Monday, November 20, 2017

My Top Ten Favorite Bookshops

I was reminded of a certain place the other day, and it occurred to me that I hadn't done a top ten list of my favorite bookshops yet.

I quickly compiled a list, trimmed it down to ten, and put all the bookshops in chronological order of when I visited them. Well, that's the order they're in for the most part.

I grew up in Illinois, went to university in Utah, and then moved down here to Phoenix, Arizona, where I've been ever since. Of course, I've done a bit of traveling over the years which means that my favorite places to buy books are spread out a bit. But you might find it odd that none of my favorites are in my birth state of Illinois. There's a rather simple reason for that. Money. I'm an only child who was raised by a widowed mother who had a small pension (my father died while serving in the Navy) and worked a variety of part-time jobs. One of those jobs was as the village librarian. I socked away as much money as I could for college, and since I grew up in a library, I didn't spend a lot of money on books. Bookshops became my life's blood once I went to college, and this is where I'll stop with the background and begin with my list.

Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore, Salt Lake City, Utah

While going to university in Utah, I quickly formed a weekend routine. In good weather, I spent a lot of time tracking down old ghost towns. In cold weather, I'd make the trip to Salt Lake City to eat lunch at the Shakespeare Sandwiche Shoppe and then lose myself in Sam Weller's. Weller's was the first bookshop I went in that had more than one floor, and that place was Wonderland for me. I had college courses opening my mind to so many new things and ideas, and it seemed that Weller's had a shelf for every one of them. Weller's has gone through several incarnations since I lived in Utah, but I'm glad to see that it's still thriving in a different location.

Upstart Crow, San Diego, California

I found Upstart Crow in Seaport Village on a trip to San Diego. After a particularly tasty seafood lunch in a restaurant on the beach, I wandered into this quirky little store with its nooks and crannies and started pulling book after book off the shelves that I wanted to read. It also had an excellent selection of one-of-a-kind cards and small gifts that I couldn't resist. Like Weller's, Upstart Crow has had to change in order to survive, and the way this bookshop has changed is to keep the books and other goodies and add a coffeehouse. Since the smell of brewing coffee makes me ill, I'm glad that I made Upstart Crow's acquaintance in earlier days.

Powell's Books, Portland, Oregon
In 2003, Denis and I went to Seattle to meet two dozen people from all over the world who'd all met online in a news group. We arrived early because there were places I wanted Denis to see, non-news group people I wanted him to meet... and I also wanted to explore new places-- like Powell's.

We headed down to Portland with a friend who'd been to Powell's on many occasions. The trouble was, Powell's is right downtown, and she couldn't remember exactly how to get there. One of my memories of visiting that bookstore is of her wanting to stop the car and ask every good-looking man for directions. (It seemed to be Handsome Man Day in downtown Portland that day.)

When we turned a corner and I saw that Powell's was not only several stories tall but had its own parking garage, I knew I was heading into book lovers' heaven. Yes, indeed. Floor after floor of books, an elevator, and shopping carts. Be still my heart. The hours we spent there were too few!

Singing Wind Bookshop, Benson, Arizona

I can't remember when I first heard about the bookshop on a working cattle ranch outside Benson, Arizona. I undoubtedly read a newspaper article about it. What I didn't expect to find was a ranch house crammed with a curated selection of books that accurately portrayed the mind and the interests of its incredible owner, Winn Bundy. If you click on the name of the bookshop in the caption below the photo, you'll be able to read my post and see a lot more photos.

Murder and Mayhem, Hay-on-Wye, Wales
On my first trip to the UK, we headed straight to Hay-on-Wye from the airport in Manchester. Jet lag made me sleep like a rock that night, and in the morning I experienced my first (but not last) full English breakfast. Then the broken-down rental car was loaded on a lorry, and Denis went to Leominster to get a new car. That left me alone on my first day in a new country. Alone. In the Book Capital of the UK. None of the forty-plus bookshops were open, so I wandered the streets of Hay-on-Wye, looking at houses and lack of parking, the castle, and those rolling green hills covered with white dots of grazing sheep.

