Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Not So Easy Choices for Best Used Bookstores

The editor of Yankee Magazine asked me to select my five favorite used bookstores for their Best 5 in New England feature. It seemed easy, as I have lots of favorite used bookstores, so surely I can pick the best five?

Best 5 Used Bookstores
Oops! Imagine trying to pick your “best” grandchild? What seemed easy became a bit of a chore when I had to get down to selecting five used bookshops. Mel Allen, the editor of Yankee Magazine, gave me some grace to select an additional 10 runners-up, which helped a little. My selections appear in the January-February issue of Yankee Magazine, and the runners-up appear in the online version.

The shops I selected were:

- The Montague Bookmill – Montague MA

- Shire Book Shop – Franklin MA

- Pleasant Street Books – Woodstock VT

- Drake Farm Books – Northampton NH

- The Book Barn – Niantic CT

I feel very comfortable with these choices and the 10 honorable mentions too. They are certainly worthy candidates for someone looking for a great used book shop in New England. It’s just that there are many others equally worthy of being a Top 5 choice. In my book, A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores, I write about 31 used books shops that are among my favorites.

January-February 2013 issue
Here are the 10 runners-up from Yankee Magazine:

- Big Chicken Barn – Ellsworth ME

- Carlson Turner Books – Portland ME

- Bar Harbor Book Shop – Hulls Cove ME

- Henniker Book Farm – Henniker NH

- Whitlock Farm Booksellers – Bethany CT

- The Traveler Book Cellar – Union CT

- Vintage Books – Hopkinton MA

- Book Bear – West Brookfield MA

- Myopic Books (Paper Nautilus Books) – Providence RI

- The Book Shed – Benson VT

You can visit my website, GuideToNewEnglandBookstores.com, to read the remainder of my favorite used bookstores. You can also link to Amazon to buy my Guide.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Latest Edition of Guide Book Has Arrived

A Vacationer's Guide Book to Rural New England Bookstores
Latest edition of Guide Book
The latest edition of my Guide Book, A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores, was published last week and is available now for purchase. The new edition is divided into three sections; Full-Service Independent Bookstores, Used-Rare Book Shops, and One-Day Bookstore-Tour itineraries. It’s a useful Guide for someone visiting New England on vacation with an eye toward finding a good bookstore nearby their destination.

Destination Bookstores
In my view, each of these bookshops is a destination itself and that’s why it’s in the Guide. The things I look for in a book shop go beyond just the books; they include things like how helpful and knowledgeable are the staff, and the depth and interest of the collection. Does the shop provide Author signings? Does it have other products and services such as a café, a book-club meeting room, and a children’s section?

The 39 bookstores highlighted in the Guide are my favorites, but I recognize that others will have a different collection of favorite shops. That’s okay. In fact, that’s what makes assembling the Guide so much fun for me. I have added and subtracted to the Guide over the years as things change. My concern has been that the change would be for the worse – but, it appears it has been for the better. In more than one case a Local, Independent shop has taken over the location of a previous Big Box store. Not that I’m gleeful about that (but, I am).

Another aspect of the Guide is that even folks who live in a nearby town to one of these shops can reconsider whether it’s a better idea to visit a Local, Independent or Used Book Shop, rather than a Big Box shop. Buy Local is more than a slogan to me. I think we benefit everyone when we help keep the local shopkeeper going. He or she is more inclined to be a good neighbor in my opinion; making choices about suppliers, and community participation that benefit the local economy.

My website, GuideToNewEnglandBookstores.com, maintains a list of the shops from the Guide and is a good place to find any updates to information in the Guide. It’s also a place where visitors can offer me some suggestions on shops to visit in New England. It’s amazing that there is always something new out there. If you like the Guide, let me know. If you don’t; let me know that too, so I can make it better.

If you want a copy, you can visit your local full-service bookstore and they can order it for you from the bookstore wholesalers. Give them the ISBN number (978-61863-388-0) and they won’t have any problem finding it. You can also buy the Guide direct from the publisher and now you can log on to Amazon too. It’s an age when convenience and availability are important. I shop at local bookshops for the books I didn’t know I wanted. Sometimes, when I know exactly what I want, I use an online source. I try to use a Local Independent bookshop website to place the order, so that they benefit from the purchase. So, go ahead and call your favorite book shop and ask for A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores today. Thanks.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Books of November

I generally write about the bookstores where I buy my books. Today, I am writing about the books I read this month. There were five of them:

-          How America Saved the World by Eric Hammel (Tatnuck Bookseller)
-          The Freemasons by Jasper Ridley (Tatnuck Bookseller)
-          David Crockett by Michael Wallis (The Alamo Bookstore)
-          Unstuck in Time by Gregory D. Sumner (Books and Beans)
-          Salinger by Paul Alexander (Annie’s Book Stop)

These five books boil down to three biographies and two history books. That’s pretty much the way I roll on a month-in month-out basis. If I read five books, three or four of them are biography or autobiography. And even one of the history books was primarily focused on the decisions of Franklin Roosevelt and the key military leaders in the United States during the pre-war years. In essence, it was a biography. Here then is where I bought the books and what they were about.

