Niantic Book Barn haul

Last Friday, I took one of my few remaining days of vacation to make a trek to the Niantic Book Barn on the Connecticut coast, a sprawling complex of barns, huts, sheds, trolleys, outdoor shelving, and even a former outhouse filled with used books on every imaginable subject. Three additional, more conventional buildings down the street have even more books to explore, all neatly shelved and labeled. It was a book-hunter’s paradise!

I was so glad that I also got to meet up with Erica Robyn of Erica Robyn Reads (and her friend Alex), who like me drove down from New Hampshire, and Chris of WildMoo Books, who lives not far from the store. In between our browsing sessions, we sat down to refresh ourselves with some pizza and conversation. I always appreciate the chance to meet some blogging friends in person!

Thanks Chris for letting me use your selfie!

I sold some books at the hyper-efficient sales counter — and immediately used my store credit to buy more books. Here’s what I got at each of the four locations:

Main Store – The New Arrivals shelves were plentiful and fun to pore through here, along with a good selection of kids’ paperbacks.

Downtown – The bulk of SF and horror were in this location. I picked up a couple of titles that I wanted to reread.

Midtown – This store had a huge children’s section. I had already gotten several books for my son in the main store, so I just got him one more here.

Store Four – This had a good selection of literary fiction, criticism, and Folio Society and other fine press books. I had to restrain myself to buying just a few lovelies.

Have you been to Niantic Book Barn? What’s your favorite used book store?

Bookstores of New England

Wherever I go in my travels, I try to visit local independent bookstores. And for Reading New England, I wanted to especially feature some of the fantastic stores in our region, which I’m still exploring. I turned to my fellow bloggers to give some suggestions, and they came through with a great selection.

Of my personal favorites, I heartily second the recommendations for the Toadstool Bookshops (the Peterborough location is my local literary hangout) and Brookline Booksmith. But I hope to visit all the others on this list before too long!

Have we missed any of your favorites? What would be your suggestions?



Gifts from Booksmith
Gifts from Booksmith
Porter Square Books
Porter Square Books

From Katie of Bookish Illuminations:

Brookline Booksmith, Brookline, MA
Porter Square Books, Cambridge, MA

I love Brookline Booksmith for its fantastic displays and the quality of its titles, both new and used. Porter Square is lovely because of its excellent children’s and young adult collection and its wonderful coffeeshop!

Toadstool Bookshop, Keene
Toadstool Bookshop, Keene
Bull Moose, Portland, ME
Bull Moose, Portland, ME

From Emily of Red House Books:

Toadstool Bookshops, Keene, Peterborough, and Milford, NH
Bull Moose – locations in ME and NH

The Keene location of the Toadstool is my absolute favorite bookstore. A recent move to a bigger and better location (with a cafe coming soon!) has been the highlight of my summer. I love the friendly staff, the ease of placing special orders, the holiday sales and all the fun little extras like bookmarks, journals, calendars, and cards. I don’t know what I would do without them!

Bull Moose is a family favorite. There are stores throughout Maine and New Hampshire, with a new location in Keene opening this past year. Their book selection is small, but everything is sold at a discount and it’s not just books – movies, music, games, pop culture novelty items – it’s a pretty unique place.

R.J. Julia
R.J. Julia

From Ann Marie of Lit Wine and Dine:

Diane’s Books, Greenwich, CT
R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT

Diane’s has been in business for over 20 years. Unassuming from the exterior, Diane manages to pack her space with a fabulous selection of books of all genres. Her staff is very friendly and knowledgable. You can browse away or, if you have an idea of  what you’re looking for, they will give you spot-on suggestions. She has frequent author events usually held off-site because her space is so packed with books.

She locally well-known for her gift wagons and she will also hand select a book or books each month if you want to send a book-a-month type gift to someone.

