June 22, 2016 — Most everybody has a drop dead requirement for their best place to retire. For book lovers, that can mean living in a town where there is an interesting bookstore. Sure you can buy books online at Amazon, but for many there is no substitute for being able to settle down in a comfy store where the staff knows their books, and the selections carefully vetted. In this article Lucy Burdette and her best-selling writer friends at JungleRedWriters.com review their favorite bookstore towns. As writers touring the country to give book talks and signings, they know book shops!
As we hoped, most of these towns are great places to retire – and not just because of their wonderful bookstores. The kind of town that cultivates and supports a good book shop is a place that has many other things going on too – good restaurants, shops, cultural events, interesting people – they all go hand in hand! See much more at Choosing A Town Because of Its Bookstore!), including more about each of these authors.
Great bookstore towns that make for a wonderful retirement
The best part about reading about the authors’ favorite bookstores is that they give you all kinds of insights into what these towns are like in other areas.
Here they go:
I’d retire to Corte Madera, California, a quiet residential neighborhood, a ferry ride from San Francisco and home to the world class Book Passage bookstore. Go there and you’re likely to find Cara Black, Rhys Bowen, and and David Korbett schmoozing.
They have a fabulous annual Mystery Writers Conference. Owners Elaine and Bill Petrocelli and their daughter Kathryn Petrocelli make those of us who write and read crime fiction feel right at home (thanks to Hallie Ephron).
I’ve only been once to Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa, but I loved this store! It has a great history, a great staff, and is the kind of general bookstore I could spend hours in every day. And it has a coffee shop, for writing in. Iowa City came as a complete surprise to me. It’s a university town with a tree-lined pedestrianized center and beautiful neighborhoods filled with the Arts and Crafts houses I adore (courtesy of Deborah Crombie).
My winters are now spent near the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ. They are strictly mystery, but again with all the big name speakers and an event every night. Barbara Peters, the owner, is a petite dynamo who interviews her guests rather than let them drone on. The result is always a lively discussion. They have a giant mailing list to send books all over the world. What’s more Scottsdale in the winter is just about perfect with loads of cultural and outdoor activities (thank for this, Rhys Bowen!).
Newton, Mass is a diverse and cozy but cosmopolitan suburb comprised of eight separate villages, each with a square and lots to explore. Two fantastic independent bookstores (on opposite sides of the city) can provide every book you could imagine. And each has a brilliant and knowledgeable staff. Newtonville Books is a warmly inviting nook of a shop, with one room devoted to the cream of the crop of new release-especially literary fiction) and old favorites and another whole room devoted to kids. New England Mobile Book Fair is huge–almost a warehouse. Here, you could get happily lost in a world of the very latest bestsellers as well as all those books you meant to buy but didn’t. Concord Bookshop, in nearby historic Concord, is where you can walk the same streets as Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott and Hawthorne. (Patricia Cornwell lives there, too.) Another treasure! (courtesy of Hank Phillippi Ryan).
Not only is Madison, CT chockablock with New England coastal charm, it’s home to one of the best bookstores in the country: RJ Julia Booksellers Located on the adorable main street, RJ’s brings in a steady stream of bestselling authors from Anna Quinlan to Jane Hamilton to Linda Fairstein (this recommendation and the one from Key West thanks to Lucy Burdette).
Funky Key West is happy to be back to being a 2-bookstore town. The Key West Island Bookstore, just steps off Duval Street, feels like moving back in time. The shelves are loaded with books by local writers, books about Key West, bestsellers, and a wonderfully interesting array of used books. Books and Books opened a Southernmost outpost last year, shepherded by Judy Blume and filled with new fiction and nonfiction and lots of art books and supplies. (It’s attached to The studios of Key West, where there are classes and cultural events).
In coastal Maine I can visit Longfellow Books, Letterpress Books and Sherman’s Bookstore in Portland, Nonesuch in Biddeford, and South Portland and the Book Burrow in Kennebunk. If I want to take a pleasant drive for an hour or so I can reach the wonderful RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth, NH, the delightful White Birch Books in North Conway, NH, and the heavy-hitting Maine Coast Books in Damariscotta. All these stores are near wonderful restaurants. If I could stay in New England, I’d relocate to South Hadley, Mass, where the Odyssey Bookshop sits practically across the commons from Mount Holyoke. I love that area of the Bay State – rural, with gem-like small towns that are home to some of the country’s most distinguished small colleges. The Odyssey itself is one of those everything bookstores; you can get obscure poetry, the latest big thriller, and Orange Award nominees straight from Great Britain. The staff is cheerful and knowledgeable, and there are lots of nooks and crannies and chairs. (suggestions from Julia Spencer-Fleming).
