My Google search for best bookstores in Massachusetts sends me first to an article in Yankee magazine by Suzanne Strempek Shea—yet another author I have never heard of—who has written five novels and three memoirs. One of those books, called Shelf Life, is about the year she spent working at a local independent bookstore in Western Massachusetts. The article lists her favorite New England bookstores based on her experiences visiting and reading in them. Find the Yankee article here:
Two of Shea’s recommendations are in Massachusetts, so I check them out. The first, Broadside Bookshop in Northhampton, has an easy site to navigate, say they’re committed to customer service while offering online ordering and free shipping. Nice. Then I looked at The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. I was first taken in by the description in the article: An errand to pick up a single book can easily turn into a personal odyssey for hours as you explore the two floors. Now that’s what I’m looking for! I went to their website — love it! It’s colorful, features lots of great looking book covers, highlights events sponsored by the store and their mission statement says they are passionate about the written word and want to share their love of reading with the community. Now I wish I could be immediately transported there. I want to browse the two floors, I want to go to the event the store is featuring at Mt. Holyoke College with the author with long pink hair who has written three young adult novels. And I wonder what Emily Dickinson would think about that. Yes, yes, I’m especially drawn to this bookstore because they have a relationship with Emily Dickinson’s college. And I think that if Emily Dickinson had been born in a different time she, too, might have pink hair. Think how great it would look with all those white dresses!
Okay, off on a tangent now. Back to bookstores. Because I’m slightly compulsive, I decide that I have to look beyond someone else’s recommendation of the best bookstores in Massachusetts, so I dig a little deeper in my internet quest and come up with another bookstore that I love—Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich. Now, here’s a place I’d like to visit too. It just has such a Gatsby-esque sound, right? East Egg, West Egg, East Sandwich. So, turns out Titcomb’s has a fabulous website. I can even take a virtual tour of the shop. Find it here: From the tour I learn that the shop has been owned by the same family since 1969, that the shop started in a carport off the historic seventeenth century home but was re-built in a barn-like structure later. It’s three stories and beautiful. There are new and used books and some rare first editions and historical books. And just outside the shop on the highway “Historic Route 6A” is a metal sculpture of an old bookseller made by one of the owners and used now as a photo op for authors who have readings in their shop. What a great bookstore! I hope I get to visit it some day.
But, still, I’m drawn to South Hadley and decide I want my own personal Massachusetts odyssey there. So I call them up. After I explain what I’m looking for—a book or two by Massachusetts authors that will give me a sense of Massachusetts as a place. The girl I’m speaking with—I’m pretty sure she said her name was Emily — says: This is just the kind of project we love! But she wants to talk to some of the other booksellers too and call me back. Excellent! When Emily calls me back, she tells me they have enjoyed the project and that she has a stack of eight books to tell me about — I can choose which ones I want her to send. I wish I had noted down all of her suggestions but as luck would have it I was sitting in a car on my way to the ocean when the call came in so I wasn’t able to take notes. No, I wasn’t driving.
From Emily’s suggestion, I choose an historical novel, The Celestials, by Karen Shepard, which is the story of Chinese workers who come to the town of North Adams, Massachusetts in 1870 to work in a shoe factory (as strike breakers.) I know many Chinese came to Seattle and San Francisco at that time, but had no idea that any Chinese workers travelled as far as Massachusetts. I’m looking forward to learning about that. The next book I choose is called I Thought You Were Dead, by Pete Nelson. It’s a kind of coming of age story featuring a guy and his dog. Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a dog lover and a sucker for books about dogs ever since I read our local rock star author Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. So, with my choices made, I await my package from Massachusetts.