Armchair Travels

My Favorite Bookstores

Nerrrrrrd

From 1999-2003, I attended the International Baccalaureate program at St. Petersburg High (Go Green Devils!) so for four years, I had a 20-30 minute commute to and from school. My friends did not live in my neighborhood as we were all flung across the southern part of the county, spread from Largo through Seminole to Downtown St. Pete, so it’s not like we could just meet up down the block to hang out.

As a result of our geographical separation, we spent a lot of time at Tyrone Mall, which was fairly central for my group of friends (and far superior to the dingy Seminole Mall that was closer to many of us). While we did spend plenty of time loitering the corridors of Tyrone, looking at clothes we weren’t brave enough to try on and drinking mocha frappuccinos from the pre-Starbucks coffee shop, most of our time was not spent inside the mall but rather inside the attached Borders bookstore.

I’m sure the employees were sick of seeing these dorky high schoolers who only spent a few bucks on a drink but passed countless hours reading in the big chairs, studying for biology tests at the cafe tables, listening to the newest Broadway cast recordings in the music section, and even hosting our own (nerdy AF) summer book club on the floor of the children’s section (appropriately named Flourish and Blotts).

While other teens were galavanting about town, testing limits, going to parties, breaking curfews and whatever other nonsense “regular” teenagers did, my group of friends and I were closing down the Borders books, and then standing in the parking lot nerding out about whether or not Snape was still a loyal Deatheater.

Bookstores aren’t as common as they used to be, but any time I find myself near one (or a library), I have to walk in just to inhale that unbeatable smell of new pages, coffee, and unexplored worlds. It instantly transports me to my youth, to a time before Kindles, to lazy summer afternoons reading stacks of books from the library. I have dragged my reading-averse husband into countless libraries and bookstores on our travels. Like Belle, walls filled to the brim with books are my happy place.

So I thought it would be fun to showcase my favorite bookstores.

Gibert Joseph (Paris)

Everyone else probably chooses Shakespeare and Company as their favorite Parisian bookstore, and yes that place is super cute. But the Gibert Joseph on Boulevard Saint Michel, the French equivalent of a Barnes and Noble, has been my go-to bookstore in the city since 2005. And it’s not just one store. Oh, no. The largest bookstore in Paris takes up more than 5000 square meters in multiple buildings, on multiple floors. They’ve got six floors dedicated to kids and students. Another store just for music. And the best thing: its a used-new bookstore, so you can always find a good deal.

El Ateneo (Buenos Aires)

Quite possibly the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever stepped inside, El Ateneo (built in 1919) was a theatre until the turn of the 21st century, when it was converted into a literary dream. Have a drink and snack at the cafe on the old stage or grab a book, and cozy up in one of the box seat reading nooks. I could have spent hours in here perusing the shelves. (See more from our time in Buenos Aires here!)

Battery Park Books Exchange Champagne Bar (Asheville)

Part wine bar, part coffee shop, part used book store…. is this heaven? My friends and I discovered this gem on a pre-wedding girls weekend in 2014 and didn’t get to spend nearly enough time soaking up the ambience. It’s a huge labyrinth of books and couches. You’ll definitely get lost inside. I returned a few years later with Justin, who wasn’t quite as enamored by the place as I was but then he’s sick of losing me in book stores. Bonus for dog lovers: you can bring your canine pal to sip some champagne with you!

Parnassus (Nashville)

Owned by author Anne Patchett, Parnassus is a book-lovers retreat in the middle of over-crowded and over-commercialized Green Hills (quite possibly my least favorite Nashville neighborhood). It’s colorful and welcoming, wide open yet also jam-packed with reading materials. Their kids’ section is robust and fun (with a train set), filling the Davis Kidd shaped hole in locals’ hearts. The best thing about Parnassus, though, aside from their friendly staff and adorable book-mobile that pops up at Pride and other festivals, is that it’s a gathering place for the local Nashville writing community, hosting dozens of author events every month.

So now I need to know: where is YOUR favorite bookstore? When we can travel again, what literary destination should I add to the “must-see” list? Which booksellers doors should I drag my husband through next?

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