Tatnuck Bookseller - Westborough

That said; How America Saved the World by Eric Hammel posed a contradictory interpretation of just how prepared the United States was prior to the start of the Second World War. Common thinking holds that the U.S. pulled together after the attack at Pearl Harbor and miraculously put two million soldiers and all the armaments they needed together in less than two years. The book argues that Roosevelt and his planners held a meeting as early as 1938 that launched the country into a true arsenal of democracy mode. The detailed and comprehensive writing was very convincing.

The Freemasons by Jasper Ridley provided a history of the secret organization that sorted the myths from the truth. It was interesting to read that at every major moment in history, where someone has accused the Freemasons of ulterior or suspect motives, there turned out to be just as many Freemasons on each side of the controversy. In the Revolutionary War, where masons such as Washington and Benjamin Franklin were leading the rebels, the British were being led by men who also were masons. Once you understand the real behavior of these and other leaders in history, the Freemasons are not so hard to understand.

Books and Beans - Southbridge

At the Books and Beans shop in Southbridge I found Unstuck in Time by Gregory D. Sumner, which is a clever “biography” of the fourteen novels written by Kurt Vonnegut. As the author unravels each novel, it becomes clearer how Vonnegut evolved as a writer and as an observer of the human condition. Vonnegut was focused on the American Dream, which also evolved over the years. The theme of being unstuck in time moves through each novel developing its own inertia with each novel building on the one that went before.

Annie’s Book Stop – W.Boylston

The elusive writer, J.D. Salinger is the subject of Paul Alexander’s book, Salinger. For those who have read The Catcher in the Rye, it is fascinating to learn about the recluse writer and the events in his life which may contribute to our understanding of where his story ideas came from. It is well known as a writer’s axiom that one should write about what one knows. So, a backwoodsman might write a tale about a bear hunting excursion and a dancer might write about a round the world cruise assignment for an entertainment troupe. That all makes sense. But, how does one write about a young boy named Holden Caulfield and create a literary triumph? The biography is fascinating and illuminating. But, not all questions are eventually answered.

The Alamo Bookstore – San Antonio

While on a reunion with friends I served with in the Air Force, we visited the Alamo in San Antonio and I found a great book, David Crockett by Michael Wallis. I didn’t find the book in a rural New England bookstore, but it was one of the books I read in November; so, I am reporting on it. David Crockett was a man who became a legend in his own time. His contemporaries made him a legend for the things he did throughout his life. Today, he is sometimes reduced to a man who fought and died at the Alamo. But, in essence, that was one of the least consequential actions of his life. The real story of Crockett is more fascinating than the TV series or the portrayals in Hollywood films.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Books & Beans in Southbridge is Perfect Combination

Books & Beans - Southbridge MA

When I sit down to read, I generally take a cup of coffee with me. When I sat down at Books & Beans recently in Southbridge, it was as if they read my mind. The wall was lined with books and the counter offered coffee and other essentials. The books ranged from novels to non-fiction, with some occasional text books thrown in. Mostly hard-cover books, but a nice selection of paperbacks too.

The shop shares space
 with a printer and a shipper

Books and Beans is one of many activities associated with The Center of Hope located at 100 Foster Street, Southbridge, MA. The bookshop and café are nearby at 100 Central Street. The bookshop is located in a printing and shipping store, which also provides employment opportunities for clients of The Center of Hope. The shop is a great example of multi-purpose merchandizing.

The first book I spotted was The New Deal by Michael Hiltzik, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. The book examines aspects of what brought about the New Deal and how its impact affects us today. The next book that caught my eye was Unstuck in Time by Gregory Sumner, a journey through Kurt Vonnegut’s Life and Novels. This examination of 15 of Vonnegut’s novels is a scholarly look at his work by an obvious fan.

Both books were published in 2011 and had a combined cover price of $57.95. Even at the standard 20 percent off at Tatnuck Bookseller in Westborough, the cost of $46.36 for these two books would keep them off my reading list. But at $2 each at Books & Beans, it was definitely today’s bargain buy.

I am a firm believer in the value of browsing independent bookstores and places such as Books & Beans because I tend to find books I didn’t know I was looking for. Take Patriotic Treason by Evan Caron, the story of John Brown and the fight for equality. This book was published in 2006 and I was not familiar with it. But, for $2 at Books & Beans, I am saved.

The books are donated by supporters of The Center of Hope and the customers who buy them are in fact, making a donation, not really a purchase. The non-profit organization has been an important part of the community since the foundation was established in the 1950’s and continues its mission today.

Did I mention the coffee was less than $2? That’s a good day.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Book Shop Heard ‘round the World; or How I spent a Day near Concord-Lexington Buying Books

Barrow Book Store - Concord MA
The historic sites in Massachusetts are boundless. When we take a day trip to visit an historic site, such as the North Bridge in Concord, I try to scope out a reason to return on another day for a visit to several book shops. Recently, I made a circle trip to several bookstores, including some I had not been to before.
The trip started off with a thunk as I discovered that Annie’s Book Stop and Espresso Paulo in Framingham were completely abandoned. The whole plaza was mostly deserted so maybe they moved somewhere else. But, further down the road toward Framingham the Book Cellar was closed too. So, it was early in the day and I was zero for two. Not a good start. To console myself, I stopped at Trader Joe’s and bought a case of wine. (For three dollars a bottle, it’s hard to beat.)

