Frugal Bookstore, 57 Warren St., Boston. Photo by Justin Dynia (CAS’22)
This weekend marks the beginning of the Boston Book Festival, taking place virtually this year from October 16 to 23. But it’s not the only local spot to browse for books. To celebrate the joy of reading, we put together a list of the area’s best independent bookstores, from shops with cafés to stores that regularly host readings and discussions. Don’t see your go-to bookshop? Let us know in the Comment section which ones we missed.
Trident Booksellers & Cafe is one of the top destinations around the city for students to shop, study, and eat. For those looking for something new, try their book blind date. Pick one of their books wrapped in craft paper and covered with a simple design that clues in the reader on the plot. Trident also boasts an impressive collection of gifts and trinkets that are perfect for birthdays and the holidays. Looking for a bite to eat? Trident has a two-floor café with patio dining that’s great for weekend brunch with friends or a weekday outing. Their hearty open-faced breakfast sandwich comes with two eggs any style topped with cheddar, with your choice of bacon or avocado, served on a bagel. They also have a wide range of teas and coffee, including the delightful Vermont maple latte, to keep you caffeinated and ready to take on the day. Trident hosts events throughout the week, including Friday Night Trivia, a Queer Board Game Night, Poetry Slams, and book clubs.
Hours: Seven days a week, 8 am to 10 pm.
Since 1825, the Brattle Book Shop has served casual book-lovers and professional collectors with some of the most rare items on the East Coast. Just steps away from Boston Common, the shop has over 250,000 books (yes, they counted) housed in the its 5,500 square feet of real estate. Shoppers can browse collections of well-known contemporary classics, including those from New England favorites like Emerson and Thoreau, and rare centuries-old volumes in original condition. The family-owned shop has survived several moves throughout its history and a devastating fire in 1980 that wiped out its entire inventory, but left an empty lot next to its current location. That lot, an enclosure of red brick walls where the burned store stood, is now the site of the only outdoor book sale patio in Boston. Students especially are drawn to this section to find bargain books for the unbeatable price of $5 and under.
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 am to 5:30 pm.
Harvard Book Store is a unique and special place to shop—a locally owned, independently run Harvard Square landmark since 1932. The store is known for an extraordinary selection of new, used, and remaindered books (books a publisher is trying to quickly get rid of); academic titles and author events focusing on scholarly writers; an award-winning author event series; and a display on the history of innovation. Wander through aisles of worn wooden bookshelves to find highbrow academic texts right next to mild-mannered splendors. For those on a budget, check out the used and bargain books basement for classic books with pre-loved pages. The pandemic only strengthened the store’s desire to connect authors to readers, and it won Boston magazine’s “Best Virtual Author Series” in 2020 and 2021. Harvard Book Store hopes to soon return to the sold-out live events with established novelists, politicians, journalists, scientists, and other notable writers who brighten their literary salon.
Hours: Seven days a week, 10 am to 10 pm.
Head north up Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Square and you’ll find Porter Square Books, a fiercely independent bookstore especially geared towards socially conscious selections. Books on their shelves cover all the hot topics of today’s debates, from the politics of race in America to the important indigeneous perspectives that have been reframing our nation’s history. They maintain a strong online community through social media that is distinctive among comparable shops. This acknowledgement of the digital sphere can be reflected with their stock of books that become viral on BookTok, a section on the popular app TikTok where users discuss popular books. Big sellers of the moment include fantasy novels or retellings of classic myths, often from an LGBTQ+ perspective, such as the scintillating novel The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Grab a coffee and crank out some homework at their café or dive deep into one of their educational books.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7 am to 7 pm, Saturday and Sunday, 8 am to 7 pm.
Frugal Bookstore is impressive for a variety of reasons. As one of the three Black-owned bookstores in Massachusetts, their highly curated selection of authors of color promotes the books usually limited to a small section at other bookstores. Books written by the most influential authors of color line their shelves, including James Baldwin’s essays and Toni Morrison’s forceful novels. Their vibrant children’s and YA books focusing on the intersection of race, religion, ethnicity, and youth make for fantastic gifts for younger siblings or cousins. Frugal Bookstore has been a fixture of the Roxbury community for years, partnering with the nearby Boston Public Library branch to encourage high school students to read books to local children. Looking to stock up the next read for your book club? Frugal Bookstore is happy to connect students to the hottest group reads. They also offer a 10 percent discount to students, so it’s worth your time to visit this shop.
Hours: Monday to Wednesday, 10 am to 3 pm, Thursday and Friday, 10 am to 5 pm, Saturday, 10 am to 3 pm.
Papercuts transports you to a charming and cozy bookstore that makes you forget about the outside world entirely. A cute pup is there to greet you as you enter the store, and shelves are chock-full of today’s best sellers, such as Bewilderment by Richard Powers. Papercuts takes the phrase “shop local” seriously. They publish and sell a collection of writings from local authors, coordinate events with ice cream store J.P. Licks, and host outdoor author readings for the community. Their fiction and romance sections are usually the first stops students make, but their collection has something for everyone to love. Although they don’t yet offer a student discount, they are hoping to have one soon.
Hours: Monday to Saturday, noon to 6 pm, Sunday, noon to 4 pm.
The annual Boston Book Festival goes virtual this year, with a lineup of events featuring illuminating and diverse authors and guests, genres ranging from fiction to mystery, and special author readings. Held from October 16 to 23, the festival kicks off its first night with a discussion of Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, where the two veteran journalists will join Mindy Marqués, Simon & Schuster vice president and executive editor, to reflect on the conclusion of the Trump presidency and the early days of the Biden presidency. Other discussions include the future of the pandemic, with special guest Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health and Robert A. Knox Professor, as well as the legacy of slavery and women in the workplace. The event is free to the public, and all tickets on Eventbrite can be found here.
Your Guide to the Best Local Independent Bookshops
Justin Dynia (CAS’22) Profile
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Assembly Square has a wonderful new bookstore called All She Wrote Books, which is “is an intersectional, inclusive feminist and queer bookstore that supports, celebrates, and amplifies underrepresented voices through our thoughtfully curated selection of books spanning across all genres.” Worth the visit!
Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner is also excellent
K Small Gallery has a lovely design and typography-oriented bookshop in Somerville: https://ksmallgallery.com/
A note: Brattle Book Shop is at 9 West St in Boston, not Cambridge as listed in the article. Great reminder of a great shop!
Thanks for the correction! We’ve updated the article.
I can’t believe that you left Brookline Booksmith off this list ! 60 years in business, wonderful selection of books and unique gifts, used bookstore in basement & an author series !
Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner & Raven Used Books in Cambridge! The latter is completely devoted to used books so it’s quite affordable and has a great collection.
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