I have this weird obsession about buying books and looking at them with a smile, even if I won’t read them soon. At least they are mine now. – Anais Nin
Yelp can only do so much. If you are committed bookworm with an insatiable appetite for new books like me, then you know that Yelp and all those shopping guide websites are rarely accurate.
Because I have been unable to find a comprehensive guide to all the bookstores in Boston and Cambridge, I decided to make one myself. This series will be split into three parts: Boston, Cambridge, and thrift stores. The first article will cover Boston’s bookstores. I hope this helps some of my fellow obsessive readers find some new spots.
[Editor’s Note: I have excluded bookstores inside museums, comic book shops, new age shops, college bookstores, record stores that sell books, train station and airport “bookstores” and Barnes and Nobles from this guide for the sake of brevity. If you are interested in knowing where some of the above mentioned shops are send me a message through the Contact tab and I can point you in the right direction.]
Address: 279 Harvard St, Brookline, MA 02446
Closest T-Stop: Coolidge Corner (Green Line C)
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 8:30AM-10:00PM
Friday- Saturday: 8:30AM-11:00PM
This was the first bookstore I went to in Boston. It has always had a special place in my heart. The store itself is split into two parts. The Used Book Cellar is in the basement and the New Book Section is on the main floor. I spend most of my time and money in the Used Book Cellar, so I’ll start there. The Used Book Cellar’s selection is above average. If you can think of an author they will have at least one book by him or her on the shelves. But because of the amount of people that come into the store, there are some periods when there are only scraps left on the shelves. Always check the New Arrivals carts first. Because of their strict used book buying guidelines, all the books are in great shape but there is a noticeable lack of hardcovers. I used to go there once a week but in recent months the prices have gone up. The used books are priced at about 55% of the jacket price. The mass market paperbacks range from $3 to $5. The prices for the older paperbacks range considerably; but most of them are around $8 or $9. The New Book Section is quite bad. On the shelves you’ll be able to find an occasional gem but more likely than not you won’t find anything extraordinary. There are a few bargain books tables, which are nice but rarely get changed out. I recommend going to the store at night and not during the afternoon. It gets very crowded during the afternoon and early evening.
Hidden Gem I Got There: 120 Days of Simon by Simon Gärdenfors
Address: 338 Newbury Street, Boston, MA 02115
Closest T-Stop: Hynes Convention Center (Green Line)
Hours: Temporarily Closed. (8:00AM-Midnight)
Oh how I miss you, Trident Booksellers. If you don’t know, they had a fire and are currently rebuilding the store. I originally didn’t plan to include them in this article but I would feel bad for leaving them out. Trident has two floors. The first floor is Fiction/Nature/Kids/Graphic Novels/Philosophy/Religion/Poetry. The second floor is Psychology/Drama/Business/History/Politics/Music/Biography. Although Trident does not sell used books, they do have some wonderful bargain tables. Actually their bargain tables are the best in Boston. They are so stacked with books of many different genres including philosophy and science. Their new book selection is full of independent presses, which always makes me smile. Their main faults are that they also have a restaurant attached to the store so that makes it extra crowded some days and nights. Also their selection rarely changes. That being said, I hope they make a speedy recovery.
Hidden Gem I Got There: A Time For Everything by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Brattle Book Shop
Address: 9 West Street, Boston, MA 02111
Nearest T-Stop: Park Street Station (Green Line)
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 9:00AM-5:30PM
I found Brattle Book Shop after touring Emerson College. The store itself has three main parts. On sunny days, the parking lot next to the store is full of carts and shelves of used books ranging from $1-5. The main floor is composed of fiction, poetry, sci-fi, mystery, and some history books. The second floor is nonfiction, drama, and music. I have been shopping there for almost two years and I hadn’t seen them put out the outdoor carts and shelves until last week. Brattle Book Shop is a place you go if you are looking for every book published before 1950. Their prices are a little odd. Their paperbacks are generally $5.95, some are cheaper, some are over-priced. Their hardcover pricing is consistent and their selection is very good if you are looking for old Modern Library and Library of America editions. They often have some out-of-print gems. The reason I don’t shop at Brattle that often is that their shelves need serious reorganizing. The fiction shelves alone are two shelves deep and I keep finding myself pulling out half of the first shelf to find a book on the second shelf. There isn’t much room to walk around in the store. The staff is generally very very cold. They stare at you as if your shirt is on backwards but it would be too much of an effort to tell you. They also always seem to be in a rush to close. At 5:00PM on the dot the carts from outside will be clogging up the aisles.
Hidden Gems I Got There: City of Night [1st Edition] by John Rechy, Raintree County by Ross Lockridge Jr., Time of Hope by C.P. Snow
More Than Words
Address: 242 East Berkeley Street, 2nd Floor, Boston, MA 02118
Closest T-Stop: Broadway (Red Line) or Tufts Medical Center (Orange Line)
Hours: Monday: Closed
Since there is a charity connected to this store, I am not sure whether it qualifies as a thrift store or not. But that’s a semantic issue and I should get on with the review. More than Words has a extremely limited selection but great prices. You won’t find any hidden gems but you may find some books that you want for extremely cheap prices. They have all kinds of deals. I went in there recently and the staff was super nice with me. I recommend stopping in here at least once.
Hidden Gem I Got There: Eleven Plays [Modern Library Giant] by Henrik Ibsen with an introduction by H.L. Mencken
Address: 9 Spring Ln, Boston, MA 02109
Closest T-Stop: Park Street (Green Line)
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 10:00AM-7:00PM
I always get lost trying to find Commonwealth Books. I have been there at least 5 times in the last few months but it always takes me 20 minutes to find it. But I think the store’s hard-to-find nature is intentional much like a treasure chest. Commonwealth Books is chock full of old books, out-of-print books, and esoteric goodies. Much like Brattle Book Shop, you won’t find many new books here and the lack of walking space may overwhelm you. But their selection of hidden gems is hard to beat. Their prices are slightly expensive but they are fairly priced. I often see a book on the shelf and think why does that book exist. Then I’ll take it off the shelf and read some of it and think, WHY DON’T I OWN THIS BOOK ALREADY. I spent some time last time I was in there looking through Harvard University reunion books. You get inexplicably drawn to the oddities that you know you won’t find anywhere else. You can’t leave the store without a list of authors to look up when you get home. You also will find yourself leaving with a reason to return.
Hidden Gems I Got There: The Complete Memoirs of George Sherston by Siegfried Sassoon, The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell,