Reading material, whether destination-related or just a way to while away the journey, is an essential packing list item. But cozy, well-curated independent bookstores are often trip-worthy in their own right. We asked 11 best-selling writers to tell us which shops are worth a detour for book-loving travelers.
Left Bank Books – St. Louis, Missouri
Recommended by Curtis Sittenfeld, author of You Think It, I'll Say It
Would you like to acquire a Black Lives Matter sign? Would you like to buy a beautiful letterpress birthday card for your mom? Would you like to pet the in-house cat? Or would you like to purchase or discuss the latest (or some not-so-recent) novels, story collections and works of nonfiction? You can do all of this (and more!) at Left Bank Books in St. Louis.
Located in the elegant yet quirky Central West End neighborhood, Left Bank is both a fearless supporter of progressive causes and a terrific place to find books. Whenever someone asks how to obtain an autographed book from me, I tell the person to call Left Bank and order it, and I’ll drop by. Then I stop in to sign the book and also to impulse-purchase several volumes worth of fiction, because they all look so irresistible on the shelves and tables, displayed in the light from those big windows, with that cat purring nearby.
Follow Curtis Sittenfeld @csittenfeld
The Writer's Block – Las Vegas, Nevada
Recommended by Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage
All the romantic, nostalgic words that people use to describe bookstores apply to The Writers Block. Yes, it is cozy, quiet, tidy and redolent with that new book smell that is so much more heady than new car smell. It is a bookshop of the old school, selling books almost exclusively. The owners are almost always on the floor ready to hand-sell their new favorites as well as classics.
What makes this bookstore so special is its location. If you have ever been to the Red Rock Canyon, you know that the natural splendor is amplified by its proximity to the garish neon lights of the Las Vegas strip. Well, the same is true for The Writers Block. Situated in downtown Las Vegas, the bookstore is an oasis for the bookish and the analog. It offers clean lines, natural light, and a magnificently curated collection. As a bonus, the store features a sanctuary for artificial birds.
Follow Tayari Jones here.
Liberty Bay Books – Poulsbo, Washington
Recommended by Kristin Hannah, author of The Great Alone
Asking a writer to choose a favorite bookstore is like asking a mother to choose among her children. That being said, there is a unique shop in a small coastal town in Washington State that will always have a piece of my heart. Liberty Bay Books, in beautiful downtown Poulsbo, is very much the "shop around the corner" that we all imagine visiting.
Once inside, you’ll find shelves full of books for all ages. Of course, there's a place to get a cup of coffee (it is near Seattle), but it's really the love of books that matters here; it's what links everyone and makes us friends from the moment we step inside.
Follow Kristin Hannah's work here.
Books & Books – Miami, Florida
Recommended by Brad Meltzer, author of The Escape Artist
In 20 years, there’s only one bookstore that I’ve been to for every single book I’ve written: Books & Books in Coral Gables. Let me be clear: I’ve been to stores all across the world. But this is the store I love most. It’s my home. There’s books, a café, more books and even an outdoor courtyard that has live music on the weekends. Plus, it has Mitchell Kaplan, the grand poobah of bookselling.
Is Miami known as a reading town? Of course not. People usually think of us for plastic surgery and tanning beds. But Books & Books fights against all that, bringing all our intellectuals into one cozy space. There’s a reason everyone from Bill Clinton, to Junot Díaz, to Neil Gaiman, to…well…me...always makes it a stop. Come for the books; stay for the free music. You’ll thank me.
Follow Brad Meltzer @bradmeltzer
Mystery Loves Company – Oxford, Maryland
Recommended by Laura Lippman, author of Sunburn
I have to be a hometown loyalist of sorts here and recommend Mystery Loves Company in Oxford, Maryland. The store started in Baltimore, but owner Kathy Harig moved to this picturesque Eastern Shore town several years ago. And because Kathy has a very generous definition of "mystery," the store has titles that will make any reader of fiction happy.