Bearly Read Books
I left the buzziness of Route 9 via peaceful, tree-lined Edgell Road towards Route 20, where I got to Bearly Read Books in Sudbury about 10 minutes before they opened. After an hour I had seen three book shops and been inside none. Thankfully, they opened at their scheduled time of 10 AM.

The shop has been around for about 25 years, with the new owners operating it for the past five years. It’s an impressive antiquarian and rare book shop with about 40,000 books on hand, but it also has more generic used books, and some at very reasonable prices. They also have a great section of signed books.
I got The Hellfire Club by Peter Straub and Inadmissible Evidence by Philip Friedman. Even though the owners were away, the person minding the store was helpful and knowledgeable.

Willow Books
I left Bearly Read Books and proceeded toward Acton, about 20 minutes away, to Willow Books. I hadn’t been there before, but had meant to stop in. It’s a large building, which they share with an insurance company. The store was bright and cheerful. It reminded me of Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough. It has a café for coffee and a muffin, clean rest rooms, and a big kids section. There was a good display of local authors and near the front door was a big section filled with bargain books.

The used book section is strictly paperbacks, so it was not interesting to me. But, if that’s what you are looking for, you can get started on buying and selling books back to them for credits on future purchases. That’s great for the locals, not so much for vacationers to the region.
I picked up The Last Founding Father: James Monroe by Harlow Giles Unger. I had previously read his book about Lafayette. I also got The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong. Both books were $6.98 in the bargain rack. I picked up some other books as well. The day was getting better.

Second Hand Prose
Just a few minutes up the road I got to Second Hand Prose. The shop has been there for over 20 years. It’s got a nice selection of paperback and hard cover books. It offers an interesting buy-back program where you get one sixth of the cover price for books you turn in and eventually get your purchase price down to one fourth the cover price based on credits you’ve earned. Don’t worry; they will explain how it works. The hundreds of customers that have cards on file are testimony to the successful discount strategy.
I picked up Benjamin Franklin by Edmond Morgan and Rabbi Kushner’s book For Those Who Can’t Believe.

The Concord Book Shop
The last stop of the day was in Concord. To get there I had to go through the infamous Concord Traffic Rotary. The Concord Book Shop is one of my favorite bookstores. I include it in my book, A Vacationer’s Guide to Rural New England Bookstores. The shop has all the latest books, a deep selection of history, politics, nature, and especially biographies, which is a strong interest of mine. I picked up Stephen Greenblatt’s, The Swerve, How The World Became Modern; a Pulitzer Prize winner. I also stepped outside and visited another of my favorite book shops: Barrow Book Store.

Barrow Book Store
This used and rare book shop, which is practically next door to The Concord Book Shop, specializes in Concord authors such as Thoreau, Hawthorne, and Emerson. I bought half a dozen books on this visit. Three were signed by the authors. There were a few that I left behind for the next visit. There are many reasons to return to this historic area of Massachusetts, including more bookstores.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My One-Day Bookstore-Tour Through Massachusetts' Quaint North Shore

Toad Hall Bookstore - Rockport MA
 About three years ago, sometime after John Updike died, I made one of my regular passes through the North Shore and visited several of my favorite bookstores. When I stopped at Manchester-by-the-Book, in Manchester-by-the-Sea, the owner had stacked every possible book written by John Updike into a tower of books standing in the middle of the store. He had placed a For Sale sign of $1000 for the entire 48 book collection. I have to admit I had not seen this merchandizing tactic previously – or since – but, it still looms fresh in my mind. Just for point of clarification, I did not make the purchase.

But, while I was there I examined the precariously stacked tribute to Updike and counted off how many of his books I had in my personal library. Not enough. Visually, the number of books in that pile was amazing. So, since that day as I went about to various book stores, I have sought out the best bargains on the books needed for my own tower of tribute to Updike. Still working on that.

Abbie Hoffman Book
On a more recent visit to Manchester-by-the-Book, I found an Abbie Hoffman book, written by his brother Jack Hoffman, Run, Run, Run, which included references to an Interview that Teresa Hannifin had with Abbie as a newspaper reporter. I had read the book a long time ago, but had misplaced it, so I bought this to restore my collection of books by people I actually know, or books with people mentioned in it that I actually know. (Not as impressive as the Updike tower, but it’s something.)

Anyway, upon leaving Manchester-by-the-Sea, I moved on to Rockport, which was about 20 minutes for the 10 mile trip. Here I stopped in at the Toad Hall Bookstore. I love the circular staircase up to the bargain area. There were books here for $3 that I had recently seen in other stores at non-discounted prices. I found Tim Russerts’ Wisdom of our Fathers in pristine condition for $3. Even if you buy it on Amazon for one cent, the delivery charge is $3.95; and you won’t know its condition until it arrives. Forget that.