Once the bookshops opened, I think I went a bit mad. I mean... over forty bookshops all within walking distance of each other? Murder and Mayhem was my favorite with its higgledy-piggledy rooms, steep twisting staircase, and imaginatively decorated rooms. I lost track of the time while I was in there, and afterward, I carried my sacks of books, my cold drink and a sandwich to a bench outside the library where I sat and ate and read and was serenaded by blackbirds and robins.

Barter Books, Alnwick, Northumberland, England
When you're the Duke of Northumberland and live in Alnwick Castle, you can have your own railway line and train station. When that station becomes surplus to requirements, what happens? It's turned into the largest secondhand bookshop in the UK.

Alnwick is very special to me, and so is Barter Books. If you click on the shop's name in the caption to the left, you'll be able to read my post about it and see several photos.

Leakey's Bookshop, Inverness, Scotland
Leakey's Bookshop is the largest secondhand bookshop in Scotland, and it was the highlight of my day in Inverness. Sadly, the café that Denis and I enjoyed so much is no longer there, but oh, those books!

Click on the shop's name in the caption to the right and you'll be able to read my post about it and see several more photos.

Waterstones, Cambridge, England
In the 1980s, Waterstones would send me this glorious, huge catalog, and I would order books from them. I thought visiting their shop in Cambridge would cap a perfect day of exploring this ancient university town. I was right.

This is a four-story bookshop complete with a café, which was the perfect place to give myself a breather from overdosing on that new book smell.

Books, glorious books! It was difficult for me not to bounce up and down like an excited child-- and I was right. After soaking up so much history and so many unusual sights, spending two or three hours immersed in books at Waterstones was the perfect thing to do.

Harrods book department, London, England

Some of you may have visited swanky department stores in places like New York or Los Angeles, but if you haven't walked into a place like Harrods in Knightsbridge, then you don't really know how the other half lives. Or shops. Harrods is huge, oozing class and money in every lavish detail. The book department is larger than many bookshops I've been in. As I walked down each aisle looking at the titles, it was all I could do not to start taking armloads of them to the cash register and having them all shipped to Phoenix. (If I'd done that, I'd probably still be paying off the credit card bill.)

The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona
Long-time readers had to know that The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale would be on my list. It's by no means the last place I visited, but I had to save it for last.

I've spent hundreds of dollars in this bookshop. I've attended dozens of author events. I've made friends here among both staff and customers. It's the perfect blend of books and people, and I am blessed to be able to go there whenever I like.

Well, that's my list. Have any of you visited any of the bookshops I've listed? Which ones? More importantly, which bookshops do you long to visit that aren't on my list? Enquiring minds would love to know! (I might be compiling a list for future travels....)


  1. What a great idea for a list, Cathy. And I must say, I wasn't at all surprised to see PP on your list! I like those 'photos, too.

    1. I don't think anyone who's read my blog for long would be surprised at my inclusion of The Pen!

  2. Been to the Upstart Crow, love Hay on Wye have been there several times. While in London we LOVE Hatchards.

    1. I've heard so many wonderful things about Hatchards.

  3. I love the list of 10 top bookstores. I love them, too. Unfortunately, the Barnes & Noble that was a block from my house (with a cafe, cd section and wonderful children's section) closed down years ago. I haven't gotten over it yet.

    I haven't been to any of those on your list. I wish I lived near the PP or that there was a sister store right near my house.

    I can go to Barnes & Noble several blocks away and I get happy just walking around the lobby looking at new books.

    I love that bookstore in Wales and the one in Northumberland, which I believe is located inside a former train station. And I could get lost in Waterstone's for days.

    1. A customer did get locked in a Waterstones one night. As I recall, it took him a while to notice. With all those books, it would me, too!

  4. Yes, but just think how many books the locked-in customer could read all night! And if they have a cafe, he would have been able to eat, too. Not a bad way to spend a night.

    1. Shortly after this happened, I think there was a bookstore that sold tickets to people wanting to spend the night in their bookshop.


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