It even has store cats, named (inevitably) Nick and Nora. From Baltimore, it's about a 90-minute drive on a good day, but don't even think of trying to get there on Friday afternoons in the summer, unless you really, really like traffic. If you're there in August, stop at one of the local produce stands and buy some tomatoes or corn. Again, not to be a hometown loyalist, but they really are the best.
Follow Laura Lippman @LauraMLippman
Second Flight Books – Lafayette, Indiana
Recommended by Terese Mailhot, author of Heart Berries
I love Second Flight Books. Laura and Justin Kendall have made a place for our community. Laura has endeared herself to me as a bookseller. She has hosted events for Roxane Gay, and employed emerging authors and, in February, in the very front of the store, there was a full and beautiful aisle of romance novels. I love that. They also mostly sell used books, because they’re concerned about affordability and access. It’s not the store itself that sells me, ever, but the people who believe in the power of books. There’s so much heart in that building, I die with excitement every time I walk in.
Follow Terese Mailhot at @TereseMarieM
Kepler's Books – Menlo Park, California
Recommended by Taran Matharu, author of the Summoner Series
More often than not, the most special bookstores are described as small, cozy and warm, with the scent of old books in the air. This is not Menlo Park's Kepler's Books. It's special for the exact opposite reasons. The floor to ceiling windows fill the store with California sunlight, and the broad corridors within are lined with new books, crisp from the printers. The double doors out front stay open all day, welcoming all comers – no dusty scents here, but fresh air. It's as close to an outdoor bookstore as you can find. I highly recommend giving it a visit.
Follow Taran Matharu @TaranMatharu1
WORD Books – Greenpoint, Brooklyn
Recommended by NK Jemisin, author of The Stone Sky
WORD Books in Greenpoint is probably my current favorite. It's tiny and cramped, yet they consistently manage to have at least one book that I absolutely HAVE to buy, every time I go there. And the downstairs event space makes up for the tight fit upstairs; I had the launch party for The Fifth Season there and it was lovely. There was even enough room for a homemade volcano! And readings, and talks and more. It's on a gorgeous street with historic architecture and a little park, easily bike-able or train-able. All they lack is a bookstore cat. Why don't bookstores do those anymore? Oh, allergies. Well, it's perfect except for that.
Follow NK Jemisin @nkjemisin
Powell's Books – Portland, Oregon
Recommended by Vera Brosgol, author of Be Prepared
Portland is packed with amazing independent bookstores (Green Bean Books is my favorite dedicated exclusively to children’s books), but the granddaddy of them all is Powell’s. It’s an entire city block packed with 1.6 acres of books, sweet books. There are nine color-coded rooms, each holding a different genre. My personal favorite is the Rose Room, which is where all the kids books are kept and where I beeline every time I visit.
The used books are shelved right alongside the new ones, so you can often find out-of-print treasures along with cheap copies of classics. I love checking out the weird illustrated covers of old sci-fi paperbacks in the Gold Room, and browsing 20-pound art books in the Pearl Room. There’s a café with great people-watching (and sketching) out the giant corner windows. Bonus: it keeps you out of the rain!
Follow Vera Brosgol @verabee
Brookline Booksmith – Boston, Massachusetts
Recommended by Tomi Adeyemi, author of Children of Blood and Bone
Brookline Booksmith is the most badass bookstore I know. There was a literal blizzard with a declared state of emergency, and they still put on my event. They are the Braveheart of bookstores to me. Also you walk into that store and literally want to buy everything. Even books you already own. So be careful!
Follow Tomi Adeyemi @tomi_adeyemi
Mysterious Galaxy – San Diego, California
Recommended by Christie Ridgway, author of Almost Paradise
Visitors to San Diego come for the sunshine and stay for the near-perfect weather, but if you’re inspired by Comic-Con or need to dive indoors to give your sunburn a break, there’s a great independent bookstore stocked with your next beach read. Mysterious Galaxy (11 miles from the Convention Center, 9 miles from the seaside enclave of La Jolla) can take you far, far away with a science fiction pick or closer to home if your jam is domestic thrillers. I like the many genres represented – including fantasy and horror – the numerous handwritten staff recommendations and the knowledgeable salespeople.
Follow Christie Ridgway @ChristieRidgway