Chestertown is one of those places I dream about escaping to on weekends (like this short getaway last summer). Not least because, in addition to the water and historic, tree-lined streets, it features *two* independent bookshops.
The Book Plate is a very well-curated shop right in the main historic section of town.
It has an inviting, warm decor: natural light, upholstered chairs that feel like they might have come from someone’s living room, a long oriental runner. The front room features an eclectic collection of chapbooks and ephemera that totally sucked us in and had us laughing.
And the heart of the bookstore reflects its college-town surroundings. There are several shelves dedicated to writers from the New Yorker, and an extensive feminist section that includes some impressive tomes.
(The one bone I’d pick is the signage here: “By Women, About Women” is fantastic. But I question “For Women.” It seems to me that the next important step in gender studies… and in literary equity as a whole, is to have books by and about women be FOR both women and men.)
As our spring continues to lag behind, I’ve been dreaming about whiling away a morning at Book Plate… and then a long afternoon eating crabcakes on a Chester River dock. Soon, I hope…
The Boulder Bookstore has a distinct personality. I felt this especially when I wandered through the bright sunny spaces on the second floor. This upstairs has a great web of twisting hallways and half-stairs, which lead you into, among other sections, the store’s impressive collections of meditation and metaphysical books. Here there is the sense of a unique spirit that seems reflective not only of the individual sensibilities of the store’s owners, but also of the community to which this bookstore belongs.
The second floor also houses the store’s large collection of literature in its “Ballroom.” It was easy to browse: the sunny space with its lovely arched windows seemed to invite lingering.
And the books themselves were thoughtfully arranged and displayed so that it was easy to pick up a few volumes and take a look through.
The Boulder Bookstore carries a mix of new and used books, but unlike many stores that carry both, the used books aren’t all cordoned off in a separate part of the bookstore. Perusing the running section, for example, my husband came across a great selection of new books mixed in with a handful of harder-to-find used titles.
And while the Boulder Bookstore doesn’t feature cushy couches and lounge areas, there are practical and serviceable assortments of wooden armchairs throughout, and even an occasional table at which you could sit and jot down some notes. Somehow lush leather club chairs would feel out of keeping with the straightforward nature of this store. And my husband and I happily settled into old wooden chairs to flip through our piles of books. Which is good because we would up returning almost daily during our trip to Boulder.
When we were in Colorado, my husband and I met the nicest people in brewery tap rooms. We swung by the Avery tasting room the night before we were supposed to leave Boulder, and while we were there, the guy sitting next to us at the bar told us about Red Letter Books. (You can see that two of the themes of our trip–books and beer–joined forces for this post.)
We were scheduled to head out of town that next morning, but we stuck around a couple extra hours in order to check out the shop. Red Letter Books is a used bookstore in Boulder, just past the pedestrian mall on Pearl Street.
There’s something classic about an overstuffed used bookshop, and Red Letter Books epitomizes that overcrowded vibe.
The bookshop’s tiny alcoves made it easy to lose yourself behind a stack of boxes, and it felt somehow serendipitous when a particular book surfaced at the top of a pile and found its way into your hands. I was inexplicably charmed by this 1960s copy of Best Friends for Frances. (Although when I flipped through, it struck me as mildly outdated in its depiction of gender, so I didn’t buy it.) 1960s children’s picture books always remind me of my grandparents’ house. And vintage Hardy Boys mysteries–like these at Red Letter–bring me back to the collection in my own attic growing up.
We wound up browsing in Red Letter until our parking meter was dangerously close to expiring. Along with a few other books, I picked up a beautifully bound edition on Japanese prints and Joan Silber’s slim volume on time in fiction. (How had I not heard about this book before?) Both are exactly what I’ve needed for my own research and revisions. Which is, perhaps, the thing I love most about used bookstores like Red Letter. The way they always seem to put just the right books in your hands — the ones you wouldn’t have known to look for. (Amazon, for all its efficiency, can never duplicate this kind of fortuitous accident.)
I cannot wait to get back to Red Letter next time we’re in the area — if only to see what books chance happens to send my way.