Amazon's No Bargain
Another book found was The Culture of War by Martin L. Van Creveld for $3. Amazon has it for $4.95 plus shipping. And another: Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson by David S. Reynolds. Amazon has it for $4.30 plus shipping. By the way, the Amazon books are paperback and the books at Toad Hall were hardcover and pristine. I hope I am making my point. Just because it’s at Amazon does not make it a bargain.

I moved on from Rockport to Gloucester on a slight back-track direction. It was only about five miles and 12 minutes to get to the center of town. Parking is generally easier than you think, if you are willing to glide around for a while to snag a meter. The Book Store of Gloucester is one street up from the waterfront. You can’t go wrong at the 40 percent off table. My Ears are Bent by Joseph Mitchell caught my eye. Out of print since this collection of his writing was published in 1938; this was a real find – and a real bargain.

The Clam's the Thing
The final leg of this trip took me up through Essex, Ipswich and Rowley toward Newburyport. Along the way I stopped at one of the clam boxes in Ipswich. (It’s pretty much a local ordinance that you have to stop and eat at a clam box). I also went by Cape Ann Golf Course, a place I frequent when my wife is on a two-tank scuba dive off Front Beach in Rockport. Now you know why I get to make this Bookstore-Tour so often.

Anyway, my final bookstore for the day was Jabberwocky in Newburyport. This is the place where I strain my neck reading the books on the extra-tall shelves. But, the bargain bins and the Green Room make up for that slight discomfort. The store is well stocked and the sections are labeled well enough that you can find what you need without having to ask, which is good because the place is always busy and the staff may be tied up. On a recent visit I found One Man’s America by George Will, MacArthur’s Victory by Harry Gailey and a collection of John Cheever stories; all at great bargain prices.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Finding Books in (Pioneer) Happy Valley

Deerfield Museum Bookshop
From time to time we like to take a weekend and spend it at a bed and breakfast somewhere far enough away to be a mini-vacation, but close enough to home so that we don’t have to take a plane or train to get there. Fortunately, living in New England suits our purposes perfectly. From Bar Harbor, Maine to Essex, Connecticut, we can always find someplace fun and interesting to visit for less than a tank of gas.

Our visit to Historic Deerfield was very memorable. Unlike Plimoth Plantation or Sturbridge Village, where visitors know they are entering a recreated village, Historic Deerfield emerges from the Connecticut River lowlands as a simple street that seems to have been trapped in a time warp.

A short turn off of Route 5 brings you down a mile long roadway lined with homes built centuries ago by the original settlers of the area. These homes were not trucked in on flat-beds like Rockefeller did in Williamsburg or built by modern carpenters using age-old techniques as at Plimoth Plantation. Most of these homes, churches and school buildings have endured since their original construction dating back over 300 years.

In the center of the community is the 23 room Deerfield Inn, which itself is about 140+ years old. The wallpaper, the linens, the artwork and the doilies on the dresser are all things I would never want in my own home. But, I believe I would be greatly disappointed not to have them when we stay at a bed and breakfast or inn. Don’t ask me why. Also, what is it about the height of the bed in these guest houses? It seems to me we always find them to be so high up off the floor that my wife needs to take a running leap to get into bed. Were our ancestors all giants?

The sitting room, the lounge, the front porch are all part of the charm of staying at a place like the Deerfield Inn. I was not disappointed that the “ghosts”, that are claimed to haunt the inn made no appearance during our visit. I could do without that kind of encounter.

The Museum Store has everything you might expect in the way of souvenirs, memorabilia and craft items that celebrate the history of Deerfield. Over the years I have developed the ability to slowly and steadily open the front door without clanging the bells that are draped liberally over the door. I don’t mind a soft tinkle or the occasional ding from a door alarm, but those bells on the museum store front door can be quite startling if you are not ready for them.

But, it’s the bookstore within the museum that I especially like. I have noticed over the years that the total number of books on hand has diminished, but the range and caliber of the selections remains high. I never fail to find another book about Alexander Hamilton even though I think I have read every one ever written. I also enjoy the crazily over-stacked library cart with the 50 percent off discount. The signage is hand-written and subject to the whim of the mostly volunteer staff. Yet, I always find something I can’t resist.

Among the staff are a retired New York City librarian and many others that have a love of books, history and the charming role that Historic Deerfield plays in maintaining our connection with the past. It’s their devotion and patience that keep the store operating and worth the trip.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Touring Bookshops and Other Places along Central Vermont's Picturesque Route 7

Otter Creek Used Books - Middlebury VT
Rutland VT to Burlington VT is about 68 miles. The trip along Route 7 would take almost two hours as the road is not exactly a super highway. But, in the pursuit of book shops along the way, I managed to turn it into a five hour journey. Once we got to Burlington, some rain showers emerged and we dodged into and out of the shops downtown – where of all things I found another book shop. (My wife suspects I knew it was there all along; but, it really was a surprise.) Our return trip to Rutland, where we were staying during this visit to Vermont made it a long day. But, I would say it was a satisfying day.
On the way out of Rutland we had breakfast at the Midway Diner, where the eggs benedict featured a great Canadian bacon. The traditional looking diner is something we look for when we travel and this one didn’t disappoint. We scooted out onto Route 7 after we ate and took off north.

