I hadn’t been aware of Salon’s Trazzler slide shows, which feature “places that our writers have contributed that make us think, laugh and dream about our next adventure,” but I enjoyed their The world’s most inspiring bookstores, and I thought you might too. I have some quibbles (did they really need to include Shakespeare and Co. and City Lights, two of the world’s most-hyped bookstores, in a selection of only fourteen? and far from being unusual, isn’t having books “arranged … not by genre or author, but instead by country” normal for travel bookstores?), but hey, they showcase one of my local favorites, so I’m not complaining:

With its slogan “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find,” the Montague Bookmill has secured its standing among the most delightful places in which to get lost. Grab one of the cafe’s sandwiches (like the brie with apricot jam and marinated apple), take a seat by a sunny window, and get carried away by the rushing Sawmill River. Traverse the creaky wooden floors and browse a selection of titles that marries classic and idiosyncratic (Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf meets Marxist mistrals and old paddling guides). Even before you check out the bathroom, with its quirkily papered walls (news of Norman Mailer’s stabbing his wife in 1960, a poster of Frank Zappa for President, a Hungarian transportation map), you’ve fallen in love with this repurposed New England gristmill clinging to the riverbank. While there’s no better place to read, the bookmill also hosts folk and bluegrass shows, film screenings and other events.

Thanks, Songdog!


  1. I haven’t found a definition for “mistral” that makes sense in this context. Surely not the wind in France?

  2. If I understand it, and I’m not sure I do, I think Seth Godin’s take on the dwindling of our beautiful bookstores is that each bookstore should try to be more quirky, more specialized, more of a destination, than ever before, and that only the ones that do will survive.
    They’re a shelter for writers, just as libraries are. We need them like birds need trees.

  3. The problem with some of these is that their “wonderfulness” comes from something extraneous to their “bookshopness”–most obviously the one in the cathedral, but others as well. I’d rather see a list of bookshops whose delightfulness was intrinsic rather than happenstance. (I might have picked Keith Fawkes’ store on Flask Walk NW3 over Daunt in London–not as pretty, but rather more exciting.)

  4. Well, their taste is validated for me by their inclusion of King’s Books in Detroit, but as far as SF goes I’d jump for Green Apple over City Lights anytime.

  5. Just makes me miss all the bookstores that have disappeared in NYC and DC in the past twenty years. And how could they leave out the Strand?

  6. The Strand’s not quirky, just dead practical. It’s what happens when you moosh all the dead and gone second-hand bookstores on 4th Avenue into one place.
    I went in there a few years back to try to buy a set of Mencken’s 4th edition of The American Language and its two supplements, as there was a discount for buying an (unboxed) set of three. Alas, there were no sets of three, only many single volumes and some semi-useless sets of two, either 4th ed. + 1st supp. or 4th ed. + 2nd supp.
    (Avoid at all costs the hacked-up posthumous 5th edition, the only one in print. The 1921 2nd edition is in the public domain and so online, but lacks many good things that appear in the 4th edition, though it does have the Declaration of Independence in “vulgar American” that Mencken removed from the 4th; apparently many British critics believed that it was a sample of modern standard written American English.)
    So I complained to one of the Strand’s employees. After poking about, he agreed with my assessment, said “What I propose to do is bury this entire situation under the rug”, picked out one copy of each volume from the disjecta membra, and rang it up as — and charged me the price for — the set! Win, win.

  7. J. W. Brewer says

    What you want is for hipsters to aspire to be seen with a tote bag with your cool/quirky/indie bookstore’s logo on it. You can probably make more money on tote bag sales than on books . . . See “What your literary tote bag says about you” at

  8. My vote for a wonderful and quirky bookstore goes to the Highway Bookshop in Cobalt, Ontario, a mere 500 km / 300 miles due north of Toronto. See
    It’s a huge barn of a place — several barns in fact — with the number of books in stock likely exceeding the population of Cobalt by several orders of magnitude. Doug Pollard, its founder, passed away a few years ago and was posthumously invested in the Order of Canada. He was also a prolific publisher of local history books.
    Yonge St., Toronto’s main drag, continues north of the city as provincial Highway 11, passes through Cobalt and terminates at the Minnesota border. Doug was fond of saying that his bookstore was located at 600,000 Yonge St . . .

  9. The Strand’s not quirky, just dead practical. It’s what happens when you moosh all the dead and gone second-hand bookstores on 4th Avenue into one place.
    Exactly. I’ve spent an awful lot of time and money there, but I have no particular affection for the place. (Don’t get me started on the inspiring dead-and-gone stores: Scribner’s, Gotham… eheu! fugaces…)

  10. (And Acres of Books in Long Beach—how could they let that disappear??)

  11. More than City Lights I like Wm Stout’s Architectural Bookstore in SF. It’s better than anything except maybe Jaap Rietman (if he’s still going in NY).

  12. In defense of City Lights (I know they don’t need it) even though their selection isn’t particularly to my tastes, I’m still enthralled by one section of books in the basement entitled “stolen continents.” Classy.

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