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>Support your local superstore!

>A. Bitterman has some tips!

He does bring up a moral question that vexes me, though. If I want a copy of, say, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (which Betsy Hearne says I do), am I morally required to go out of my way to purchase it at an independent bookseller? There are two small independents in my neighborhood, but I can’t go into either with the assurance they will have any given book I am seeking–one is mostly remainders (Jamaicaway Books and Gifts) and the other is too random (Rhythm and Muse). I can go to the Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge on my way home from work if I take an extra bus and train, but both Borders and Barnes & Noble are on my subway line. I always drop a hefty wad of cash at the Brookline Booksmith when we go over to Coolidge Corner for a movie, but that trip requires a car (and, thus, driver, thus Richard). As far as I can tell, Boston supports no full-service independents. What’s an enthusiastic non-driving reader to do? On the one hand, shopping at an independent is, in the particulars, more fun, and I invariably buy more books than I had intended to. And in general, the existence of independents, with their handselling and appeal to big readers, allows more kinds of good books to flourish. But it has been my experience that immediate gratification wins out over virtue when shopping or reading (this is why I don’t shop online). It says something great about reading when you just can’t wait to get your mitts on a book–but it also makes it unlikely that you will wait until you can plan a day around its purchase.

I think what I miss most about Chicago is living a five-minute walk from Unabridged Bookstore. That place is heaven.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >As one who’s logged time in JP I’d call Rhythm & Muse more eclectic than random, but others’ opinions may vary. Anyway, from experience I can say, stop by or call ahead and Dave will order you any book or CD that you’d like, it’ll be in the store in a couple of days, and when you swing by to pick it up from a fine human being with a genuine love of books and music and a real and metaphorical investment in them both, the good feelings will be so overwhelming that you may have to sit down and have a glass of water, which Dave will be happy to provide, no fee.

  2. >Thanks (I guess) for introducing me to A. Bitterman. Boy, is he verbose! Can’t there be a surtax on blog length? But rewarding to slog one’s way through.

  3. Roger Sutton says:

    >I meant random in the sense of it–to me–having no particular profile. I do agree that the ambience is wonderful and I know they will order books. The problem is that when I come in to pick up my order I won’t find three or seven other books I didn’t know about but wanted immediately, which is for me the real lure of a bookstore.

  4. >Um, the Brookline Booksmith is on the T, Roger. Just a block or two from Coolidge Corner.

  5. Roger Sutton says:

    >Yes but to get to that line I have to go into Back Bay (where there are two chains) and then back out again–Boston public transit has this spoke system that unfortunately neglected the wheel!

  6. >Chicago is the best. I am *one block* from Unabridged and it is a terrific store. They're also NICE: they run a free weekly storytime in the library of the Chicago Public School across the street. Not only that, within a few miles we have two additional indies (one of them relatively new): Women & Children First in Andersonville, and the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square. I've never lived in a place with so many thriving independent bookstores!
    –Diane F.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >I find myself appalled at the state of bookstores in the Boston area. I worked at Waterstone’s (in Faneuil) Hall the summer it, Laurriette’s (I’m sorry I know that’s wrong, but I can’t remember the exact name of the store) in Copley Place, and Rizzoli’s, also in Copley all closed. I worked at Curious George Goes to Wordsworth in Harvard Square only a couple of years before the parent/adult store closed. There are very few independents left and there aren’t that many chains. I find it a sad state when other cities have well known huge independents and Boston seems to barely have bookstores.

  8. Anonymous says:

    >yes, the bookstore situation in Boston is a disgrace! I think it’s like the old Boston joke: out-of-town bride to new mother-in-law: “And where do you get your hats?”
    Mother in law: “My dear, we HAVE our hats.”

  9. Roger Sutton says:

    >And Bostonians do read. I notice that our subways have a greater proportion of people reading books than Chicago’s or New York’s.

  10. >Roger, I feel your pain. I should be buying every damn book I own from Bitterman’s fine establishment, (that’s Reading Reptile in Kansas City, for you midwestern folks) though I would have to drive an hour down and an hour back to get my fix. Instead I hit the Border’s on the way home. Or persuade the library to buy the book for me, because they’re so nice and I am such a cheapskate.

    The better solution is to persuade my awesome mother-in-law to get me a gift certificate for Reading Reptile. Man, I really like her.

  11. Anonymous says:

    >Have you been to Porter Square Books?

  12. >When I lived in Brookline, I had 3 bookstores in walking distance–head one way to Coolidge Corner and I had the Booksmith and the B&N, head the other way toward the D line and right there off the line is the Children's Bookshop–which, granted, is a children's bookstore and not a full-service one.

    Here in po-dunk Orem, Utah, all I have is a 10-minute drive to the local B&N. I have to drive to Salt Lake City for any independents (an hour's drive). So I look back on my days in Boston as pretty good, bookstore-wise. But if you don't live off the C or D line, then that does present a problem.

  13. Andy Laties says:

    >Roger you're having last year's conversation.

    The Bitterman blog's message is that the chain superstores are right now in quite serious trouble.

    Between 1960 and 1980 the number of indie bookstores dropped from 10,000 to 2,000. The chains were dominant. But by 1991 there were 5,000 indie bookstores and the chains (B. Dalton, Waldenbooks and Crown) had basically imploded.

    Barnes & Noble and Borders are currently getting nailed by Amazon and Cosco. They may be convenient for you today, but they will not be there in five years. However, their former employees will have opened some new indie bookstores and you'll have those to shop at.

    Your Eternal Optimist,
    Andy Laties

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