I love indie bookstores. No matter where I’m traveling, I always look up nearby indies and make sure to pay them a visit. I’m also a regular customer at many of the indie bookstores here in New York City, and while I’m currently sitting at home surrounded by piles of books, I can’t help but miss wandering the shelves of my favorite bookstores. So, while we all practice social distancing, I’m reminiscing about the many wonderful stories I’ve discovered at indie bookstores and supporting my local indies by stocking up on more books via BookShop.com.
An Ode to Indies: 12 Wonderful Books I Found At Independent Bookstores
[words] Bookstore, Maplewood, NJ Since I work for Simon & Schuster, I often like to look for our titles when I visit my local bookstore—you know, just to see how they’re doing now that they’re out in the world on their own. In this case, I visited [words] Bookstore in Maplewood, New Jersey, and was happy to see MANHATTAN BEACH included in a display on one of their front tables. This book about a woman investigating her father’s disappearance while working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard during World War II is an in-house favorite, and I was pleased to see it shining in this wonderful bookstore.
The Strand, New York, NY The Strand houses over eighteen miles of books across three floors, and it’s my favorite place to get lost for an afternoon. It’s also my favorite place to discover new books and older titles I may have missed when they were first published. In this case, I came across a copy of Barack Obama’s DREAMS FROM MY FATHER on a table in the Strand basement. I was intrigued by this pre-presidency memoir about Obama’s experiences as the son of a black African father and a white American mother and how these events shaped him. Obviously, I had to purchase it.
Watchung Booksellers, Montclair, NJ I used to live one town over from this marvelous little bookstore in Montclair, New Jersey, so I loved to stop in and browse their selection. On one such visit, I was told by a bookseller that I had to read PACHINKO. I took her advice, and I’m so glad I did. PACHINKO begins in early 1900s Korea with an illegitimate pregnancy and a woman who’s determined not to be bought to hide it. The story then stretches across generations, taking us from Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld. I loved it, and it reinforced my belief that bookseller recommendations are always the best.
White Birch Books, North Conway, NH Okay, so I would have bought a copy of Jonathan Van Ness’s OVER THE TOP anywhere, but I’m so glad I happened to be at White Birch Books soon after its release. White Birch Books is an incredible—and adorable—bookstore in North Conway, New Hampshire. While browsing and stocking up on a number of books, I made sure to grab OVER THE TOP, Van Ness’s memoir about growing up gay in a small midwestern town and the road that led him to Queer Eye.
Rizzoli Bookstore, New York, NY Yep, I did in fact drag my fiancée and my maid of honor to a bookstore three nights before our wedding. What? I needed honeymoon reading! At this beautiful bookstore located in a renovated townhome blocks from Madison Square Park, I was happy to finally pick up this bestseller (the basis for the 2018 film). In case you haven’t already read the book or seen the movie, I highly recommend checking out this fun story about Rachel, a woman who agrees to attend a wedding with her boyfriend in Singapore, only to find herself thrust into the spotlight after learning her boyfriend’s family is extremely wealthy.
Chaucer’s Books, Santa Barbara, CA My visit to Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara, California, was a bit of an impulse stop on a road trip through the state last December. Chaucer’s was on our route, and though it was Christmas Eve, the store was open and bustling, with staff helping customers pick last-minute presents. I managed to slip in and purchase a copy of PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT, a YA novel about the complexity of relationships with family and friends and the way secrets can destroy futures. It also includes a gay romance. I didn’t need to learn much more to know I had to buy it.
Changing Hands Bookstore, Phoenix and Tempe, AZ I’m from Arizona, and I always make sure to visit at least one of Changing Hands’ two locations when I’m home for the holidays. Last year, I was pleased to see THE LIBRARY BOOK, another Simon & Schuster in-house favorite, set face out on the shelves. In this true story, Susan Orlean covers the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire, a work of arson that destroyed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. She details both the investigation following the fire and the important role that libraries play in our society, creating a book that celebrates these important institutions.
Books of Wonder, New York, NY I have a lot of great memories from this children’s bookstore, including going there to see the YA-author rock band Tiger Beat during my first visit to New York City as a teenager. Over ten years later, I found myself back in the store this past January to listen to Eric Smith discuss his latest YA novel, DON’T READ THE COMMENTS. The book is a beautiful and gripping story about Divya, a celebrity gamer, and Aaron, a boy she meets in one of her favorite games, who find themselves facing threats in the real world after trolls try to drive Divya out of the gaming community.
Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA Wellesley Books is located in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the town that’s also home to Wellesley College. We stopped in for a visit with a Wellesley alumna, and I quickly fell in love with this store. I bought socks covered in picnicking llamas, relaxing scented therapy dough, and—of course—plenty of books, including Naomi Novik’s UPROOTED. This is the story of Agnieszka, a girl living in a town surrounded by a forest filled with malevolent beings. Her town relies on a wizard known only as the Dragon to protect them, and thus they allow the Dragon to take a new girl from the village every ten years. When the Dragon chooses Agnieszka, her life—and her world—changes forever.
McNally Jackson Books, New York, NY Another Simon & Schuster favorite spotted in the wild! I generally love McNally Jackson’s stores for their unique shelving system—their fiction section is organized by the author’s country of origin—but during this trip to their Nolita location, I was also happy to see a wall of recent bestsellers that included HEART TALK. This beautifully illustrated book from artist, poet, and speaker Cleo Wade is filled with moving life lessons told through original poems, mantras, and affirmations.
Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, MA Trident Booksellers & Cafe, located in Boston, is basically the perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon or evening. Not only do they have plenty of books but they also have a full café, and the food is excellent. Seriously—I could live there. But since I can’t, I bought some books to take home, including an impulse grab of THE WATER CURE from their discount table. Described as THE HANDMAID’S TALE meets THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, this book is about three sisters who are raised on an isolated island and taught to fear men, and whose strange lives are thrown into turmoil when their father dies.
Politics and Prose, Washington, DC I don’t get down to DC often, but whenever I’m there, I definitely try to stop into Politics and Prose. During my last visit, I stumbled across Simon & Schuster author Philippa Gregory’s THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS on a fiction favorites table. Gregory is a master of fiction, and THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS is one of her best, telling the story of three Tudor women who are united by sisterhood but also forced into rivalry when they become queens.
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