Monday, May 27, 2013

Indie bookstores around New England

I find bookstores alluring—more tantalizing than diners and fresh-made pies, streets lined with tiny shops, antique shops with carefully cluttered yards, or old movie theaters playing classic movies. Summer’s the perfect time to visit some; as you travel, keep an eye out for funky bookstores and the opportunity to find new books for the collection at home. I can hardly bear to pass them by, so much so that my husband feels the telepathic pull of my pulse as we drive through a new town. It’s fun to explore bookstores, an activity best accomplished in the company of fellow readers – who won’t hurry you out, or complain about missing lunch.
Here are some funky bookstores to visit while out of state—they are by no means the only ones to see, either. This is a small introduction. Do send in your “finds” over the summer!
Vermonters love their books like they love funky cafés. Snowed-in New Englanders love to read; Vermonters put a passionate, albeit progressive, slant to it. We love the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, with its rambling corners and a café. There is a particularly interesting children’s section as well. Author Neil Gaiman is there June 20 to promote his new novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”
Speaking of children’s books, Yankee magazine cited the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, Vt., for its children’s book section. Woodstock offers three bookstores – and a July 26-28 Green Mountain Literary Festival (the aptly named “Bookstock”). Look for Yankee Books, Shiretown Books and for old and rare books at the Pleasant Street Bookstore. In Middlebury, the 60-year-old Vermont Book Shop presides on Main Street. In Rochester, seek out Sandy’s Books and Bakery, where whole grains and natural foods are as revered as good reading. And, finally—but not to be overlooked—Brattleboro’s Everyone’s Books, an indie shop specializing in social justice topics and multicultural children’s books.
New Hampshire residents, so in tune with politics and independence, support their indie bookstores with a dedication that approaches worship. In both Keene and Peterborough, we enjoy wandering the aisles of the Toadstool. Typical of independent bookstores, they promote regional authors with displays and talks. It’s not unusual to find a small group crowding one section to hear a local author discuss vegetation, climate or history. We’ve also found some great deals in its carefully juried used books section. Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., is a cheerful place to find writers talking about their books. On the evening of May 30, for instance, Carrie Cariello shares her memoir about a child with autism in “What Color is Monday?”
A trip to Exeter for antiques might also include the Colophon Book Shop on Water Street, where you can find first editions and collector books in a variety of fields. It’s also well worth a trip to Newmarket, N.H., to experience Crackskull’s Coffee and Books, combining the best of caffeine and literature. It’s located on Great Bay, just west of Portsmouth—an easy day drive. Nirvana.
Maine, too, is plump with bookstores, some of them dusty and delicious. I like being able to peruse new, regional and used books—something you can’t do in the chains. BookMarcs (love the pun) in downtown Bangor is one such place, should you range to the north, perhaps enroute to the lovely land of Nova Scotia. BookMarcs, by the way, is THE place to get a full selection of Stephen and Tabitha King books! Closer to home, Portland’s Longfellow Books is a rich discovery. The store was badly damaged by water during February’s Nemo blizzard, which brought 32 inches of snow to Portland. Maine Publishers and Writers Alliance banded with the community at large to help restore it to full function. It’s back in order, and ready for visitors.
During a trip to Damariscotta a few years back, we happened on a book store called the Maine Coast. It’s been updated and reopened below Lincoln Hall theater as the Maine Coast Book Shop & Café, and we’re anxious to get up there for a visit.
Rhode Island, a small state, has fewer offerings but don’t miss the Other Tiger in Westerly, with seven rooms full of books to explore. Barrington Books is another readers’ favorite.
I’ve skipped Massachusetts bookstores, because they’ll be more familiar to readers, but if you have a favorite, write it and tell me why you like it.
I’ve seen independent stores close up, but still believe they’ll survive the general self-immolation of the giant bookstores when all is recorded in history. They are at the core of readers’ hearts, along with libraries, and deserve our attention!
We're big fans of Chris Bohjalian's books—filled with rich settings, complex characters, and exciting plots, they're the sort of novels that you can't wait to discuss with your friends. His latest bestseller, The Sandcastle Girls, is a sweeping love story set against the backdrop of one of the most haunting events in history: the Armenian Genocide. It's perhaps an unexpected subject for a bestselling novel, and in an exclusive essay for the Reading Group Center, Bohjalian writes that he was often met with skepticism when sharing the premise of the book. That is, unless he was talking to book clubs. "Reading groups especially embraced the book," he says, "and I think a reason is precisely that part of the subject matter was so foreign." Makes sense to us. Book clubs are hungry for great stories—engaging stories that can teach us something about the world, and about ourselves, in the process.
Audio Journal’s “Speaking Volumes” call-in book group airs on the first Tuesday of the month at 8 p.m. All are welcome to listen live at Find the schedule for upcoming books at Coming up June 4 is “The Light Between Oceans” by M.L. Stedman. July 2’s topic is Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl.”