Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mini Bookstore Tour of Seattle

This past weekend I had to make a brief trip to Seattle, Washington, for a business meeting; beforehand, I had an afternoon to wander around the city and of course, check out their wonderful bookstores.

I only made it to five of their many bookstores but they were all great.

I started out by asking the concierge at my hotel for a good independent bookstore; he directed me to Arundel Books (1001 1st Ave. at Madison), which describes itself as "new, used & rare books for readers & collectors." Sounds about right!

It's a charming shop offering everything from the latest bestsellers to old copies of Dickens and regional specialties to self-produced books published under its own moniker. I bought Pretty is Hard: Poems About Shoes, Chocolate and Best Friends by Veronica Markey. I read some of the poems in the store and figured I had to buy the book!

Next, I asked the cashier at Arundel where to go next, and he directed me to Wessel and Lieberman (208 First Avenue South), a rare and collectible bookshop in the heart of Seattle's Pioneer Square. Their books were pretty and pricey, and I didn't think I was going to get anything, until I stumbled into to the back room and found a signed first edition of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. I think I'm collecting Margaret Atwood firsts now!

I wandered around Pioneer Square for a while longer, and just as I was on my way out I walked by the intriguing Seattle Mystery Bookshop (113 Cherry Street) tucked away on a side street. I almost missed it- I was crossing the street and only saw it because I looked behind me.

In addition to its impressive mystery holdings, this store also stocks thrillers and suspense, and it's bigger than it looks from the outside. I got the Akashic Press anthology Moscow Noir, as well as a sweatshirt for my husband. As part of their anniversary promotion, they let me take two free galleys as well! How fun is that?

Not really a bookstore but deserving of mention is the incredible, impressive Seattle Public Library (Central Branch- 1000 Fourth Avenue). I headed over there next to meet up with Phil of King Rat's Reading.
Wow! What a place. A gorgeous, ten-story building that would feel at home in the middle of MIT, it's also clearly a haven for bibliophiles. On a Saturday afternoon I saw hundreds of folks reading, chatting, eating and enjoying themselves. There was a cafe, a gift shop and lots of places to read, use computers, do research and more. I took a few minutes to relax myself!

Phil and I headed over to the Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to nightclubs, great restaurants and eclectic shopping of all kinds. But we focused on the bookish kind, naturally. Phil took me to the legendary Elliot Bay Book Company (1521 10th Ave.), recently moved from its old home in Pioneer Square. This is an indie bookstore the way indie bookstores should be- large, cavernous and housing just about everything. Loved it! I picked up Robert Littell's novel The Stalin Epigram.

But we definitely saved the best for last. After dinner we went over to the amazing Pilot Books (Upstairs, 219 Broadway E) , a tiny boutique bookstore in a small shopping mall. Specializing in independent and small press books, their small but carefully-edited selection is perfect for the discriminating bibliophile looking for something truly special and hard-to-find. Phil found that they carry books from an Indian publisher which he'd previously had to look far and wide to find, and I came home with an armload of stuff including a graphic novel (Ruts & Gullies: Nine Days in St. Petersburg by Philippe Girard) and two novels (Ergo by Jakov Lind and The Russian Lover, actually a collection of stories by Jana Martin) as well as a little zine produced by Pilot and written by a woman from Massachusetts! I wish I could clone Pilot Books and put it in my neighborhood in Cambridge. It would fit right in!

After that it was time to call it a day. But what a day! I can't wait to come back to this beautiful, fun city sometime soon!