Books. They’re everywhere in this town, from the Law Libraries of K St., to the movie libraries of the cinemas across town, DC is one of the most literate cities in the US. As such, we’ve got our preponderance of bookstores all over this city. We’re here to tell you some of our favorites. Read on.
By way of disclosure, I spend WAY more time at a large unnamed corporate outlet for intellectual stimulation, but I will point out my second favorite spot for reasons of personal principle.
In College Park, MD, I have spent a few afternoons tucked away at Vertigo Books, an independant book outlet located in the shopping center across Route 1 from RJ Bentleys. Ask any Terp where the Chipotle is, and it’s two stores over from it.
Vertigo has its own story, which makes it a cosy and comfortable place to look through the best selection of publications. The staff are knowlegeable and many a time have I had a better than decent discussion about whatever subject pops out as me from the pages of their wares.
Their shelves are filled with topics that are current and relevant to the young and restless mind. And it’s location merely a block away from the University of Maryland campus ensures a ready and fertile clientele, at least every four years.
Hole in the Wall Books looks tiny from the outside, but it’s stuffed full of more books and comic books than you think it could hold. It has everything from classics to romance novels to children’s books to travel guides. There’s also a large science fiction and mystery section that takes up a huge portion of the store. When I was taking literature courses in college, I often went to Hole in the Wall to look for books before trying to buy them online, because I knew they might be in the selection and because I knew the price was right.
Hole in the Wall fulfills the first qualification for a good used bookstore – low prices. Paperbacks will only run you $3 or $4, and hardbacks aren’t much more than that. The staff is always friendly, and you can e-mail the store with inquiries. The store is also adorable. From the outside, it looks like a little house (which it probably was before it was converted into a shop). Shopping there makes you feel like you live in a small town.
ok, it’s not a bookstore, but it is my absolute favorite place to go and read and experience a comforting sense of solitude. the great hall and main reading room in the thomas jefferson building are completely breathtaking. it’s full of resources that congress relies on everyday to support the decisions made on the hill. it’s an experience truly unique to dc that you won’t get anywhere else.
separately, but related, i had the chance a few month ago to meet paul rundquist, former congressional operations specialist w/the congressional research service of the library. he worked over 30 years in crs and saw the ins and outs of congress from a very unique viewpoint. i’m sure they miss him dearly as retired and has since moved to germany for a visiting professor position.
fyi, to get full access to the reading rooms, you need a reader identification card issued by the library. it’s a library card for the ultimate library.
My favorite DC bookstore is Politics and Prose, at 5015 Connecticut Ave, in NW. Not only are they a great independent bookstore, but they have readings in their shop all the time, often featuring DC-area writers. I remember a little while ago, I was on the couch flipping through tv channels, when I came across CSPAN’s BookTV–they were broadcasting one of the readings that were held at Politics and Prose. If you need a quick pick-me up, or you get hungry, they have a little cafe downstairs with plenty of seats and tables. The only real downside of the place is that they’re not that close to a metro stop. However, there is a small parking lot behind the building (you have to go down one of the side streets off Connecticut to access the back of the building). It’s a nice place to walk around and browse in, and they choose interesting books to put on display.
Runner-up: Kramerbooks & Afterwords in Dupont Circle (also independent). The combination of books, food and booze can be quite alluring. Unfortunately, the place can get quite crowded, which makes it hard to check out the books.
How can you not like a bookstore with its own taproom? Just north of Dupont Circle on Connecticut Avenue sits DC legend Kramerboooks & Afterwords, with its teeming shelves full of good books and its sidewalk cafe. The first time I went to Kramer’s was in 2000, I was new to the city and looking for a good place to meet a friend before going out in the City. She suggested Kramer’s and I figured, how could I go wrong with a bookstore?
We actually ended up having dinner there, something I wasn’t expecting a purveyor of books to provide anywhere near their wares. The food is great, the beer and wine selection excellent, and the atmosphere just wonderful. It’s not just the restaurant that makes Kramer’s, their selection, their visibility and their ability to get great visitors makes this an absolutely superlative shop.
To be honest, my favorite bookstore is Amazon.com. So I’m a misanthrope. In general, I prefer to order things from wherever I am when I decide I want them and have them delivered. I don’t make time to shop.
But sometimes, I want the particular satisfaction of picking up a book, thumbing through its pages, and feeling it’s weight in my hand before deciding on a purchase. Then, much as it may horrify my fellow bloggers, I go to the Barnes & Noble in Clarendon. I prefer to reserve “quirky and odd” for my choice in books, not my choice in where I buy them.
See, here’s the thing. I’ve never had any great love of little indie bookstores. Without exception, all the ones I’ve been to have been dark, cramped, with narrow aisles, messy shelves, and stuff piled up in odd places on the floor. Bonus points for the crotchety old geezer at the register. Give me the big, airy, well-lit, neatly kept McBookstore any day.
And the Clarendon Barnes & Noble certainly qualifies. It’s an anchor in the Clarendon Market Common, which is where my credit cards go to die. Really, between the Pottery Barn (home porn), Williams-Sonoma (kitchen porn), Apple Store (geek porn), and book porn of Barnes & Noble, it’s a wonder I’ve lived in Arlington this long with my credit rating intact.
Bring on the chain-sold, mass-produced consumerism!
This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs