It’s no secret that Boston is quite the literary destination. Some of the most storied authors of yesteryear, at one point or another, called Boston home, and plenty of current powerhouse authors (Celeste Ng and Ibram X. Kendi, to name two) live in the area.
So it makes sense that Boston has no shortage of excellent independent bookstores, perfect for a venture back out into the city — if only to get lost in a good read.
That’s why we’ve devised a bookstore tour through the city, with 10 spots ideal for tourists and locals alike to spend hours browsing the shelves. But the story doesn’t end here: Hummingbird Books in Chestnut Hill just opened its doors, and Beacon Hill Books & Cafe is slated to do the same in the next few months.
Godspeed, bookworms — just be sure to check mask mandates and hours for each store before you browse.
Harvard Book Store
We start our journey at Harvard Book Store, a 90-year-old shop that stocks general interest titles and frequently hosts readings with well-known authors (John Waters and Minnie Driver were two recent guests). Head to the basement to check out the troves of used books, plus the ephemera (found inside the used books) hanging from the walls. 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge. 617-661-1515, harvard.com.
Grolier Poetry Book Shop
Just steps away from Harvard Book Store is this rhymester’s paradise, which has sold volumes of verse for close to a century. Pick up a collection of poetry, check out a chapbook, or attend one of their readings — Stuart Dischell, Martin Edmunds, and Tom Sleigh are among the upcoming visitors. 6 Plympton St., Cambridge. 617-547-4648, grolierpoetrybookshop.org.
Porter Square Books
A quick jump on the Red Line brings you to the flagship location of Porter Square Books, where you can buy new releases, charming tchotchkes, or a surprise “book bundle” curated by a staff member. Flip through a book and munch on some Vietnamese fresh rolls — a delicacy of the in-house coffee shop, Cafe Zing — on the outdoor patio, or bring your laptop and work at one of the outlet-equipped window seats. There is also a new outpost in the Seaport District. 25 White St., Cambridge. 617-491-2220, portersquarebooks.com.
All She Wrote Books
The newest bookstore on this list, located in Somerville’s Assembly Row, is a one-stop-shop for titles by female, non-binary, and queer authors. Pick up staff-favorite activist titles, like “Hood Feminism” by Mikki Kendall, as well as queer-centric coloring books, astrology sign puzzles, and pronoun pins. 451 Artisan Way, Somerville. 617-440-4623, allshewrotebooks.com.
More Than Words
This South End nonprofit is based on a unique model: it employs young people who have been court-involved, homeless, or living in the foster-care system, teaching them how to run a business. The spacious shop sells vinyl albums, jewelry, and books of all genres — as an added bonus, there’s plenty of seating to curl up with a good book (or a stack of them). 242 East Berkeley St. 781-788-0035, mtwyouth.org.
Located in Roxbury, this Black-owned bookstore focuses on selling the works of writers of color. Browse antiracist literature of all stripes, from the well-known — “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi — to the just-released, like “Love and Justice: A Journey of Empowerment, Activism, and Embracing Black Beauty” by Laetitia Ky. Bring the little ones to the cozy children’s corner. 57 Warren St., Roxbury. 617-541-1722, frugalbookstore.net.
This woman-owned Jamaica Plain spot, instantly recognizable by its pink-and-green exterior, might be the cutest bookshop in all of Boston — it’s stuffed to the brim with books, vintage-looking posters, and trinkets aplenty. Can’t decide what to read? Let the ample handwritten staff recommendations dotting the shelves be your guide. 60 South St., Jamaica Plain. 617-522-3404, papercutsjp.com.
Brookline Booksmith, a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Coolidge Corner stop on the Green Line, could double as a boutique. In 2020, the shop took over a 4,000-square-foot neighboring storefront, offering “Giftsmith” even more space to display kitchenware, art supplies, and accessories, like funny socks. Oh, yeah, the books are great, too. 279 Harvard St., Brookline. 617-566-6660, brooklinebooksmith.com.
Trident Booksellers and Cafe
This Newbury Street shop is open nightly until 10 p.m., making it the perfect spot for late-night browsing. Take your time checking out the two-floor book selection, grabbing a bite from the extensive cafe menu, and taking a peek at some of the zines and novelty items (”Burn the Patriarchy” candle, anyone?) Trident is also home to themed trivia nights, open mics, and writing groups (for those who want to see their name on a book’s spine someday). 338 Newbury St. 617-267-8688, tridentbookscafe.com.
Brattle Book Shop
We end our bookstore safari at Brattle Book Shop, which bills itself as one of the nation’s oldest antiquarian bookstores. Tucked into a downtown side street, the store often boasts racks of bargain books on display in an outside lot. Inside, treasures await: sprawling shelves, a rare book room, and staff who will decorate your home office with leather-bound beauties (no, really). 9 West St. 617-542-0210, brattlebookshop.com.
Dana Gerber can be reached at email@example.com