With chain stores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders pushing aside independent booksellers, where can you go for books without feeding an impersonal corporation? Many shops in Boston, Massachusetts sell used books, offering diverse alternatives to the mega-stores.
Ars Libri, Ltd. 500 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA 02118. (617) 357-5212. http://www.arslibri.com. According to its Web site, Ars Libri houses the country’s largest collection of rare and out-of-print fine art books, but it’s more than just a bookstore. With books covering all periods of art history, rare-book exhibits at the Museum of Fine Arts and published catalogs of its arrivals, Ars Libri serves as a reference library for scholars and art enthusiasts the world over. Prices of Ars Libri’s unique titles may daunt the casual shopper, but you should certainly stop by to admire this spacious, well-laid-out and artistic resource.
Boston Book Annex. 908 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02215. (617) 266-1090. http://www.rarebook.com. Unlike its sister, the Boston Book Company (see below), the Annex is a general-interest used book store. The Annex and the Book Company buy private collections (perhaps even yours) voraciously, so the Annex showcases volumes across all disciplines. Its strengths include general literature, political history and art. This rambling shop delights residents and local students alike with its wide scope and diversity.
Boston Book Company. 705 Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130. (617) 522-2100. http://www.rarebook.com. In Boston’s offbeat Jamaica Plain neighborhood is the equally funky Boston Book Company, which specializes in antiquarian books and English literature. It’s also your source for books about China, Japan and Korea. Staff will perform assiduous searches if, for some reason, you cannot find what you want.
Brattle Book Shop. 9 West Street, Boston, MA 02111. (617) 542-0210. http://www.brattlebookshop.com. Just off the edge of Boston Common and therefore convenient to public transportation, the Brattle Book Shop looks like the stereotypical bookstore: a narrow space with high shelves, crammed with fascinating finds. With low prices (especially at the outdoor summer sale) and a generous buy-back policy on textbooks, the Brattle especially attracts students. However, there are first editions, antique titles and rare books for the serious collector. The floor plan may be squished, but you owe yourself a visit to this charming store.
Calamus Bookstore. 92B South Street, Boston, MA 02111. (617) 338-1931. http://www.calamusbooks.com. Billed as “Boston’s complete GLBT bookstore,” Calamus leans toward contemporary and classic titles (and videos) about gay men, but all queer folk can find their literature here too. Humor, magazines, self-help, avant-garde fiction, mysteries and more, both new and used, abound on the shelves. The owner, a repository of information on GLBTQ lit, is happy to talk, both about books and local queer events. A friendly place, one of my favorites.
Commonwealth Books (Boston Common). 134 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116. (617) 338-6328. http://www.commonwealthbooks.com. With three T-friendly stores in the heart of the Hub, Commonwealth Books is a bibliophile’s pilgrimage unto itself. The Boston Common location contains many antiquarian and scholarly titles, but all stores offer a wide array of general-interest used books. Prices are reasonable at all locations. All Commonwealth stores sell antique prints and illustrations as well as books.
Commonwealth Books (Downtown Crossing). 2 Milk Street, Boston, MA 02108. (617) 292-0065. http://www.commonwealthbooks.com. Lurking in the basement of 2 Milk Street, the Downtown Crossing Commonwealth Books features cave-like nooks, crannies and hallways. Careful – don’t trip over the books; you’ll find this the least organized store of the three, with fewest places to sit and read. The Downtown location concentrates on academic subjects such as lit crit, sociology and psychology. Prices seem a bit lower here, perhaps because of the deeply discounted titles on sale at street level.
Commonwealth Books (Kenmore Square). 526 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02215. (617) 236-0182. http://www.commonwealthbooks.com. Well-lit and very organized, the Kenmore Commonwealth Books welcomes readers. Their sidewalk sales and indoor contents have a higher-than-normal amount of modern scholarly titles and classics, thanks to all the Boston University students in the area. One of the few used bookstores with a bathroom for patrons!