newly-renovated donor wall at a local museum.

Cowdin and Pettid proudly explained their works-in-progress; these were the parts of the museum that blossomed from seed in their imaginations. But to the naked eye, they had the charm of a bulkhead door leading to a scary basement.

When the museum opened to the public, the grotto and the burrow suddenly made sense. The pink Chiclets are books, more than 3000 of them — molded in silicone, cast in resin — incorporated into the walls, the stairs and the floor. They vary from an inch-and-a-half to three inches thick. As visitors descend into the Rabbit Hole, they can run their fingers over the edges of petrified volumes. They can clamber over rock formations that include layers of books. Or they can curl up and read.

Dennis Butt, another longtime Rabbit Hole employee, molded 92 donated books into the mix, including his own copies of “ The Hobbit ” and “ The Lord of the Rings .” He said, “They’re a little piece of me.”

As for the metal letters, they’re pressed into the walls of a blue-lit tunnel leading up a ramp to the first floor. They spell the first lines of 141 books, including “ Charlotte’s Web ,” “Devil in the Drain” and “ Martha Speaks .” Some were easier to decipher than others, but “Mashed potatoes are to give everybody enough” jumped out. It called to mind another line from “A Hole is to Dig,” Ruth Krauss’s book of first definitions (illustrated by a young Maurice Sendak ): “The world is so you have something to stand on.”

At the Rabbit Hole, books are so you have something to stand on. They’re the bedrock and the foundation; they’re the solid ground.

Cowdin and Pettid have plans to expand into three more floors, adding exhibit space, a print shop, a story lab, a resource library and discovery galleries. An Automat-style cafeteria and George and Martha -themed party and craft room will open soon. A rooftop bar is also in the works.

Of course, museum life isn’t all happily ever after. Certain visitors whined, whinged and wept, especially as they approached the exit. One weary adult said, “Charlie, we did it all.”

Then, “Charlie, it’s time to go.”

And finally, “Fine, Charlie, we’re leaving you here.” Cue hysteria.

But the moral of this story — and the point of the museum, and maybe the point of reading, depending on who you share books with — crystallized in a quiet moment in the great green room. A boy in a Chiefs Super Bowl T-shirt pretended to fall asleep beneath a fleecy blanket. Before closing his eyes, he said, “Goodnight, Grandma. Love you to the moon.”

Elisabeth Egan is a writer and editor at the Times Book Review. She has worked in the world of publishing for 30 years. More about Elisabeth Egan

The Great Read

Here are more fascinating tales you can’t help reading all the way to the end..

Deathbed Visions: Researchers are documenting deathbed visions , a phenomenon that seems to help the dying, as well as those they leave behind.

The Pants Pendulum: Around 2020, the “right” pants began to swing from skinny to wide. But is there even a consensus around trends anymore ?

The Psychic Peril of Mars: NASA is conducting tests on what might be the greatest challenge of a human mission to the red planet: the trauma of isolation .

Saved by a Rescue Dog: He spent 13 years addicted to cocaine. Running a shelter for abused and neglected dogs in New York has kept him sober, but it hasn’t been easy .

An Art Mogul's Fall: After a dramatic rise in business and society, Louise Blouin finds herself unloading a Hamptons dream home in bankruptcy court .

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Locally owned bookstore opens in Modesto's Roseburg Square. Here's what makes it unique

A pr. 5—A "crazy dream" turned to reality when Bookish, selling new and used books in Roseburg Square, celebrated its grand opening Thursday morning.

Mayor Sue Zwahlen, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, donors and book enthusiasts gathered to see the final product of an idea born nearly two years ago.

"I don't think I've ever been this emotional at a ribbon cutting before," Zwahlen said. "There is something very unique about this place."

Owners Paula Treick DeBoard and Will DeBoard got the idea to open an indie bookstore after Yesterday's Books on McHenry Avenue closed in 2022.

The conversation between husband and wife eventually changed from "Modesto needs to have a bookstore" to "We need to open a bookstore in Modesto," Will DeBoard said.

"Obviously, we want to sell a lot of books," he said, but working with and for the community is also important to the couple.

One shelf in the store houses books by authors from the 209, including owner Paula Treick Deboard, who has written and published four novels: "Here We Lie," "The Drowning Girls," "The Fragile World" and "The Mourning Hours".

Handmade merchandise from Central Valley crafters and paintings from area artists are also sold at Bookish.

