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 cafĂ© 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.