My recent trip to the Boston area, I found a few things had changed. I also found a few new (to me) haunts. First, the kind of bad news. I learned that one of my main stops on the Boston circuit, McIntyre and Moore, has moved from their Davis Square location. I also learned that the store in Kenmore Square, Commonwealth Books, had closed, but been replaced with a new store! Also, I read an item in the New York Times that said the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge is up for sale, so who knows what that will bring. The owner is trying to sell it to the right people, but who knows. Having surveyed the ever-changing (and not for the best) landscape of Boston's independent used stores, I got down to business and did as much haunting and exploring as time allowed.
[note: the descriptions below are a bit more impressionistic than I hoped, but this is mainly because I am not buying as much stuff as I used to. Also, I just decided to update this poor site, so I wasn't really planning to log these stores when I visited. I will fix this in the future. Or maybe I won't. I really don't know.]
698 Mass Ave.
Rodney's is a store in Central Square in Cambridge MA that I had never happened upon before. It's got two huge floors, and plenty of interesting stock, with what I took as reasonable prices. I didn't see anything I was looking for, but I should mention that the first editions are helpfully organized at the checkout desk on the second floor. They also sell bookshelves and some cool t-shirts. The employee I chatted with was friendly and told us a bit about the history, which explained why I didn't know this one since I left the Boston area around the opening of the store. According to their website, they just closed another shop which had been in Coolidge Corner for 5 years (again, since I left) so I hope this one can hold on.
Lame Duck Books
Rare and Used Books, Manuscripts, Art
12 Arrow Street
Cambridge MA 02138
This small boutique shop is right around the corner from Harvard Square. Have a burger at Mr. Bartley's (cash only), find somewhere to wash your hands, and pop in for a look. This dealer's specialty seems to be rare manuscripts, and most of the basement level store is filled with foreign language (Russian, etc.) titles. So although I can't comment competently on much of his business I can say that if you are interested in firsts, you'll find a nice little trove of English language signed first editions on the right side of the store. I remember seeing several Don Delillo's and a Jane Smiley that tempted me.
Overall, the place was a little too rich for my blood seeing as I am not in the rare or any other manuscript market, but I didn't feel uncomfortable or "watched" as one does in many small rare book stores. In fact I found the owner quite welcoming, and I have heard elsewhere that he has a good reputation. Only my socioeconomic level restrained me from full enjoyment. I will make that store a permanent stop on my itinerary.
111 Mathewson St.
Providence, RI 02903
winters, open 12-5 Sunday
This nice large space. I primarily went there to hunt down a few of their signed firsts I saw on the interwebs, but it certainly merits a trip for more general enthusiasts. As I remember, it was not in a basement, in fact, you had to go up a flight of stairs--so don't spend too much time poking around in the cellar. I perused the rare book room and while the signed first of Empire Falls that I went there for turned out to be a bust (either mis-listed on their site or I misread it) and not a first, I ended up glad-handling a Murakami and McEwen thus instilling a craving for those titles that will amount to some future downfall. In the end, I spent $179 on Edward P. Jones and Ha Jin signed firsts, and they were kind enough to media mail them to me in California at no extra charge that I noticed. As for the rest of the store, I wish I had more time that day. I went through the philosophy and political science sections and found some interesting things, but bought nothing there. The store folks were friendly and I will be stopping there again in the future.
240 Westminster Street
Providence RI 02903
Though I was on the hunt for firsts, the folks at Cellar Stories had recommended we check out Symposium, which is more the kind of store I am usually found drooling in, the academic and scholarly overstock used book store. At first glance, this place looks like an art book store, and art books are indeed a specialty. But there are quite a few overstock academic books in this bright, clean and well-organized store, reminding me of my other area favorite, the Raven. When we revealed our post-retirement dream of opening a shop, an employee with vast experience in the book business was kind enough to chat about the business with us for quite a while. I bought a few scholarly titles for less than $10 each--Nietzsche, Metaphor, Religion, Continental Philosophy of Social Science, and Nietzsche and Embodiment--reflecting several odd writing projects I am on. I thought the literature section was pretty well stocked. I'll definitely go back in the future.