The DeBoards used crowdfunding to help kick-start their business. The names of those who donated are incorporated into the titles of children's books in a faux bookshelf archway over the youth area in the store.

Names like, "One Mill, Two Mill, Red Mill, Yogurt Mill" and "Go Deb Hall, Go!" are displayed on the spines of painted foam books.

Bookshelves throughout the store are sectioned with genres including memoir, history, travel, romance and mystery.

"Little Bookish," the youth area of the store, has seating, activity tables and children's books that range from very young to junior high.

Long tables in the middle of the store, a love seat and chairs in a corner, a row of bar stools facing a window and several chairs placed outside the store serve as reading and gathering areas.

There is a coffee cart and other drinks and snacks for sale.

Visitors can exchange gently used books for store credit beginning April 11. The store gives 25% of the retail price for books exchanged through this program. Donations also are accepted.

Bookish will serve as an event space and host readings, book club gatherings, live music, painting parties and more. If you have an idea for an event you'd like to see or host at Bookish, you can fill out a form at bookishmodesto.com/events .

Bookish grand opening weekend events

Bookish is celebrating its grand opening through Saturday with live music and giveaways.

The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, and local musician Tea Noelle will perform from 6 to 8 p.m. Visit the checkout stand to enter a drawing for a book lover's basket and an artisan luxury pen.

Saturday's drawings will include a mystery-themed basket and an artisan luxury pen. The store's hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Regular spring hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Visit the store at 811 W. Roseburg Ave. or online at bookishmodesto.com .

This story was originally published April 5, 2024, 10:59 AM.

(c)2024 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

How to shop in used-book stores: 14 tips from a bibliophile

Bring a flashlight and expect to get dirty. michael dirda, a connoisseur of used-book stores, shares his shopping tricks..

literature book store near me

Being now a grizzled veteran of many, many expeditions to used-book shops, I’ve gradually assembled a set of principles to guide me in my quests for biblio-treasure. What follows are a few of the unofficial rules and insider tips to bear in mind when you go out “booking.”

Wear comfortable clothes

Unless you’re visiting a high-end dealer such as Silver Spring, Md.’s Type Punch Matrix or a small oasis like Kensington Row Book Shop in Kensington, Md., you’ll be bending down to peer at shadowy bottom shelves, possibly going through boxes and probably getting dirty. Think of yourself as a prospector. Carry a small flashlight.

Go forth in a spirit of adventure

If you want just one particular title by John McPhee or Ursula K. Le Guin, you’re likely to be disappointed. Instead, be ready for anything, whether it’s discovering a new author or pouncing on an undervalued gem. You’ll only know what you need when you see it.

Take your time

At venues like the Second Story Books Warehouse in Rockville, Md ., Capitol Hill Books, or Wonder Book and Video emporium in Frederick, Md ., you can easily pass a very happy afternoon. The hours will whiz by. Bring a candy bar.

If possible, aim for a midweek visit

Like most stores, used-book shops sometimes grow crowded on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Since Mondays are often devoted to restocking, midweek can be the best time to see what’s new, especially if inventory turns over rapidly, as at the Friends of the Library bookstores in Montgomery County, Md.

Be courteous

Replace books where you found them. Don’t carry on loud or long conversations. Don’t boast to the owner or manager that the old paperback of Jack Vance’s “The Dying Earth” priced at $5 is actually its scarce Hillman first edition worth $100. Do look at the books themselves, not at a handheld device that indicates what they sell for online. Otherwise, prepare to be quietly and justly reviled by those around you.

Start at the sale carts

Even before you cross the threshold of any bookshop, be sure to check out the sale carts or table on the sidewalk outside. Mistakes are made, and there may be sleepers awaiting your eagle eye.

If, in fact, you are mainly interested in older fiction and nonfiction, the sidewalks often serve as final resting places for your kind of vintage material. A store may acquire a private library, ravage it for the more immediately “sellable” works, and then dump the more obscure, tatty or common titles onto its bargain tables. Like me, you might be very happy to find a worn hardback of Emily Eden’s “The Semi-Attached Couple” (very Jane Austenish) or one of the witty novels of William Gerhardie (somewhat Evelyn Waughish) or any volume from the wonderful Dent’s Illustrated Children’s Classics.

