Because who knows how to sell books better than an actual writer?
There’s an art to creating the perfect indie bookstore—where a love for literature is as much on display as the books themselves. From hand-written shelf tags singing praises for employees’ favorite books to a commitment to bringing in new, fresh and under-the-radar voices, a successful bookstore keeps attracting customers over and over again. As an offshoot of their successful writing careers, several authors have donned small-business hats and opened a bookstore. From Brooklyn to Santa Fe, if you’re a true literati, here’s where to drop in next. Just don’t get too cozy in the stacks because you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for the famous author/owner!
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Books Are Magic
WHERE: Brooklyn, New York
In her latest novel (All Adults Here), Emma Straub creates a small-town world that, in interviews, she’s said was also her experience living in the nation’s largest city. Could that neighborly vibe be what led her and designer-husband Michael Fusco-Straub to open Books are Magic on a sweet little corner in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood in 2017? Time your visit with one of the many poetry and fiction readings for a deeper dive, or bring the kids for story-times on the weekends. “Hidey-holes” (basically life-size cubbyholes) for kids are open any day.
Books and Beans
WHERE: Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Palestinian-American novelist Etaf Rum achieved acclaim with A Woman is No Man in 2019, a New York Times bestselling debut about three generations of Palestinian-American women. That same year she opened Books and Beans. Pouring cups of Common Culture coffee (the roaster’s based in NC), the café knocks its décor out of the park with custom floral arrangements (also for sale) and sunlight spilling into its white-washed interior with exposed-brick walls.
Books & Books
WHERE: Key West, Florida
Judy Blume needs no introduction if you were a teenage girl in America during the 1980s and 1990s. The 83-year-old author is living out her retirement years at Books & Books, which she and her husband Mitchell Kaplan co-founded in 1982. It’s also under the same roof—a very pretty one, in fact: a 1950s former Masonic Temple—of The Studios of Key West, a non-profit arts center and cultural organization. And if Books & Books sounds familiar, you may have visited another branch: others are in Long Island, New York, Coral Gables, Florida, Grand Cayman, and a concourse at Miami International Airport.
WHERE: Nashville, Tennessee
Co-owned since 2011 by Karen Hayes and Bel Canto novelist Ann Patchett—that 2001 book earned her the PEN/Faulkner Award and Orange Prize for Fiction—Parnassus Books is in Music City’s Green Hills neighborhood. There are plenty of in-store events (both visiting authors and book clubs) throughout the week. You can also pick up a signed copy of one of Patchett’s books as a souvenir, with personalization upon request.
Birchbark Books & Native Arts
WHERE: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Specializing in carrying books by Indigenous American authors, as well as crafts (such as basketry and silverwork), Birchbark Books & Native Arts–owned by Native novelist Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine)–is tucked into the Kenwood area of Minneapolis. The bookstore’s location in the Twin Cities since 2001 is no accident: the region is home to among the highest population of urban Natives in the U.S. One source of pride is the expansive children’s book selection, anchored by a birchbark children’s loft.
An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Cafe
WHERE: Plainville, Massachusetts
Despite co-owner Jeff Kinney’s The Diary of a Wimpy Kid children’s-book series, An Unlikely Story Bookstore & Café is anything but wimpy. It’s a stronghold in this community 45 miles southwest of Boston. Kinney and his wife Julie opened the bookstore in 2015, continuing to shepherd the mid-1800s building into a community center. Above the bookstore at Second Story, readings, wine tastings, game nights, ukulele classes, and yoga classes are often hosted.
WHERE: Santa Fe, New Mexico
It should be no surprise that Beastly Books specializes in fantasy novels. Open since 2019, the bookstore is owned by Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin, a series that was adapted into the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” Another reason to visit: autographed and collectible books, particularly in this genre. Author events and even a recent writing workshop fill the bookstore’s calendar—and Martin also owns the Jean Cocteau Theater next door, used as an event space.
WHERE: Archer City, Texas
The late novelist Larry McMurtry (his books include Terms of Endearment and Lonesome Dove, both made into films) may have died in March of 2021, but his legacy lives on at Booked Up. Co-owners Khristal Collins and Jan Graves continue to operate the bookstore, which began in Washington D.C. 51 years ago and relocated to McMurtry’s hometown in 1987. One key distinction of this bookstore is it carries “fine and scholarly” books—to the tune of between 150,000 and 200,000.
WHERE: Columbia, Missouri
Just like in the downtown of most college towns (Columbia is home to the University of Missouri), Skylark Bookshop is an anchor. Owned by England-born novelist Alex George, whose works include The Paris Hours, he also directs the Unbound Book Festival in Columbia each April, an ideal time to visit if you want an even more enriching literary experience as household name authors give talks and writing workshops.