Browsing for bargains in Boston's bookstores
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Avenue Victor Hugo (339 Newburry Street) is the closest thing to San Francisco (and City Lights bookstore) that I've seen in Boston, but with an identity all its own. The collection of new and used books is eclectic (comic books are stacked a few feet from volumes of Montaigne) and makes for prime browsing. The specialty is science-fiction (the store publishes three science-fiction magazines) and there is a good selection of magazines and small press publications. The store is worth going to for its art postcards alone, or for the poetry readings on Sunday evenings. One of the best in the city.Skip to next paragraph
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James Russell Lowell, the 19th-century poet and Harvard literature professor, once listed the world's most important cities, in ascending order, as "Rome, Venice, Cambridge!" James Bartlett's University Bookstore no longer provides a locus for spirited debate, but today's Harvard Square is still an intellectual scene, with no shortage of heavy conversation, or of bookstores.
Harvard Book Store (1256 Massachusetts Avenue) carries new paperbacks, but a few doors down (1248 Massachusetts Avenue) the other store has the best selection of publisher's remainders in the area, many selling for $1.98. The store has a number of art books as well as magazines and used paperbacks for half the cover price.
Grolier Book Shop (6 Plympton) specializes in poetry, and it's worth dropping in just to see that there is enough verse being published to fill the shelves in this small high-ceilinged room. The Grolier has been a crossroads for the area's poets since 1927, and many of the writers' pictures hang on the wall. The collection is extensive, and they'll order anything for you that they don't have. There always seem to be avid poetry lovers scanning the shelves, and it's my favorite place for discovering the new and unusual.
If you can't find it anywhere else, try the Harvard Coop Society (1400 Massachusetts Avenue). With three floors of books and 50 to 60,000 titles, this is the largest volume bookstore in the area. Around the corner, Words Worth (30 Brattle) has two floors, mostly paperbacks, and a flat discount of 10 percent off paperbacks and 15 percent off hardcovers.
Book Case (42 Church) has the largest selection of used books in Cambridge, shelved and well-organized in the store's basement. Mandrake Book Store (8 Story) is particularly good with art and architecture books. There are selected new titles and good sections of poetry, philosophy, literary criticism and reference books. Small labels tell you "New Acquisitions on Upper Shelves" and part of the fun here is looking on the lower shelves, where you may find previous editions of a book at pre-inflation prices.
Temple Bar Bookshop (9 Boylston Street) is a small store whose strongest areas are photography and poetry. The store also sells photography and some rare and fine editions.
Pangloss Bookshop (1284 Massachusetts Avenue) carries used hardbacks, textbooks, and scholarly books in the social sciences (no fiction). This erudite one-room shop has about 40,000 books on its shelves. Schoenhof's Foreign Books (1280 Massachusetts Avenue) says it all in the name: foreign books -- and a good selection of prints, especially botanical and zoological illustrations.
A short distance outside the square, Movie Madness (1642 Massachusetts Avenue) carries books on every aspect of film: actors, directors, criticism, and history, as well as movie posters and stills.