Be friendly

Say or nod hello to the manager or clerk on duty. If asked whether you need any help, the time-honored response is “I’m just browsing,” unless, of course, you really would like some guidance. After a few visits to a store, you might exchange names with the people you deal with there. As at bars and restaurants, becoming a regular tends to elicit a warm reception and extra attention. For instance, if you cheerily ask “Anything new?” in a D.C.-area shop, Dylan, Lance, Eli, Zachary, Julia, Susan, Dave, Allan, Chuck, Joey, Hi Lee, Tom, Hélene, Debbie, Patrick, Lauren, Nathan, Victoria, Camille or Aaron might reply, “We just purchased the library of [insert one — a Famous Professor, Georgetown Socialite or Science Fiction Fan]. Want to take a look?” Sometimes you might be permitted into the backroom or sorting area. As the material there may be “raw stock,” you can sometimes negotiate a quick-sale price for a wanted title.

Size matters

In smaller shops like the Lantern in D.C.’s Georgetown , or thrift stores with just a wall of books, you should probably look at nearly everything. Don’t skip the science and mathematics shelves just because you’re interested only in American history. You wouldn’t want to miss picking up that hardback of George Gamow’s “One, Two, Three … Infinity,” which would make a splendid gift for a middle-school student, as I can testify.

While a large store can be overwhelming, and a warehouse even more so, volume does increase your chances of finding titles you never knew you wanted. By contrast, a small shop — unless it’s just a paperback exchange — tends to be zealously curated, so there won’t be any bargains, but you might happen upon a beautiful copy of that first edition of Marilynne Robinson’s “Housekeeping” you’ve always yearned for.

Explore various sections

Bear in mind that some writers’ books can be scattered throughout the store. Ford Madox Ford, for instance, wrote biographies, poetry, memoirs, art history, essays, novels, literary criticism, travel books and World War I propaganda. Consequently, his various works might be found in multiple places other than on the shelves marked Literature. So explore. At the least you’ll gain a better sense of the dealer’s overall stock. And, by the way, if you’ve never read Ford’s “The Good Soldier,” you’ve missed one of the greatest — and most technically dazzling — novels of the last century. It opens, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard,” and never lets up.

Look closely

If you can’t make out the faded words on the spine of a jacketless hardcover, always pull put the book to discover exactly what it is. I own a first American edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” because dozens of people before me never bothered to scrutinize the copyright page of this slightly water-damaged volume with an unreadable spine. While hardly a pretty copy of the classic, it is nonetheless worth a pretty penny.

While you’re at it, you should also reflexively check for an author signature, which adds to a work’s value. Some writers — Annie Proulx and Julian Barnes come to mind — sign their books in such tiny handwriting that a hurried bookseller can easily overlook their microscopic script.

Consider an upgrade

When I was in junior high I read Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” which taught me not only to be true to myself but also what American prose should sound like. I still retain my old Signet paperback for sentimental reasons, but for reading these days I turn to an attractive hardback from Princeton University Press. To own a scholarly or first edition of a favorite book is a way to honor its place in your life. Plus such copies make great gifts.

Think outside the box

All book collectors develop distinctive crotchets. For example, most people pay no attention to broken sets of an author’s complete works: Yet the odd volumes, nearly always priced to sell, may be printed on good paper, with large type and wide margins. They make excellent reading copies if you’re looking for, say, Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” or Anthony Trollope’s “Framley Parsonage.”

Inversely, otherwise hard-to-find titles can sometimes be acquired in cheap omnibus editions. I wanted a copy of “Atomsk,” a scarce, and now very expensive, psychological spy novel by Carmichael Smith (one of the pen names of Paul M.A. Linebarger, better known in science fiction circles as the inimitable Cordwainer Smith). I finally acquired a copy after discovering that it, along with three other titles, had been reprinted in a volume of the Unicorn Mystery Book Club.

When traveling, instead of tsotchkes, I pick up appropriate-seeming books as souvenirs: During a trip to Alaska, I acquired a collection of Jack London’s Klondike stories; from a visit to Chicago’s Abraham Lincoln Book Shop , I took home a copy of Fletcher Pratt’s lively short history of the Civil War, “Ordeal by Fire.”

Consult a specialist

Once you’ve become seriously interested in collecting Civil War history, classic children’s literature or any other subject, you’ll want to visit dealers specializing in those kinds of books. You won’t find any beat-up bargains, but you will find older books that have been well cared for and newer ones with bright dust jackets in mint condition. Many of the items might even be unique because they were inscribed to one of the author’s nearest and dearest. You’ll pay top dollar for such collectible copies, but the shop will guarantee their authenticity, and if you choose wisely your purchases will maintain or increase in value.

