I know it can be tough to find time to read for pleasure during our busy semesters, but sometimes even just browsing a quality bookstore can be an immensely calming activity. Here’s a rundown of some of the great independent bookstores surrounding campus, each with its own unique assets—I even snuck in some book recommendations if you need somewhere to start.
Normal’s Books & Records: Normal’s is just east of campus near the Waverly neighborhood. Normal’s primarily sells used books, which means their prices are quite fair. They have an extensive record collection, so if you or someone you know is a music lover, you know where to head. Wandering through the looming labyrinth of books can take hours if you let it; the shelves extend high above your head and the aisles feel as though they keep going back forever. I would recommend perusing Normal’s if you’re in search of random reading inspiration. Let the shelves lead you to your next novel!
The Book Thing of Baltimore: Just a block away from Normal’s lies Baltimore’s most unique “bookstore.” The Book Thing is the only used bookstore I know where you can walk out with as many books as you like and pay absolutely nothing. That’s right, every book is free! There is a plethora of inventory for academic books, textbooks, novels, nonfiction and every genre in between. All you have to do once you leave is record how many books you are taking. The Book Thing is the perfect place to bolster your bookshelves for no cost, so it’s a great place to try out some new genres. I was able to find some texts related to my extracurricular research, so it was very helpful to save that money. They are currently only open once a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the next time they will be open is on March 12.
Urban Reads: Right behind The Book Thing, you will find another incredible bookstore! Urban Reads is a Black-owned bookstore that emphasizes its collection of urban and prison authors. They have a particularly rich collection of abolitionist literature, of which community education is an integral aspect. They also have a cafe inside if you want to try out a new study spot, and they often host community events in the space. I highly recommend supporting their mission and checking out authors in the community.
Greedy Reads: If you haven’t had the chance to explore Remington, the beloved neighborhood bordering Charles Village, you’ve been missing out on a great shopping experience! Greedy Reads is housed in the same building as Fast Forward U and has an utterly gorgeous interior. The massive windows provide an abundance of light that illuminates the bright book spines against the white shelves. Greedy Reads is great for staying updated on new releases from rising and best-selling authors. For instance, last fall I purchased The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America by Lawrence T. Brown, a former associate professor at Morgan State University who is a leading scholar on racial politics. You can find the latest works in cookbooks, fiction works, academic works and more, and returning customers benefit by using their punch cards at each purchase.
Bookstore Next Door: The Bookstore Next Door is connected to Charlotte Elliott, a charming vintage and antique store. Both the shop and the bookstore have an extravagant yet homely design, almost as though the bookstore has the character of a magic library. Bookstore Next Door also sells used books in abundance; the stock is so chaotic that it’s almost organized. If you’re in search of some cool decor or neat gift ideas, this two-in-one shop is the perfect place to browse during your next trip to Hampden.
Atomic Books: For anyone who enjoys art as much as they enjoy reading, Atomic Books is reputable for its extensive comic, graphic novel and magazine collections. If you’ve never given graphic novels a try, I highly recommend you start doing so here. People are often eager to write them off because of the assumption that they are juvenile, but some of the most thought-provoking stories I’ve read have taken the form of graphic novels. One such example that Atomic Books carries is Blankets, a deeply compelling coming-of-age novel that deals with themes of religion, relationships and self-love. Give it a read or visit the store to just get a feel for it!