It took about 25 minutes to travel 17 miles north to Brandon, where we stopped at the Briggs Carriage Bookstore. Sadly, it was closed. And according to the recorded message on the telephone it is permanently closed. I don’t know exactly when this happened, but it was certainly sad to discover this bad news at our first stop. So we plunged on to hopefully better results up Route 7.

On to Middlebury
Our next stop was Middlebury, about another 20 minutes on Route 7. The Otter Creek Used Books shop is now at 99 Maple St. It gave up its Main Street location and I really like the new one. It’s a bit hard to find at first, as you have to turn down a tight driveway, but it’s worth it once you get there. The owner claims it’s still not really organized the way she would like it, but trust me when I say, it’s way ahead of a lot of other places when it comes to sorting and labeling.

I especially liked some of the walk-in closets that featured various categories, such as gardening and antiquarian. I found a signed copy of Bookbanning in America by William Noble. It was a bargain, which I confirmed on the Internet when I got home from vacation. I also found The Path to Power by Margaret Thatcher for $5. This book is her account of her personal life and how she became involved in politics. Reviewers claim it’s better than her book, The Downing Street Years. I’ll keep my eyes open for that one too.

Further up Route 7 about two miles was Monroe Street Books. The warehouse appearance, both outside and inside, seems appropriate as the shop is co-located with a storage locker company. It appears that the biggest customer is the book shop. Over 80,000 books are stacked on shelves so high you need a ladder to get up and read the top rows. I found Robert Dallek’s Nixon and Kissinger for a reasonable price and it turned out today all political books were on sale with an extra 25 percent discount. Dallek’s known for his writing about Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan and Roosevelt. I can’t wait to read this one.

Time for Lunch
I had to promise my wife that the next stop would include lunch. So, we headed to Vergennes and the 3 Squares Café, still on Route 7. This place was classic small town Main Street café. The tables don’t match. The chairs don’t match. The open kitchen behind the deli-style glass front counter gives the impression of a cafeteria, delicatessen, coffee shop and bistro, all in one. Don’t forget the local brewed beer. And I didn’t. It was great. So were the sandwiches. When my wife ordered the Mimosa, we saw the waitress run down the street to buy some Champagne. The drink came in a tall water glass instead of the traditional six ounce flute. The freshness of the ingredients and the presentation was gourmet, without the gourmet price. It’s a definite repeat stop for us.

Alas, there did not appear to be a book shop, but along Main Street one of the shops, which appeared to be a consignment place, had a sign declaring books by the pound. They were selling books by their weight. The price was two pounds of used books for a dollar? This I had to see. And sure enough, stacked up on the floor, tables, shelves and everywhere they could find a spot were books. And in the front window was a scale for you to determine how many pounds of books you were hauling.

It turns out we were in the Sweet Charity resale shop. Proceeds from the shop support families in need locally. Their website is sweetcharityVT.com. Their motto is “if you are downsizing keep us in mind.” I don’t know if the books are a one-time event, or if they sell books on a regular basis. But, if it goes on regularly, it’s a great place for bargains, while doing something helpful at the same time. I took quite a heavy load out myself, including Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keillor and David Brinkley, a Memoir.

Full of pastrami, beer, and books, we took off from Vergennes toward Shelburne, about 20 minutes further up Route 7. In Shelburne, we stopped at the Flying Pig Bookstore, which is in the same building as the Bearded Frog Bar and Grill. You have to give them credit for two eclectic retail names. Flying Pig and Bearded Frog?

The Flying Pig carries about 40,000 volumes and has a tremendous focus on children’s books. There seemed to be a lot of variety and the store was well organized. The shop publishes its own newsletter, Pig-Tales, which features books for kids, by age group; books written by Vermont authors, and other categories. To publish a 16 page quarterly newsletter is very impressive. It’s definitely worth reading. Shelburne is a destination all to itself. You could spend more than a day here taking in the sights. We will be back as soon as possible.

On to Burlington
The final leg of today’s trip was 15 minutes north to ‘Burlington. We’ve been here before and it’s always a delight to visit. The open air Church Street Marketplace is what we wish all downtown’s looked like. The traffic is limited to a few cross-over points, but essentially it has become a walker’s paradise. The shops and cafés overflow onto the brick sidewalks and plazas giving a chance to everyone to enjoy the fresh air, the sun and the general hustle-bustle of a vibrant marketplace.

We took advantage of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, as my wife has made Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz her favorite. As we continued our rounds we found the Crow Bookshop at 14 Church St. In previous trips I hadn’t really bumped into the place, but I liked it very much. They are mostly a used book shop, but they have new titles as well. The used books are 50 percent off or better and the new books are also discounted. I got Darwin’s Armada by Iain McCalman for $12. The cover price is $29.95. That’s definitely more than 50 percent off. I also got The Canal Builders by Julie Greene at the same discount.