Buy something

Try never to leave a bookstore without making a purchase, if only a used paperback. It is the least you can do to support these defenders and bastions of civilization.

Let me end these bibliophilic thoughts by stressing that the most interesting books are seldom the obvious ones — that’s why “hitting the shops” is so much serendipitous fun. But don’t forget that collecting books should lead to reading and using them, whether we do so for instruction, research or delight. Interior decoration doesn’t count.

More from Book World

Love everything about books? Make sure to subscribe to our Book Club newsletter , where Ron Charles guides you through the literary news of the week.

Best books of 2023: See our picks for the 10 best books of 2023 or dive into the staff picks that Book World writers and editors treasured in 2023. Check out the complete lists of 50 notable works for fiction and the top 50 nonfiction books of last year.

Find your favorite genre: Three new memoirs tell stories of struggle and resilience, while five recent historical novels offer a window into other times. Audiobooks more your thing? We’ve got you covered there, too . If you’re looking for what’s new, we have a list of our most anticipated books of 2024 . And here are 10 noteworthy new titles that you might want to consider picking up this April.

Still need more reading inspiration? Super readers share their tips on how to finish more books . Or let poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib explain why he stays in Ohio . You can also check out reviews of the latest in fiction and nonfiction .

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How Whitty Books takes an unconventional approach to bookselling in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Located in the heart of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Whitty Books prides itself on being a beacon for all things strange and speculative.

Local, independent bookstores have never been more important. With fair access to literature under political attack, bookstores are a bulwark against censorship and an asset to the communities they serve.

Each week we profile an independent bookstore, discovering what makes each one special and getting their expert book recommendations.

This week we have Whitty Books in Tulsa, Oklahoma !

Located in the heart of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Whitty Books stands as a beacon for all things strange and speculative. Since their beginning in 2018, they've carved out a niche by embracing the unconventional, the indie, and the voices often sidelined in mainstream literature.

“We have always focused on speculative fiction, indie presses and titles by marginalized authors,” said bookseller Victoria Moore. “We recently started our own small press and are so excited to be a part of the book world in a whole new way.”

Check out: USA TODAY's weekly Best-selling Booklist

Whitty Books is also a hub of community engagement and collaboration. They share their space with a sewing studio, and revel in partnerships with local makers and artists, enriching their offerings and supporting the creative ecosystem of Tulsa.

Continuing to create community, they are passionate about their curated events and book clubs. From monthly horror lit gatherings to discussions on Native American literature, fantasy/scifi, and punk/post-punk works, there's something for every literary taste.

“As an indie bookstore we get to stock the titles and host the events we're passionate about and interested in, which results in a more diverse and unique experience,” said Moore. Book swaps, blackout poetry sessions, and collage workshops add to the vibrant tapestry of experiences they offer, ensuring that Whitty Books isn't just a store but a cultural hub.

And this month, don’t miss Tulsa LitFest , a free festival co-hosted by Whitty Books with events ranging from live readings to a book fair.

Their commitment to fostering literary culture doesn't end at their doorstep. “We are a part of the leadership for Tulsa Litfest, an annual literary festival in town that brings a variety of authors and programming to the area for a long weekend.”

So whether you're seeking out the strange and speculative or craving a sense of belonging in a community of book lovers, Whitty Books welcomes you with open arms!

Check out some of the books they recommend:

  • "Silver in the Wood" by Emily Tesh
  • "I Was a Teenage Slasher" by Stephen Graham Jones
  • "The Perfect Bastard: Poems" by Quinn Carver Johnson

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Facade of a high-rise building with a brown Barnes & Noble logo as well as a white-on-green logo on an awning.

Barnes & Noble workers plan union drive at largest US bookstore chain

Despite pushback from CEO James Daunt, employees are organizing for better pay, ‘dignity’ and working conditions

Workers at America’s largest chain of bookstores are gearing up for a nationwide union drive after six Barnes & Noble outlets voted to organize over the past year.

“Many more” stores will unionize, according to booksellers demanding better pay and conditions.

At locations that already have, employees accuse the chain’s management of dragging their heels during contract negotiations. James Daunt, the CEO, is said to have embarked upon a months-long campaign to dissuade employees from voting in favor.

