The buying of more books than one can read is nothing less than the soul reaching toward infinity. – A. Edward Newton
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 regarding book stores in Boston can be found here. This second article will cover book stores in Cambridge. 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.]
698 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139
Closest T-Stop: Central Square (Red Line)
Whenever I am walking around downtown Cambridge with my friends, I take them to Rodney’s Books. Rodney’s was the first bookstore I went to in Cambridge. Their selection is reminiscent of an escape room: you know there is something there that will help you but it takes some digging and thinking to find it. Their main table is full of unorganized stacks of books. You’ll find 19th century German metaphysics treatises resting on top of 21st century feminist thrillers. There are so many different sections in the store that I don’t think I can name even a quarter of them. Their modern fiction selection is a little dated but their classic section is usually full of cheap editions of classics. Speaking of cheap, the whole store is super cheap. I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than $6 for a book. Nonfiction is spread out randomly and their philosophy section is horrible. Their biography section is worth checking out because they often have biographies of authors that you didn’t even know existed.
Hidden Gems: Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!! [First Edition/Out of Print] by Albert Goodman, A Rage to Live by John O’Hara, The New Journalism [Out of Print] edited by Tom Wolfe.
731 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02139
Nearest T-Stop: Central Square (Red Line)
I understand independent bookstores selling used books for the jacket price. If the used book is in great shape, I’ll pay about 60% of the new price. If it’s a out of print book, I’ll pay around $10-15. BUT IF THE BOOK IS USED AND YOU ARE CHARGING ABOVE THE NEW BOOK PRICE, YOU DON’T DESERVE TO BE A BOOKSTORE. Whew. I have bought two or three books from Seven Stars and only go in their nowadays to see if they have come to their senses. They haven’t. Their selection which is actually not bad is ruined by the pricing system. Every book seems to be worth its weight in gold to them. They do have some nice out of print gems, though they are usually old leftist essay collections and biographies, but the remainder is your general philosophy and new releases. If you are into New Age vegan–The Diet of Cults Everywhere!–stuff then they have an extensive selection of Eastern religion, psychedelic, astrology, etc texts. Avoid this store if you are looking for anything else.
Hidden Gems: Economy and Society [2 Volume Set] by Max Weber
Pandemonium Books & Games
4 Pleasant Street, Cambridge, MA, 02139
Nearest T-Stop: Central Square (Red Line)
Pandemonium is a niche bookstore. You’ll only find sci-fi and fantasy books here. But their selection is diverse for such a small store. What I like about them is that they have local authors and famous authors alongside each other. They used to have a jaw-dropping amount of old pulp sci-fi paperbacks but the last time I went in there they were doing some remodeling and the pulp fiction was nowhere to be found.
Hidden Gems: I’ve only bought one book from them, Dune by Frank Herbert, but I keep thinking about this Leigh Brackett book they had a few months ago and wish I had bought it then.
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138
Nearest T-Stop: Harvard Square (Red Line)
No, this isn’t the official bookstore of Harvard University. (That is the Coop, which I am not reviewing in this article but think has one of the best selection of new books.) Harvard Book Store is two floors of books, books, and more books. The basement is the Used Book section. When you first walk into the Used Book section you are confronting by 2 tables and 4 shelves of bargain books. Most of the bargain books are from independent presses such as Archipelago Books and The New York Review of Books and it’s hard not to just pick up a handful of them and walk upstairs to the register. (There are also 2 tables of bargain books on the main floor. The bargain books on these tables tend to be newer books but also a few Library of America editions.) For how small the basement is, the shelves aren’t densely packed. In fact, they are orderly. Their nonfiction selection is okay at best but their fiction is the real draw. The books on the fiction shelves aren’t segregated by classics and modern, which is nice. You’ll more likely than not find a formerly unknown book by an author you like sitting next to a new translation of an out of print Russian novel. The main floor is new books and you will end up finding some books you never heard of before. Their philosophy and nonfiction sections are great but their fiction is rarely updated. They often have events and have a rewards program, which are nice perks if you have time and money.
Hidden Gems: The Most of S.J. Perelman
Raven Used Books
23 Church St, Cambridge, MA 02138
Closest T-Stop: Harvard Square (Red Line)
Review: Odd, Odd, Odd. I have been using that word a lot in this article to explain certain aspects of bookstores. Raven Used Books is just an odd store. It is cheap used book store and half cheap scholarly text store. If you are a general nonfiction kind of guy then this store is not for you. All of the nonfiction is esoteric and scholarly. Though if you like Hackett Press then you will have a hay day here. The fiction selection is amazing but limited. There is no pricing system but most books range from 25% to 50% off cover price. You won’t find most mainstream fiction here. There are a tad too many Oxford University Press editions for me but I always leave there regretting not picking up something more.
Hidden Gems: The Methods of Ethics by Henry Sedgwick, The New Science by Vico