I have recently started taking my children there more often. They are 5 and 8. At school they are encouraged to read leveled books via an online program the school subscribes to but I found my daughter (8) just wasn’t enjoying it in the way I wanted her to. She was starting to say things like (gasp!!) “I don’t like reading.” I’ve found she does much better, as I expected she would, when she can choose her books and hold them in real book form. Diane’s has a great selection but I was especially impressed with the amount and quality of children’s nonfiction titles.

Though I don’t visit R.J. Julia as often (just a distance issue), they are also a fabulous store with great service and selection. They seem to be one of the bigger Indie stores I’ve been to. They have been around for more than 25 years. They have a little cafe and, if memory serves me correctly, they also sell stationery, cards, etc. They also host a number of book clubs.

Northshire Bookstore
Northshire Bookstore
The Savoy
The Savoy

From Chris of WildmooBooks:

R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT
Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT
The Savoy Bookshop & Cafe in Westerly, RI
The Book Barn in Niantic, CT

R.J. Julia is my local indy and THE place for author events on the CT shoreline. They host big name authors and also support local authors with both solo and joint-author events. There’s an indoor/outdoor cafe that serves sandwiches and salads. It’s a great place to browse, pick up the latest hot book or an older title you never go around to, and meet a friend for a meal before attending an author event. They’re also very involved in the community and do lots of kids and other bookish events as well.

I’ve had the pleasure of attending three Booktopia events at Northshire. The first two were hosted by Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, creators of the Booktopia concept and podcasters of Books on the Nightstand and the third, this past spring, was hosted by the bookstore itself, which took over producing the event. This is a large store with excellent depth in most of its sections. They also have a wonderful used section with recent best-sellers, classics, collectables, and an eclectic assortment of nonfiction. Their sideline gifts are a delight to browse/shop and range from the quirky bookish novelty item to unique kitchen wares to handmade clothing. The attached cafe offers meals and baked goods and there is ample seating to dine with a group of friends or spend some time writing or studying. They have a second location in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The Savoy is the new kid on the block, and—WOW—is it a gorgeous place! This is the second bookstore adventure for Annie Philbrick (her first, Bank Street Books in Mystic, CT, is also an excellent bookstore and one I regularly frequent). The Savoy isn’t as large as the other bookstores I’ve listed, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character. Everything inside is new, but you feel transported back in time by the handsome dark wood shelving, exposed brick, and black iron railings of the staircase, which is a central feature of the store. There are secret fairy doors, a rustic cabin reading room for kids, and prism ship lights in the floor. Comfortable seating is available in front of the picture window that faces the street and the cafe in the back of the shop has tables. The cafe sells delicious baked goods and coffee/tea.

The Book Barn is my absolute favorite used bookstore. It’s actually not just one store, but is now comprised of four locations around town. Each location focuses on various subject matter. For example, the downtown location focuses primarily on cookbooks, religion, and horror. The main location has a central building and a half-dozen or so smaller out buildings dedicated to their own subjects. They buy books by the bag/car/truck load from visitors who come from all over the region and boast an inventory of 500,000 titles. If I can’t find an older title at the Book Barn I consider it a sign from the book fairies that it is just not my time to read that particular book. I’ve also found ARCs here—shhh!—sometimes months before the pub date.

My life in bookstores

Robin McKinley’s author bio in her early books used to say that she kept track of her life according to what she was was reading in various locations; she traveled around quite a bit as a child because her father was in the navy. I didn’t have such an exotic upbringing, but I find that I have strong memories associated with the bookstores located in the places where I’ve lived. Here are some of my favorites. Please share yours!

Island Books Etc., Mercer Island, WA

bookstore Mercer Island
Just like I remember it from the 1980s.

This was the only bookstore in the suburb where I lived from third grade till college, so I spent a lot of time there. It had (and still has) a pretty good general book selection, cool magazines, paper goods and greeting cards, and a nice children’s department. It was just around the corner from my dentist’s office and I got to go there frequently for a non-cavity-causing treat after dental work. Another memory: when I was about ten they had a contest to name their new children’s book department. I don’t remember what my entry was, but I’m sure it couldn’t be more boring than the winner: “Children’s Books Etc.” Oh, please.