“He would come in and essentially try to talk us out of unionizing,” said Jessica Sepple, a bookseller for more than two years at Barnes & Noble’s flagship New York City store in Union Square. “The big argument against us unionizing was it would make his life harder, which he would repeat several times. It wasn’t very successful.”

The store voted 76-2 in favor of unionizing last summer, becoming one of three in New York City to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Another followed in Bloomington, Illinois, while two others – in San Jose, California, and Hadley, Massachusetts – joined other unions.

In a statement, Daunt disputed claims of delays at the negotiating table. He claimed he was in agreement with workers on “the fundamentals” of their demands – but warned of “potential upsides and downsides” to a union.

Barnes & Noble has some 600 stores across the US, and Daunt – who became CEO in 2019 – has worked to turn around the business , which had spent years in decline. It is owned by the investment giant Elliott Management, which also owns Britain’s Waterstones , which is also run by Daunt.

“Our purpose for unionizing is to get some recognition for the dignity of workers,” said Sepple. “And having sat at the table and currently in negotiations with Barnes & Noble, it is disappointing that Barnes & Noble has not treated this as if that dignity is deserved.”

Workers at the Union Square site have experienced several issues for years, she claimed, including lagging wages, safety concerns with ladders and book storage, aggressive customers, and being given more duties than a job initially entailed.

“If you’re good at your job, you’re just going to get more work,” added Sepple. “It takes a lot of knowledge, research and a love of reading and books to make it happen, and oftentimes I’ve found the company tends to coast on that.”

At another New York store, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, workers won a union election in July 2023.

An older white man wearing a suit and tie leans one elbow on a bookshelf, holding a book curled to his chest with the other hand.

Sydul Akhanji, a bookseller of two years at the store, wants to work at Barnes & Noble for the long term, but says that low pay serves as a deterrent. If the company wants to build itself around knowledgeable booksellers, its workers need to be able to afford rent and food, he said.

Daunt tried to deter workers in Park Slope from unionizing, according to Akhanji, who claimed the chain’s CEO “just went on and on about how it’d be hard and make all his plans complicated, if we unionized, and how he has a vision for us, so please, just don’t unionize right now”.

Workers say contract negotiations have been slowed by Barnes & Noble insisting that demands and asks be referred to company lawyers, who have not been at the table. They have also been frustrated by management negotiating separately with individual New York stores.

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On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, workers at Barnes & Noble backed unionizing earlier this month. “We live in the most expensive city in the country,” Esther Rosenfield, a barista at the store, said. “And our starting wage until very recently was minimum wage, and it’s just not sustainable.”

Shortly after her store filed for a union election, Rosenfield said, employees there and at other locations received a $2-an-hour market rate adjustment: “We were told basically that this had nothing to do with the union. But I think people can draw their own conclusions based on just the proximity to when it happened.”

It comes amid tentative signs of a nationwide movement. Workers in Bloomington, Illinois, heard about the union votes in New York last summer, and held their own – and unanimously voted to unionize – in November.

“James Daunt did a conference call to the store himself saying a vote for the union is a vote against him,” claimed a senior bookseller, Zane Crockett. “The issues we’re facing are companywide. We’re all facing the same issues. If one small store in the midwest can unionize, then anyone can..”

Barnes & Noble workers in Bloomington had complained about issues including “skeleton crews”, only to encounter “pretty much crickets”, according to Crockett. When they declared their intent to unionize, he said, executives started visiting the store and asking what they could do improve conditions. “The moment we voted,” he said, “that completely stopped.”

Contacted for comment, Daunt claimed he had only pointed out potential downsides of unionizing to workers in town halls, and disputed criticisms from workers about delays in contract negotiations – characterizing such criticism as evidence of downsides to unions.

“My argument to the booksellers has been very simple: we have no disagreement with the fundamentals of what is being asked for, and indeed have pivoted the company precisely to achieve them,” he wrote. “Only a successful business, after all, can deliver the investments necessary to improve pay and the physical condition of our stores.

“In this endeavor, I see both potential upsides and downsides to the addition of a union. The most obvious potential upside is to have a clearer articulation of bookseller aspirations. Equally, there are potential downsides, notably if it causes unnecessary confrontation between ‘management’ and ‘workers’ and the fact that low-paid booksellers will have to pay significant dues to the union, all other things being equal reducing their pay.”

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WHERE BLACK CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND CONSCIOUSNESS MEET

Sign up for essence newsletters the keep the black women at the forefront of conversation., the davenport sisters are the founders of the first black food bookstore.

