If you ever find yourself in these areas, take some time to browse through these bookstores. Some are known across the country and some are smaller, local attractions, but we guarantee that whether you’re a bookworm, a writer, or just a visitor passing through, you’ll find yourself lost in another world for at least a few hours.
1. Prairie Lights – Iowa City, Iowa
Who wouldn’t want to visit a store with a front designed to mimic a human face? Located just a few minutes away from reputed Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa, Prairie Lights has served as both the incubator and springboard for poets and writers that find themselves drawn to Iowa City. Although founded in 1978, the store lot is steeped in literary tradition, as the space previously held a local literary society, and its guests, who included Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Sherwood Anderson, and E.E. Cummings. Today, renowned writers from around the world continue to visit the bookstore on a weekly basis as up-and-coming writers populate its coffeshop in the afternoons. It has hosted readings from seven Nobel prize winners; no wonder it has gained such national fame that even President Obama has visited the shop!
2. Village Books – Bellingham, Washington
Founded in 1980, Village Books has won numerous awards as an independent bookstore, including the Tourism Business of the Year by the Convention & Visitors Bureau. The store is known for its eclectic collection; it sells new, used, bargain, and e-books alike. Perhaps its most unique trait is its Donation Program, which sets aside 5 percent of the store’s net profits to give away to local programs and organizations that promote “literacy, reading, environmental education, promoting awareness of social problems or meeting basic human needs.” Known as a “fertile ground for homegrown poets,” Village Books hosts regular poetry readings of local writers and competition winners. It has also done an incredibly job engaging with local youth at poetry night readings, designed to introduce kids to poetry.
3. Open Books – Chicago, Illinois
Selling books isn’t even half the story at this unique bookstore. Unlike most booksellers, Open Books considers itself a nonprofit social venture. It offers various literacy programs to students in Chicago every year, and has served more than 3,000 students thus far. The store engages more than 500 regular volunteers to run these programs and events each year, although the Open Book network has more than 1,000 volunteers who participate occasionally. The social venture uses profits from the book and e-book store to support its literacy programs, and also relies on an active book donation program.
4. City Lights Bookstore – San Francisco, California
Soon to celebrate its 60th birthday, this famous bookstore is also a publisher. Founded by the phenomenal poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his friend Peter D. Martin, City Lights attracts poets and writers from around the world to soak in the store’s alternative culture. City Lights has long served as a place of cultural rebellion through literature, selling banned books since its founding and drawing a unique crowd of “beatniks” and intellectuals to its aisles. In fact, the bookstore considers itself first and foremost a “literary meetingplace,” its unique selection of hard-to-find, specialty publishers and titles on subjects ranging from philosophy to surrealism only an added benefit. The publishing arm of the bookseller has more than 200 titles in print, and publishes about a dozen more each year. The small scale allows the store to retain its dedication to innovative and progressive ideas conveyed in fresh, unusual writing.
5. Square Books – Oxford, Mississippi
They say that you should walk in the footsteps of giants, which means you should definitely visit Square Books in the small town of Oxford, MS. Located just minutes from literary “giant” William Faulkner’s house, Square Books is steeped in great literary tradition. Interestingly, the bookstore is divided into three separate buildings, each just a few steps from each other and each with its own distinct flavor. Check out “Square Books,” the main store, for some incredible, hand-picked fiction, or peruse “Square Books Jr.,” a designated store for children’s novels and books. Curl up in the Faulkner Corner or sit in the coffeeshop with a book; this is just the place to feel writerly and intellectual for a few hours. Known for its selection of books on the American South and features on southern authors, Square Books is dedicated to giving local writers plenty of facetime in a venue that draws a national crowd.