New England has a rich literary history going waaaay back. We're talking Louisa May Alcott, Robert Frost, Longfellow, Thoreau, Theodor Geisel, Dennis Lehane, Stephen King. Boston clearly inspires writing, but it also inspires reading, so when you come to town, make some time to browse the stacks at independent Boston bookstores. You never know what you might find—or who you might meet.
The Brattle Book Shop
Locals adore this family owned, old-timey spot in Downtown Crossing where used books from recent centuries (including this one) occupy shelf space. The Brattle is especially known for its antiquarian book collection up on the third floor, which is lorded over by owner Ken Gloss, an expert in the field and appraiser for PBS' "Antiques Roadshow."
9 West St., Boston, 617.542.0210
Over in Coolidge Corner, Brookline Booksmith thrives as part bookseller, part gift store, and is 100 percent independent. Genres run the gamut, but fiction is a focus, attested to by the stellar line-up of emerging and bestselling authors who host readings and talks here. Also of note, awesome maps and travel guides.
279 Harvard St., Brookline, 617.566.6660
Splurge for the annual membership at The Coop (don't make us cringe by calling it "the co-op"); it will only cost you a buck and you can say you're part of the in-crowd of this prestigious college bookstore that services the student bodies of Harvard and MIT. Of course, you don't need a membership to shop here. On multiple floors, the sheer volume of reading materials is truly unparalleled; seek out author-signed books and signature HARVARD tees. Fun fact: Students started The Coop in a Harvard dorm back in 1882; today, it is owned by Barnes & Noble.
1400 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617.499.2000
Harvard Book Store
This is the Harvard U. community's unofficial bookstore, and we just love to love everything about it. Climb wooden wall ladders (if you dare) to access many of the books at this full-to-the-brim landmark first opened in 1932. Downstairs features used and remaindered books for deep discounts. Extras range from Paige M. Gutenborg, a book-making robot that prints paperback on demand including many out-of-print titles, to the incredible author events series that brings in leading authors, Nobel laureates and world leaders. Yes, we're serious.
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617.661.1515
Raven Used Books
Two city locations mean book junkies can get a fix here often and cheaply. Stock is ever-changing (as books are second-hand and prices 50-80% off list price) and leans toward more erudite fiction and scholarly books. To give an example, a recent purchase included Jonathan Safran Foer's "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." I.e. you probably won't find Danielle Steele's latest. Raven Used Books was born in the Berkshires but moved east almost 10 years ago.
263 Newbury St., Boston, 617.578.9000
52 JFK St., Cambridge, 617.441.6999
Trident Booksellers & Cafe
Imagine a cozy, not musty, bookstore with aisles crammed so tightly with shelving and books that it's hard to even walk through, but you do, because the moderately-sized general interest selection is that good. Trident is this place. Make sure to stop by the 'café'—full service restaurant—for some seriously good corned beef hash, Tibetan momos and stuffed French toast.
338 Newbury St., Boston, 617.267.8688