The Davenport Sisters Are The Founders Of The First Black Food Bookstore

When Gabrielle Davenport was in grade school, she developed a love of deviled eggs, which began in her paternal grandmother’s kitchen. “We’d make deviled eggs almost every time we saw each other,” she says. “It was a great bonding experience for us.”

What made cooking with her grandmother so special was the opportunity to learn from her and work together. It involved carefully following steps in a process, and adding unique ingredients, like capers, pimento, and even cayenne pepper, to individualize an otherwise simple, straightforward family recipe.

Moments like these in her grandmother’s home shaped Gabrielle, and her older sister Danielle’s childhood. Rooted in shared family experiences, in addition to food, the sisters also gained an early appreciation for storytelling.

“My grandmother’s bookshelves were filled with children’s literature. She was also really into books on tape,” Danielle says. “Whenever we would visit, it felt like we were in the library.”

The Davenport sisters , who share a seven-year age gap, noticed that as they got older and life pulled them in different directions with new interests, one, or two things actually, remained constant: their love of food and books. That love became a passion project, a goal to celebrate literature about Black foodways (meaning the culinary traditions and practices of a certain people, place or period).

So, in January of 2021, the Davenport sisters launched BEM books & more , a bookstore that does just that. They started online with the intention of later expanding to a traditional brick and mortar, and while building, embraced a pop-up shop experience to reach the masses in the borough. While conceptualizing the bookstore, the connection they’ve been able to make with the community has been nourishing—and it has also strengthened the Davenport sisters’ bond.

The Davenport Sisters Are The Founders Of The First Black Food Bookstore

“We’ve gotten to know each other a bit more,” Gabrielle says. “It is an outgrowing of our relationship and the things that are important to us.”

“Family legacy has everything to do with what we’re doing,” Danielle adds of BEM, the name of the store a combination of their grandmothers’ names. “Our family has such a spirit of generosity and to be able to take that beautiful energy of sharing, cooking, telling stories, and loving one another to others in the community is truly life changing.”

Works available through their online store include cookbooks like Ghetto Gastro’s Black Power Kitchen , food fiction including Charmaine Wilkerson’s Black Cake , and nonfiction works like the classic High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris. Children’s books are also for sale. A forthcoming children’s picture book, Peaches , by Connecticut-based children’s author Gabriele Davis, will soon be available through BEM books & more. The work celebrates her own family’s food traditions surrounding peaches.

The Davenport sisters and Davis believe that amplifying stories for children about our food traditions offers an opportunity for intergenerational bonding. It’s the same kind of moment Gabrielle and Danielle relished in their grandmother’s kitchen as young girls.

“When we celebrate our food, we create a welcoming atmosphere. We feel loved and nourished,” Davis shares. “Cooking, eating, laughing, and sharing stories puts us at ease and allows for meaningful conversation, strengthening our sense of kinship, shared history, cultural identity and community.”

The Davenport Sisters Are The Founders Of The First Black Food Bookstore

In March, the Davenports accomplished a major milestone in raising enough funds (through Kickstarter ) to sign a lease for their Brooklyn storefront, which they plan to open the doors to by the end of 2024.

“We received such a strong outpouring of love from the community, Black women, in particular, in the food space,” says Gabrielle of the financial support. Davis says that people know the important place an establishment like BEM holds in the community.

“Modern food culture, with its emphasis on convenience, threatens to erode our sacred food traditions. Spaces like BEM books & more help us to reclaim them and the intellectual, emotional, and physical nourishment they provide,” Davis emphasizes.

Bookstores are also sites of community care, especially for Black women. They have served as safe places to convene, learn something new, and engage with familiar and unfamiliar worlds.

“It’s wonderful that we are among a cohort of individuals across the country who are starting new ventures at the intersection of food and books. It really feels like spirit work…the different ways that folks are building businesses around an ecosystem of supporting one another,” Danielle says. “There’s something really special about how we’re able to shape this as entrepreneurs enmeshed in a beautiful sense of community.”

“The feeding of this country has been Black women’s work from the very start, and unfortunately, we are the ones who have gotten the least recognition for that. But it feels really special to recenter the idea that the ways Americans eat from coast to coast has truly been defined by Black women,” Gabrielle adds. “We all we got. Being in community with the people you are supporting and the people supporting you is an indescribable love. Black women are what have made all of this possible…and [my sister and I] are truly grateful.”