So, at the end of the day our One-Day-Bookstore-Tour took us to four great book shops. Although one of the planned stops was closed, we found an unexpected one to fill out our dance card. I will tell you more about the book shops right in Rutland and along our other routes as we toured Killington, Fort Ticonderoga, and other spots during this vacation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Vactioner's Guide to Rural New England Bookstores will arrive in its 2nd edition soon

When my book was first published in 2008, it was a lot of fun anticipating how readers would accept it. The limited run was a great learning experience, which I am grateful for, as I believe it greatly contributed to the quality of the newest edition due out this summer.

The first edition was published in 2008.
As soon as it is ready to print, I will mention it here and anyone interested in getting a copy can email me or buy it online. The new edition has lots of new features. The best new feature is the One-Day-Bookstore-Tour, which has a half dozen of my favorite routes for spending the day in a book store.

Another new feature is the focus on Used and Rare book shops. Previously, many used book shops were included, but they were not highlighted as they are in the new edition.

The question I raised back in 2008 was whether the New England rural bookstore could survive. I suggested that there were some rare qualities about our region that would permit the independent book shop owner to succeed, where some other parts of the country might have more difficulty. In many ways I think the rural New England book shop is doing well. In fact, I have seen more than one new shop open, including one close to my home in Jefferson, where I had the good luck to be its first customer in the summer of 2011. The Beech Tree Place book shop is celebrating its first year anniversay in a few weeks and that's testament to its owner, but in some ways to the support of the New England book buying public.

When you like to read as much as I do, it's probably not feasible to buy a full price New York Times best seller each week. That's just too expensive. Besides, not enough books are being written currently that hold my interest. I prefer books about historical figures, written by people who were there. That's why I enjoyed finding a copy of Theodore White's book, In Search of History, because he knew the characters he wrote about - and those characters shaped the world I grew up in during the 1950's and 1960's. That's much more exciting to me than most of today's literature.

If you want more book for your buck, my book will help you find a bargain and probably something much more worth reading. I hope so, anyway.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bar Harbor Maine in the Fall is a Used Book and Rare Book Lovers Dream

On our fall vacation last year in Bar Harbor, Maine, we had the chance to play golf, drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain (twice) and enjoy the beauty and majesty of Acadia Park, including Thunder Hole. We hadn’t been there in over 10 years, and while many things were the same, others were different. The last time we visited we stayed at one of the historic inns downtown. This time we opted for a more luxurious resort hotel with all the extra features. Either way can be an ideal choice for visiting Bar Harbor.

One of the days was a bit overcast and some showers were predicted so we made it our “shopping” day. We always expect one day on vacation to be a chance to run through the various quaint shops or nearby outlet malls to find some bargains. I managed to weave one of my One-Day-Bookstore-Tours into the shopping day. Some of the bookstores were places I have visited on previous visits, and delightfully, there were some new stops as well. It’s my experience that a vacation in New England is always enhanced by seeking out the unusual rural book shop.

This book store tour took me to Sherman’s Books, the Mystery Cove Book Shop, and the Big Chicken Barn Books. I had planned to stop in at Mr. Paperback, but even though we drove by it, our “shopping” day diverted me from a visit there. Unfortunately, they closed this month after operating in Ellsworth for over 30 years.

Sherman’s Books is at 56 Main Street, right in the heart of downtown Bar Harbor. During our week there I must have walked past it a dozen times and stepped inside four or five times. I know I bought books at least twice there that week. On my official One-Day-Bookstore-Tour day I concentrated on the discount book island. It’s amazing what you can find. It ranged from cook books to children’s books to local author photo books.

The Sherman’s Books and Stationary chain has three other locations: Boothbay Harbor, Camden and Freeport, Maine. I’ve been to all of them and each has its own quirky look and charm that you hope to find in locally owned shops in vacation destination cities and towns. At the Bar Harbor store, the collection of discounted children’s books was amazing. Finding something for the kids to read while they are on vacation is always important. It’s great in the evenings or for the car ride home. It’s also an economical keepsake of the vacation for the kids. Instead of a candy bar shaped like a Moose, a book is a much better purchase.

My second stop of the bookstore tour was at the Mystery Cove Book Shop about three miles up the road in Hulls Cove. Today, the shop goes by the name, Bar Harbor Book Shop. For me the “mystery” was how anyone could find this place. At the time of my visit there was no Internet address listing. Today, their website shows the address as 1 Dewey St, “500 feet up Crooked Road.” The GPS was able to get me to Dewey Street, so the “mystery” was solved. But, after all that effort, it sure was a relief to find a charming used book store that I could have shopped in for an hour. I made off with a carton filled with books, but I left a lot on the table this day. I will definitely be back to this shop.