University Book Store, Seattle and Bellevue, WA

bookstore Seattle University

The U-district was the place to go when I was a teenager, and no visit was complete (for me anyway) without a trip to this mecca run by the University of Washington. The office and art supplies were an attraction as well as the excellent selection of general, children’s, SFF, and scholarly books. The Bellevue branch store opened at some point in those years as well, and I worked there in the pre-Christmas season for a few years, learning useful gift-wrapping skills. One year absolutely everybody was buying Possession in hardback and the pre-Raphaelite cover is engraved on my brain.

Powell’s City of Books, Portland, OR

bookstore Portland

Okay, I never actually lived in Portland, more’s the pity, but it was worth the three-hour trip just to go to the massive Powell’s. If you can’t find it here, you’re not looking. By the way, if you use the “Search at Powell’s” function on this site and buy anything from them, I’m an affiliate and get a small percentage, which I will spend on more books from Powell’s. Support independent bookstores!

Carleton College Bookstore, Northfield, MN

bookstore Northfield Minnesota college
Carleton’s Sayles-Hill Campus Center

I mostly bought textbooks and sweatshirts in the basement during my four years at Carleton, but the upstairs general books department was always good for a browse. I remember eyeing the Penguin paperbacks of Robertson Davies’s novels there for years and then finally buying Tempest-Tost when I was a senior — the start of a long love affair with that wonderful author.

The Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA

Seattle bookstore Pioneer Square

When I moved back to Seattle after college, I could take the bus or even walk downtown from my Madison Park house, and I would frequently end up at this Pioneer Square landmark. As well having a fantastic store and cafe they also hosted author readings and visits practically every other day. I saw Ursula K. LeGuin and Denise Levertov here, among others. The historic neighborhood went severely downhill, however, and a few years ago they decided they had to move or die. I haven’t yet visited their new Capitol Hill location, but I do hope it keeps them afloat.

The Sunbridge College Bookstore, Chestnut Ridge, NY

Waldorf bookstore New York
Sadly, this sign is no more.

I probably spent more time in this store than in any of the others combined, because I worked there part-time for seven years while attending Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge College and then the eurythmy training at Eurythmy Spring Valley. My manager, who took over the store the year I arrived, was an eccentric but brilliant woman who tripled the size of the store and turned it from a dumpy corner of the Threefold Auditorium building into a jewel-toned, artfully arranged oasis. In quiet times when she was not around I got to spend many happy hours perusing the small but carefully-chosen stock of books on spirituality, education, the arts and crafts, and more. Another casualty of the internet age, after I left it had to drastically reduce its stock and move into Meadowlark Toys and Crafts, the end of a brief but memorable heyday.

Books of Wonder, New York, NY

children's bookstore new york

There are lots of great bookstores in New York, of course, but I was a fan of Books of Wonder before I even moved to the area. For a while I was a member of their collector’s club, and always loved perusing their catalog of used and rare titles. As well as being one of the best children’s bookstores you’ll find anywhere, for several years they collaborated with the William Morrow publishing house to bring some classics back into print including works by E. Nesbit and L. Frank Baum. These are sadly now mostly out of print, but they still offer the complete Oz series in hardcover, which I’ve had my eye on for some time.

Toadstool Bookshop, Peterborough, NH

bookstore Peterborough New Hampshire
Don’t let the rather unprespossessing exterior put you off.

A year ago I moved to what some friends rather uncharitably called “the boonies,” but with this super independent bookstore just 15 minutes away, what more do I need? There are two other locations in the Toadstool mini-chain, in Keene and Milford, but this one is my favorite. It has a large used book department as well, and I pretty much never leave the store without buying something there. My latest score was the first U.S. edition of The Neverending Story, with its unusual two-color printing that identifies the two parts of the story (in our world and Fantastica). I’m sure I’ll find many more treasures there in the years to come.

Have you been to any of these? What did you think? What are your favorite bookstores?