Tonya Abari is an independent journalist, author, book reviewer, homeschooling mama, and foodie. You can find her hanging out on Instagram @iamtabari .

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Suddenly focused on baseball gambling scandals? There’s a book for that.

The Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani and his then-interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, attend a news conference at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul

A scandal-ridden baseball season is here, and more from the Book Club newsletter.

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Good morning and welcome back to the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.

For the next few editions of the newsletter, you’ll be hearing directly from authors. Next up …

I’m Mark Athitakis, a frequent contributor to The Times’ books coverage.

So, have you heard the story about the L.A. baseball superstar and the gambling scandal?

When the MLB season starts, I usually sort through a mental list of favorite baseball books. But as I’ve followed the saga of big-ticket Dodgers slugger Shohei Ohtani, whose Japanese translator, Ippei Mizuhara, was abruptly fired last month in the wake of accusations of misspent millions on gambling, one book crowded out the rest.

Emily Nemens’ 2020 linked-story collection, “The Cactus League,” turns on the world surrounding Jason Goodyear, a star for the mythical Los Angeles Lions, who keeps an embarrassing, money-draining secret. The book is an excellent glimpse into the off-the-field baseball world, and how outsize personalities (and salaries) can send it off-kilter.

I checked in with Nemens over email about how she’s gearing up for the season, some of her favorite sports writing, and how “The Cactus League” has gone over in Europe. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have any thoughts about the current controversy surrounding Ohtani, especially since your book has a subplot that involves big-league baseball and gambling?

My dad, who forwards me baseball news about twice a day (thanks, Dad!), texted as the story broke and asked “Is this life imitating art?” It’s likely more of a Möbius strip. I researched a lot about athlete gambling as I wrote “The Cactus League.” I’m very curious to see how the investigations shake out. And I see some unrealized narrative potential in bookies! Why sit in a casino all night when you can gamble from anywhere?

[Editor’s note: Read The Times’ new story about bookies here: Inside the gambling ring linked to Ohtani — as told by two bettors themselves.]

What’s your routine for keeping up with baseball during the season?

I have lived out of range for my local TV and radio programs for decades, so I’ve settled into a long-term, love-hate relationship with the MLB at Bat app. I go to the Athletic and Defector often, and I fangirl for new pieces by Louisa Thomas (the New Yorker), Dave Zirin (the Nation), and Mitchell S. Jackson (who isn’t exactly a sportswriter, but when he weighs in on sports culture, I’m there).

You’re the sports editor for Stranger’s Guide , a literary journal that focuses on a particular place in each issue. What makes for a great, offbeat sports story?

I find myself drawn to stories about when and how sports can do vital work in community building. You can see this in Niren Tolsi’s piece on cricket in Johannesburg , which charts the sport in one neighborhood to tell a story of immigration and activism there.

How has your novel gone over in Europe, which is not well-known for its baseball culture?

I imagine the response was a bit like when I took the book around Germany, which I did while on a writing/teaching fellowship at the University of Leipzig. At first, Germans were a bit befuddled. I think they thought the novel was a quirky document of Americana. But then we got to talking about the book’s themes: seeking community, unbridled aspiration, economic precarity, the inevitability of aging. There are a lot more universals wedged into “The Cactus League” than first meets the eye.

The L.A. Times Festival of Books has several panels on sports and the outdoors

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books promo visual that shows a reader and states that the festival is April 20-21.

The Times Book Club author for April is Abraham Verghese , Stanford medical professor and author of the highly-acclaimed epic novel, “The Covenant of Water.” The Book Club discussion will be one of the featured events at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books , which will run April 20-21 on the USC campus. Ticket packages for these and other special events are available now.

At the L.A. Times Festival of Books, several panels will highlight sports and the outdoors. Many of these events are free, but require tickets in advance. Ticket information is available here .