Just a bit out of town in Ellsworth, Maine, the Big Chicken Barn Book Shop loomed large on the side of the road. And I do mean large. It is really unbelievable. Today, with modern plumbing installed, the barn offers convenient, comfortable indoor facilities. That makes the extended time you will spend here a lot more enjoyable. You need time when visiting here because the place is enormous. The upstairs is lined with aisles of books to meet all your reading requirements. The biographies and Americana sections were filled with books. I relieved the owners of a few of them so they could put more books up on the shelves for others. I’m courteous that way. The pricing was fair, so it was easy to load up on biographies, history, political commentary, and at least one novel for my wife.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Historic Woodstock Vermont is perfect for a rare book One-Day Bookstore Tour

It’s only a couple hours north from my home to reach the town of Woodstock VT, which is a preferred destination for many reasons. The town is beautiful in any season, the main street is lined with charming shops and galleries, the dining and drinking options are numerous, and I can find a library and three book shops within walking distance of each other. Now, that’s a great reason to visit any town.

The Norman Williams Public Library had a book sale this past weekend ranging from 50 cents to a few dollars each on a great collection of hard cover and soft cover books. My wife selected a novel and I found two non-fiction hard covers that totaled $8. The library was happy and we were delighted.

A few steps down the street was the Yankee Bookshop, notable for its bright yellow awning. They claim to be the oldest continuously operated independent bookshop in town, having first opened in 1935. The shop is small but well organized. The book selection was wide ranging and I was able to find some titles that I had to have. I also appreciated the rack of local newspapers at the front of the store. It’s amazing to me that more book shops don’t bother with offering the local periodicals.

A few more steps up the street brought us to Shiretown Books. The shop has begun to inter mingle new and used books on the same shelf. This is a great idea. I prefer to make my selections in the history, biography and political commentary section from used titles because a book about an historical event two hundred years ago, that was written by someone 10 years ago, is still fresh to me. Obviously, if you want to read an analysis of last year’s election, it’s necessary to buy at new book prices. I found two volumes at $4.95 each. So, for fewer than ten dollars I had a biography of Thurgood Marshall and Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser. Another good day as a result of used book pricing.

The final stop for the day was at Pleasant Street Books. It was a short ride/walk up the road and was the main reason we came on today’s visit. The antiquarian and rare book shop operated by Sonny Saul has thousands of books, many of which are first editions. The shop resides in a restored barn behind his house, along the river. It’s quintessential in its charm, inside and out. The inside has undergone a significant change over the past year. Sonny cleared out a lot of books on the ground level to make room for a piano and seating that can accommodate recitals. Although no formal schedule exists, I think we will be hearing (excuse the weak pun) more about it soon.

The rare books mingle with the merely used books. I like both types. For those looking for Shakespeare Folios, he has some. For those looking for Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco, the cost was only $8. For the Shakespeare, a bit more. I bought the Umberto Eco volume.

The upstairs section is more crowded than downstairs. The books are stacked from floor to ceiling, but Sonny has provided numerous low stools for visitors to hunch down comfortably to scan the treasures on the bottom shelves. I think I bought seven books, but I could easily have bought many more. Each aisle had something to peak my reading interest. Other aisles had volumes that peaked my collecting instinct. Sometimes my instincts get the best of me. This day I settled for the seven, which included one signed copy, a few first editions and a few readers. Excellent.

Generally, a One-Day-Bookstore-Tour takes in a few nearby towns, but this time I never left the boundaries of Woodstock VT. In between the visits we took lunch at the Woodstock Inn and some libations at Bentley’s downtown. Both were fun, but the drinks are cheaper at Bentley’s, believe me. Can’t wait to come back to Woodstock.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

One-Day-Bookstore-Tour Yields Great Book Bargains in Portsmouth NH Area

I just got back from a great One-Day-Bookstore-Tour in and around Portsmouth NH, where the RiverRun Bookstore reopened at its new location. On Saturday, the place was buzzing. I was disappointed to learn that the SecondRun shop, which has been closed for a year won’t be reopening any time soon. But, according to the one of the owners, there may be a Used Book store in its future – but, probably out of town where the rents are lower.

The new shop is delightful. It’s not very large, but well organized and thankfully, it’s peppered with a lot of Used Books. Unlike a lot of shops, the new and used books are inter-mixed on the same shelves by category. So, when I’m looking at biographies, I can find a new release parked right next to a used copy of Amelia Earhart by Doris Rich for $10. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. I also found The River of Doubt, a great biography about Theodore Roosevelt’s adventure on the Amazon River for the same price. They also have bargain books in boxes at the front of the store from $2 to $5.

Downtown Portsmouth is a great walking town, but you don’t have to walk far to find shops, restaurants, bar and grills, galleries, and a lot more. I visited the former location of the SecondRun used book shop, which now anchored an artist’s gallery. Then, after a quick bite at The Page Restaurant, I was on my way seven miles up the road to Drake Farm in North Hampton.

The Drake Farm Book Shop is a remarkable local landmark. The barn was built around 1830 and from its antique railroad station wood stove (this weekend’s only source of heat) to its two floors overstuffed with 45,000 books, you know you are visiting someplace special. The owner, Bob, greets everyone who enters and encouraged browsers to button up their overcoat as the barn is unheated due to the $300 per week oil charge. So, bring your gloves and when you can’t stand it anymore, come back to the store front and warm yourself at the wood stove.

