Electric Literature’s Favorite Indie Bookstores

Literature


Whenever I travel to a new city, my favorite way to get to know the community is to venture into local bookstores. Anything from feminist shops that highlight writers of color to bookstore/cafe hybrids, I never quite know what I’m walking into, and that buzz of excitement never gets old. Last year, we shared some of our favorite independent bookstores across the US, and we’re back with more recommendations of these literary landmarks.

All She Wrote Books in Somerville, Massachusetts

“All She Wrote Books is Somerville’s intersectional, inclusive feminist and queer bookstore, offering up a thoughtful curation of books spanning all genres, with a special focus on titles that celebrate and amplify underrepresented voices. They started in 2019 as an idea that evolved from a cart of books into a first brick-and-mortar location the following year. Owner and founder Christina Pascucci Ciampa envisioned a space where anyone experiencing marginalization would know they were welcome no matter what, and ultimately be able to take a piece of that home with them, with a book. After being displaced from their old location last summer, All She Wrote was able to raise funding from the community for a move and is now open in their new space, hosting a robust series of inclusive events for book lovers and celebrating their 5-year anniversary this month.” —Preety Sidhu, Associate Editor, Recommended Reading and The Commuter

Astoria Bookshop in Queens, New York 

“There are precious few bookstores in Queens and at 11 years old, Astoria Bookshop is perhaps the longest standing of them all. Founder Lexi Beach is a stalwart of the burgeoning Queens literary scene. Astoria Bookshop is warm and inviting, the staff are so friendly and always eager to recommend new books to their customers—I highly recommend picking up bookseller Nino Cipri’s queer speculative short story collection Homesick!—and they have a robust events calendar filled with storytimes for children, book readings, author talks, writing workshops, and open mic nights. And you’ll love their adorable mascot: shop dog Quincy the King Charles Spaniel!” —Jo Lou, Deputy Editor

Black Garnet Books in St Paul, Minnesota

“Nestled next door to a boba shop and my favorite Chinese hand-pulled noodle restaurant is Black Garnet Books. Opened in 2020 on University Ave, Black Garnet Books offers a wide range of books—memoir, cookbooks, fiction, children’s books—all authored by writers and illustrators of color. Black-owned and operated, the bookstore works to combat the racial inequality still rampant in the publishing and literary industry by championing these authors, as well as offering anti-racist buttons and posters. This is a spot you don’t want to miss next time you’re in St Paul. There’s even an adorable dog who will greet you at the door.” —Kristina Busch, Editorial Intern

Capitol Hill Books in Washington, DC

“I lived in Washington, DC (for the first time) during my junior year of college. I was a political science major who realized, three weeks into my political science internship, that I absolutely did not want to work in politics. Suffice to say: it was a very long semester and I would not have survived had I not lived down the block from Capitol Hill Books. The storefront is unassuming—it’s an old white building featuring a window filled with tidy shelves of books. Do not be fooled by the tidy shelves. Inside, it’s chaos—three floors and every single one of them is stuffed with books. (The bathroom is currently housing the foreign language section, and the business books can be found in the closet.) If you’ve ever fantasized about losing yourself in Borges-esque infinite library, this secondhand bookstore is for you. When I was a squatter customer at Capitol Hill Books, I generally preferred to wander in and see what happened, but if you’re the kind of reader who comes with a list, ask the staff. Whatever you’re looking for, they know where it is.” —Wynter K Miller, Managing Editor

Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry in Cleveland Heights, Ohio

“Though I currently live in New York City, I travel back to Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where I grew up, with more and more frequency. Located a mere two blocks from the childhood home is a wonderful used bookstore, Mac’s Backs, where I always make sure I visit at least once. Mac’s rests next to a restaurant I grew up going to, a charming and delicious neighborhood spot with the best milkshakes I’ve ever had: Tommy’s. My friends and I would put our names down at Tommy’s and linger in Mac’s, thumbing through magazines and searching for vintage paperbacks, and even new issues of journals like McSweeney’s—places where, at that time in my life, I never dreamed I’d be published. While having three floors filled with used books, Mac’s stays just as current as any other bookstore, and their staff members have an encyclopedic knowledge of everything they have in stock. Mac’s Backs is a Cleveland Heights staple. Stop by, put your name on the list at Tommy’s, and feel free to get lost in the stacks.” —Denne Michele Norris, Editor in Chief