Game On: Money & Power in Sports Russ Bengtson, Macaela MacKenzie and Keith O’Brien discuss how big money has influenced modern sports. Dylan Hernandez moderates. Saturday, April 20, 3:30 p.m. Hoffman Hall, Edison Auditorium

Read With Rampage and the Los Angeles Rams! The L.A. Rams mascot reads from his book, “Ride With Rampage,” joined by the Rams cheerleaders. Sunday, April 21, 10 a.m. Children’s Stage

Mother Nature: Women and Wilderness Authors Angie Sijun Lou, Melissa Sevigny, Diane Smith and Karen Tei Yamashita discuss women’s pioneering role in studying the outdoors, from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon and beyond. Denise Hamilton moderates. Sunday, April 21, 11 a.m. Albert and Dana Broccoli Theatre

Ask a Reporter: Under Pressure—Can L.A.’s Biggest Sports Teams Deliver? Times writers Dylan Hernandez, Ryan Kartje, Bill Plaschke and Sports editor Iliana Limón Romero weigh in on the championship prospects of the Dodgers, Angels and more. Sunday, April 21, 1:45 p.m. Mudd Hall 203

Humans vs. Nature: Conflict With the Natural World From climbing Mount Everest to hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, writers Andrea Lankford, Christina Gerhardt and Will Cockrell discuss exploring the edges of the Earth. The Times’ Thomas Curwen moderates. Sunday, April 21, 2 p.m. Albert and Dana Broccoli Theatre

The Week(s) in Books

The biggest and most troubling recent news in the book world is the abrupt closing of Small Press Distribution , the Berkeley-based nonprofit distributor for a raft of independent publishers. SPD had been in the process of streamlining, moving warehouses and raising funds to improve its capacity for print-on-demand and e-book sales. But it ultimately couldn’t make ends meet. “SPD lost hundreds of thousands in grants in the past few years as funders moved away from supporting the arts,” executive director Kent Watson wrote in a statement . More than 400 publishers are now scrambling for alternatives .

One of this week’s winners of the Windham-Campbell Prize, which honors writers working in nonfiction, fiction, poetry and drama, is L.A. novelist Kathleen Scanlan. Scanlan told The Times she found news of the award and $175,000 prize “ baffling and wonderful .”

Also in our books pages: Patric Gagne discussed her memoir “Sociopath,” , and bestselling author Don Winslow explained why his latest thriller, “City in Ruins,” is likely his last . Lorraine Berry reviewed Lydia Millet’s nonfiction book on climate change , “We Loved It All,” and Mary Ann Gwinn reviewed Hampton Sides’ “The Wide Wide Sea,” a chronicle of the final voyage of Captain James Cook .

Plus, Bethanne Patrick runs down 10 more books coming out this month .

Bookstore faves

A bookshelf in Libros Schmibros in the Boyle Heights neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Every couple of weeks, we check in with an L.A. bookseller or librarian about what they’re loving. This time: David Kipen, a regular Times contributor and co - founder of the Boyle Heights bilingual indie lending library Libros Schmibros.

On a typical day, who steps in the doors of Libros Schmibros? Who would you like to see drop in more often?

The other night Libros hosted a screening of Desmond Nakano’s fascinating 1979 East L.A. gangster drama “Boulevard Nights” and got a very nice crowd, probably thanks to our listings at the indispensable revivalhouses.com . Other visitors that we’re always happy to see more of include — in descending order of frequency:

  • High-school kids, middle-schoolers, little kids and/or whole families;
  • People downsizing and looking to donate books about L.A. or film, fine first editions and Spanish-language books;
  • Program officers for large foundations; and book-loving, philanthropically minded zillionaires.

You’ve mentioned that you’d like to have an equal balance of English- and Spanish-language titles on Libros Schmibros’ shelves, but that it’s tougher to find Spanish-language titles . What might help?

Here’s the best I can suggest off the top of my head:

  • Noisier customer demand.
  • More support for international literature in general and the organizations that support it (like Three Percent and Words Without Borders )
  • More support for L.A. bookstores that somehow make bilingual bookselling look possible, like La Librería , which is about to move into new digs on Adams between La Brea and Crenshaw, and the Libros , which just opened across the street from Lincoln High in Lincoln Heights.

For a few years now you’ve tubthumped for a 21st century Federal Writers’ Project . Do you have any favorite California-related works from FWP 1.0?

My favorite unsung California-related work from FWP 1.0 is the Almanac for Thirty-Niners , a merrily written and illustrated, 128-page, New-Years-Day-to-New-Years-Eve booklet full of then-current 1939 events worth attending, plus countless uproarious Bay Area historical miscellaneousness. It even contains the following very good doggerel by a witty FWP staffer, the novelist and San Francisco historian Miriam Allen deFord:

If you want to be liked in San Francisco, Remember not to call it “Frisco.” If you’d rather not arouse our ire, Remember the earthquake was “the fire.” If you want to earn our friendliness, Remember to knock Los Angeles.

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