On these beautiful winter days, when there is snow on the ground and cold in the air, there are few sources of entertainment or relief: bake, ski, shop or read. I'll take the latter, being fonder of soft lights and cozy nooks than I am of more calories, banged-up shins or binge shopping. Not to say they aren't all worthy pursuits. Quite fortunate that I do not have to go anywhere to work.
I don't know who out there shares my fondness for visiting book stores, near and far. I love the different set-ups inside stores and the pleasant collision of reading materials. Some have sofas and soft chairs, others offer tables and hard chairs. Some have coffee corners (which I love) and cookies. All have an unpredictable collection of literature. You just don't know what you'll find.
Out near Springdale, Utah—the town at the exit to Zion National Park—there's an odd little book joint called the Virgin Goods Book Store (and Community Post Office), where I found a nice collection of literary journals for about 50 cents each. I have to browse quickly, as there is much to do and my companions are always thinking about that, but I always find something good. It's likely that passing tourists on Route 9 stop to trade in their books for something new.
The beauty of these stops is not just in finding books, but in connecting with local people who can give you tips to restaurants, inns, nearby sites worth checking out.
Closer to home, there are quite a few spots for return visits—the Barrow Bookstore and the Concord Book Shop (open seven days), both in Concord, bring in local authors and offer signed first editions, books by regional authors and more; Bearly Read Books, Route 20 in Sudbury (closed Mondays), offers rare books as well, meeting space and collections of various genres that may interest your book club, ranging from classics and mysteries to fantasy, history and special interests.
Another seven-day store is the Book Bear in West Brookfield, which has used, rare and out-of-print books, buys and sells, priding itself on a diverse, ever-changing selection. It's on Route 9.
Booklovers' Gourmet in Webster (open Tuesday-Saturday) offers books, pastries and brews at 55 E. Main St., with cozy seating and occasional author visits/signings. A book group and a writers group meet here. Deb Horan aims to provide a literary home here for readers.
Taproot is another interesting place to find an unusual book. Rock collectors will enjoy browsing crystals of all kinds. Open seven days a week, it's a small, somewhat eclectic book and gift shop at 1200 W. Boylston St. (Route 12, near O'Connors), Worcester. Irene Evory and Richard Barca are the owners. Being community-minded, they will match customer donations to several charities: Abby's House, Worcester County Food Bank, the Heifer Project and the Jimmy Fund.
There's a new store in Marlborough as well, mentioned in the last column: Stax Discount Books, owned by Michael Joachim, is at 193A Boston Post Road (20 West), offering new, discounted books.
Tatnuck, on Lyman Street, Worcester, has added a large amount of gift items, but the coffee and sandwich cafe is a good one, and there are easy chairs in the back for wifi use or reading, with at least half the store dedicated to new books and magazines, often discounted. I still pop in regularly, finding goodies in both sides of the store.
I have not visited the Montague Bookmill in years, and I have it in mind to get there next time I'm in the territory. It's west on Route 2, just before Greenfield. Plan to allocate time for a visit to 440 Greenfield Road. Dubbed: "Books you don't need, in a place you can't find," the bookshop has rooms to explore in an old mill building along a hefty river. There's coffee too. It's an outing by itself, with a nearby arts center.
If you're out and about, the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough at 12 Depot Square is a must-visit. With frequent author visits, and new and used book sections, the bookstore is vital and active (toadstool.com). There's a second store in Keene, recently moved to Main and Emerald streets.
One thing I really like about bookstore visits is the assortment of nice people who work there. There's usually time for a book consult or just a casual bookish conversation—about the weather and such. Many provide space for wifi users to stop awhile and work or entertain themselves.
A number of independents have teamed up with large distributors like Amazon to speed their books to customers by mail, etc., and some operate solely online—but I'm not so interested in that; I like spending some quality time in a new place, soaking up the words and the spirits of the place.