The $300 oil charge is understandable once you get inside the enormous barn. Room after room draws you further along into the enormous space. Books are stacked on shelves so tightly that you have to pull out several books at a time to release the one you want to inspect. The rooms and sections of rooms are well labeled so you can find the military or natural science or fiction sections easily. But, this is clearly a place that requires more than one visit. The vastness of the collections is hard to describe.

Among the several books that I bought was Marshall, Hero for Our Times by Leonard Mosley. The collection of WW II and other military genre books was impressive. For the most part, each book is wrapped in plastic with a written description of edition and pricing. The books are handled less this way and better preserved for the ultimate buyer. Each of the several books I purchased was a First Edition and each was treated by the bookseller with care and reverence. The pricing was fair and if you group your buys, you can earn some further discounts for purchases over $50 and $100, etc. So a good deal becomes a great deal.

Moving on down the road, you will find the Book Outlet just a mile away. This is another landmark, in its own way, as it’s been a fixture at the North Hampton Village Shopping Center at the Intersection of Rte. 1 and Rte. 111, for over a decade. The shop features paperback and hardcover used books and accepts book trade-ins toward purchases. It’s clean, neat and well lit. When you spot the $1.99 and $2.99 orange tags on books in the History or Biography section, or the $0.99 box at the front of the store, it’s hard to believe your luck. I’m always tempted to fill my arms with books. I found four volumes today that set me back a total of about $10. The four books were an autobiography, Me, by Katherine Hepburn, a book by Henry Kissinger, The Fitzgeralds and Kennedy’s saga by Doris Kearns Goodwin and the biography of Whittaker Chambers by Sam Tanenhaus.

Normally I can stop at four or five book shops in a day, but the extra browsing in downtown Portsmouth and the extended visit to Drake Farm limited me to three shops. Not that I’m complaining, the visits were all worthwhile. I also devoted a little bit of time to a Valentine gift for my wife. It’s important for future touring expeditions to maintain a happy home.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Finding Bargains During One-Day Bookstore Tour to Connecticut Coast

My most recent One-Day Bookstore Tour took me to four of my favorite places along the Connecticut coastline. Starting with Harbor Books in Old Saybrook and ending at Bank Square Books in Mystic was only a drive of about 27 miles. Along the way I visited the Book Barn in Niantic and Book Trader Etc., in Groton. The Old Saybrook to Mystic (or Westerly RI) stretch is an historic and inviting tourist destination enjoyed by many, especially during the summer. The beaches, the parks, the country inns and historic sites, such as the Mystic seaport, are all strong attractions. Years ago, when I lived in Mystic, it seemed to me that the area was underrated as a destination and somewhat still is in my mind.

But, for me, the destination bookshops offer a great day trip for someone vacationing in the area. You can find a great collection of used books at three of the four stops, and while the Bank Square Books in Mystic is not a strong used book shop, it makes up for it with the emphasis on local authors and books about the sea, sailing and nautical interests. It also has a strong children’s section.

In Old Saybrook, Harbor Books is small but mighty. It has an eclectic mix of titles and I always manage to find something that I consider a bargain; either because it’s ridiculously low priced, or it’s an underpriced find. When I find something, such as an autographed book, it feels like a successful treasure hunt. It always intrigues me that the store owner has a constantly changing collection of books about Katherine Hepburn.

Up the road in Niantic, the Book Barn is actually three separate locations, each with its own unique look and feel. But, you can rest assured that I bought books in all three locations. They are all within a minute’s drive of each other; I suppose the really hearty could walk, but how could I carry all those books? The main barn had some great military genre books; the Midtown location had some great biographies; and the Downtown location had a recent arrival of movie star biographies that I couldn’t resist. Plus, this was their annual 30 percent sale, so the low prices were even better.

Continuing eastward, I arrived in Groton, home of the submarine manufacturer, General Dynamics-Electric Boat. The Book Trader, Etc., is a small store, sharing a plaza with Dunkin Donuts. In fact, they swapped locations when the doughnut shop wanted to add a drive-through. But, the book shop continues its decades-long tradition with its 3x5 card file for buyers who make a purchase and get a credit against their next purchase when they return the previous purchase. It’s wild. I never get involved with that sort of thing because I shop in dozens of shops all over the place. But, for the locals, this is a great feature.

The final stop of the day was at Bank Square Books in Mystic. It’s right downtown close to the drawbridge. The on-going streetscape work continues, but it’s my view that by next summer it will be something worth seeing and experiencing. I have seen such improvements in other cities and towns and it goes a long way toward making the “hard-scape” of a downtown more agreeable. We’ll see. But, as to the book shopping, you will find lots of local author and local interest books here. It’s really great to see a full-service independent bookshop right in the middle of the action. I never miss stopping in. I also never fail to drive by the old sea Captain’s house on Pearl Street that I rented years ago. It’s still impressive today.

Four book shops along the coastline and a backseat piled high with books. Another great One-Day Bookstore Tour.