NewSouth Bookstore in Montgomery, Alabama

“Once called Read Herring Books, NewSouth Bookstore is an almost thirty year-old gem in the heart of Montgomery. I’m by no means a local—I stumbled in the doors by chance on the way to a 90th birthday party—but this hyper-local bookstore has lured me back to the city almost once a year ever since. It occupies a large room on the ground floor of a converted shoe factory (you’ll still find a big, boot-shaped sign hanging outside) that also houses indie press NewSouth Books, the store’s namesake, upstairs. Behind a tidy front display stocked with local authors and new releases from the upstairs press, there’s a remarkable selection of regional literature stuffed into low slung shelves. They’ve got new books, old books, out of print books, just about anything southern, southeastern, or somehow related to the area. Browsing the shelves is like being initiated into a glorious niche in American literature. The staff are all aficionados themselves—on my first visit they sent me off with a monograph about the Fugitive Poets and a copy of The Velvet Horn. Above all though, NewSouth exudes the calm, overstuffed-couch allure that marks truly great used bookstores. It’s a great place to settle down in and read.” —Willem Marx, Editorial Intern

One Grand Books in Narrowsburg and Livingston Manor, New York

“One Grand Books in Narrowsburg, New York, run by multi-hyphenate editor/author/podcaster Aaron Hicklin, offers a rotating selection of books selected by influential cultural figures, from Greta Gerwig to Kehinde Wiley. Narrowsburg is a charming town on the Delaware River, and home to the Deep Water Literary Festival, also run by Hicklin. With another location in Livingston Manor, and a curated shelf in Everything Nice, a record store in Ellenville, One Grand Books has become the premier bookseller of Sullivan Country and the Rondout Valley.” Halimah Marcus, Executive Director

The Bottom in Knoxville, Tennessee

“In the 1950s, ‘urban renewal’ and institutionalized racism led to the destruction of the Black community in East Knoxville known as ‘The Bottom.’ In 2019, Dr. Enkeshi El-Amin, a local sociologist, founded a bookstore and community center of the same name in that neighborhood. Despite the difficulties they faced opening a business during the pandemic, Dr. El-Amin and several other women succeeded in turning The Bottom into a community hub that also includes a podcast studio and a sewing studio. The bookstore features a curated collection of Black-affirming or Black-authored literature for all ages, author talks, and storytelling events. They also started the LitKidz book program, which provides one free book a month for kids ages 0-18. The Bottom is one of the most welcoming spaces I’ve ever walked into, both as a reader and community member.” —Kelly Luce, Editor, The Commuter

The World’s Borough Bookshop in Queens, New York

“Jackson Heights is the most diverse neighborhood in the world, a working-class immigrant community, home to 180,000 New Yorkers and 167 languages. Under the shadows of the 7 train is a cacophony of street vendors hawking everything from Himalayans momos and Indian gulab jamun to Colombian arepas and Mexican birria tacos. A few blocks from all the bustle is The World’s Borough Bookstore, a cozy haven for BIPOC literature, run entirely by just one person, Adrian Cepeda. There’s a small children’s reading corner, cards and artwork for sale by local artists, regular author events, and it’s dog-friendly. The World’s Borough Bookstore is a new but integral part of Jackson Heights, a place that is first and foremost ‘por y para la comunidad.’” —Jo Lou, Deputy Editor

Trident Booksellers & Cafe in Boston, Massachusetts

“I’m a sucker for a bookstore cafe, both because of the unbeatable ambience and the ability to fuel my two greatest addictions: drinking coffee and buying books. Trident has been a longstanding favorite of mine, a store I’ve loved since I was a kid (long before the coffee part was a draw). They have a great selection of titles and a robust amount of remainders for book buyers on a budget. It can get pretty packed on weekends, but sometimes that’s part of the fun—I personally love to see a busy bookstore! A perfect place to grab a book and a flavored latte (maybe even an eggs benedict?) and stay a while.” —Katie Robinson, Associate Editor, Creative Nonfiction

[words] Bookstore in Maplewood, New Jersey

“I grew up in Maplewood, New Jersey, known for its artistic culture and family-friendly community. The heart of our town, Maplewood Village, holds a fitting subtitle: “small wonder.” Perhaps its most beloved small wonder, [words] Bookstore welcomes readers of all ages and interests, particularly those with autism or other special needs. In addition to frequent author readings, the store regularly hosts events designed for autistic and special-needs children, and they have provided vocational training or jobs for over 100 autistic individuals. [words] also leads a real-life Where’s Waldo? game throughout every July, free of charge. As a kid, I enjoyed searching Maplewood’s independent businesses for six-inch-tall Waldo figures, culminating in a celebration at the bookstore. As an adult, I visit [words] every time I return to Maplewood—my town wouldn’t feel like home without it. If you’re ever in New Jersey, wander into [words]. The welcoming, knowledgeable staff will make you feel at home, even if it’s your first time there.” —Vivienne Germain, Editorial Intern

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