If my husband and I were retiring somewhere warm, I’d head for San Diego and Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. I love mystery, thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, and Mysterious Galaxy is THE specialty store. It hits all my buttons, with a fantastically knowledgeable staff who make eye-opening recommendations (thank you Susan Elia MacNeil for this tip!).
But Wait, There’s More!
The JungleRedWriters article not only had some fantastic suggestions, many of new to us, but it also sparked lots and lots of suggestions from the readers of their Blog. Here are some of those for your reading pleasure.
– McIntyre’s in Fearrington Village NC, which would be a wonderful place to retire (Lucy).
– In Cincinnati we have Joseph Beth–two locations, a large one with the wonderful Bronte cafe in the center of a bustling shopping area in town, and a slightly smaller one (with a coffeeshop-level cafe, without wine) in northern Kentucky. But best of all, we have two children’s bookstores, one on either side of the river: Blue Manatee, in Cincinnati, with a coffeeshop, and a wonderful author wall. And Blue Marble, in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, where an upstairs room is decorated to the smallest detail like the room in the children’s classic, GOOD NIGHT, MOON. (Thanks Karen in Ohio!)
– I’m choosing Topsail Island, NC and hanging out at Quarter Moon Books on a daily basis. But, while I’m here in Boone, I’m tickled pink to have Malaprop’s in Asheville not too far away (Kaye Barley).
– We’re lucky in my neck of the woods (northeastern Massachusetts) to have Jabberwocky Bookstore. Welcoming, well-stocked, and with a parade of well-known authors (Edith Maxwell).
– Those of us in Portland, OR have the amazing Powell’s books to draw on — the main store covers a whole city block jam packed with old and new, hardback and paperback, all grouped together. They mystery section alone is bigger than many specialist stores. Author events all the time (PlumGaga).
– Topping the list near Pittsburgh is the fabulous Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA. The owners, Natalie and Trevor, are really delightful people and I hope they own the store for a good long time. They kept all the staff when they purchased, so you’ll always get a good recommendation. While they specialize in mystery, they’ll order anything. (Mary Sutton).
– How could I forget the Tattered Cover in Denver? Both locations! Seriously, I’d plan a vacation all around visiting tht bookstore — so amazing (Susan Elia MacNeal).
– bookmans.com/ started in Tucson, and has locations in Flagstaff, Mesa & Phoenix. This is a great used & new bookstore – they have a coffee shop, readings & musical events, exchange program where you bring in all your unwanted books and get store credit or cash. (Pauline Dudley).
– a few other terrific midwestern bookstores: The Velveteen Rabbit in Fort Atkinson, WI, which partners with the delightful Dwight Foster Library for the best events. The town is midwestern-ideal as well, wide shady streets with pristine Italianate and Gothic Revival houses. Then there’s the Raven in Lawrence, Kansas – well worth the trip – and the beautiful Prairie Lights in Iowa City, which has an amazing staff and a first rate series of events. Finally, I spent a wonderful afternoon at The Bookworm in Omaha (which has a surprising number of good restaurants that aren’t steakhouses) which has been in business for thirty years now. They’re a general interest store but very strong in mysteries (Julia).
– One bookstore that I have been wanting to visit is Parnassus Books in Nashville. Author Ann Patchett is co-owner with Karen Hayes of this bookstore, which she opened partly in response to the closing of too many independent bookstores around her. Parnassus is now a thriving bookstore and has great events (Kathy Reel).
– The Book Loft in Solvang Ca is a “must visit”. Great selection of Scandinavian literature, adults and children, and well selected and diversified non-fiction, fiction, and poetry, as well as a great selection of puzzles! Nice coffee house attached. (Helen)
– I live in southeast New Mexico next to the Texas border. Post, Texas, a small town near Lubbock has a delightful bookstore called Ruby Lane Books and Gallery. The owner is also an author who has written a series of books about the history of Harvey Houses in several states. Ruby Lane is a Siamese kitty that lives in the store and is the official greeter (Mary Pat).
– As another Portlander (OR), I must stick up for three “curated” bookstores that also are very author-friendly. Broadway Books, Annie Bloom’s Books, and Another Read Through (a used bookstore). All hold many events that support local and not-so-local writers. Powell’s is for the browser; these three are for readers who want someone to have culled out much and left the rest. (Christopher Lord).
Comments? What towns with good bookstores have we overlooked. Please add your favorites in the Comments section below. And beside bookstores, what other kinds of stores and resources make for your kind of town?