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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Some independent bookstore faves for the literary traveler

I was reading a story in the April issue of Travel & Leisure last night that looks at bookstores in London. I'm pretty sure that on past visits to London I have not visited the stores that were featured, or at least I don't recall them.

That story had me thinking this morning while driving into the office about some of my favorite bookstores from my travels. I always try to find at least one bookstore while traveling, partially because I'm a reader and partially because when shopping with my wife I need somewhere to spend some time.

I don't just go into any bookstore. Sure, I might occasionally find myself in one of the mega-chains, but for the most part I seek out local gems, particularly ones that have a good selection of used or marked-down books.

One of my favorites is The Book Loft of German Village in the -- you guessed it -- German Village of Columbus, Ohio. This place is huge; it claims to be a city-block long store and I believe it. I like this store because it's jam-packed with books. It's almost like an old house with tiny hallways that lead into random rooms filled to the brim with books. Plus, the prices are fair, with many bargain-priced selections.

New York City's Strand, which claims to have 18 miles of books, is another fave. This place can be a bit overwhelming with its choices. The store is at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway, just down from Union Square. I recommend picking up a book, followed by a visit to the Union Square Greenmarket for some grub to enjoy in the park while reading a few pages.

Staying in New York, our next bookstore is Housing Works Bookstore Cafe, a smaller used bookstore at 126 Crosby St. on the Lower East Side. This is one of those smaller stores I love for its randomness; you're not going to visit with a specific title in mind because chances are they won't have it. But they might have a Frank Lloyd Wright biography, fantastic book on football hooliganism you didn't know existed and a random Winnie the Pooh book, all of which I bought on my first visit there a couple of years ago.

This store is also a nonprofit organization; Housing Works is devoted to ending AIDS and homelessness. The organization since 1990 has been devoted to providing services for homeless men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS in New York City. Housing Works also has some great thrift shops throughout the city. My wife and I can attest to the great selection at two of the shops we found last summer.

Finally we have Square Books, the Oxford, Miss., institution that is the epicenter of books in this Southern literary center. Square Books and its sister stores Off Square Books and Square Books, Jr. are all found on the Courthouse Square. If you ever find yourself in Oxford I highly recommend stopping in one of these stores.

Square Books is a typical independent bookstore with a lot of general titles. But it also stays true to its location with a heavy dose of William Faulkner, Southern studies and regional artists. Off Square Books is probably my favorite, though, because of its bounty of random titles found at a cheap price. We've bought our share of Dr. Seuss books at Square Books, Jr. too.

This is such a small list, I know, but these are some of my favorites.

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