by Ally Bailey
I left D.C. for college a spoiled child, in the sense that everywhere I turned I was able to locate and walk to a bookstore. Wandering through many a paper-backed aisle, I languished in the words of the greats as well as my contemporaries; I spun fantasies out of the words strung seemingly into oblivion. When the prodigal child returned, such pleasures had disappeared. A Nike store replaced my most beloved Barnes and Noble, for sale signs hung in the windows of so many of my former hideouts. And, just for the record, I am not a dinosaur. I haven’t been gone that long. But in those two years, a major change had settled itself on Washington as it had so many other urban outposts: book stores have been rendered outdated by kindles and iPads and other sorts of technological sorcery. And it has broken my heart into irretrievable pieces. But we do have one saving grace, my fellow literary-prone Washingtonians: those ancient literature holdouts that have withstood the World Wide Web, like diamonds in the ravaging rough: Independent, “un-chained” Bookstores.
Here’s a list of my favorite local ones. Go forth and revel. We have yet begun to fight….
KramerBooks & Afterwords Café
1517 Connecticut Ave NW
My Dad and I used to circle DuPont in our station wagon for a solid twenty minutes every Saturday morning just to find a parking spot to come here. It has every unknown contemporary author you could possibly want, outfitted by a wondrous international section that boasts the widest selection of travel guides I have ever encountered (they have not one but two books on travel to Djibouti, I’m proud to report.) I just finished ‘Beautiful Fools’ by R. Clifton Spargo, a fictionalized account of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s final adventure to Cuba that reveals the cost of fame and the effects of mental disease on the success of a star crossed pairing. There’s a reason that my friends and I used to scrounge money to buy their books in middle school- they have incredible reads that you just can’t find anywhere else. AND, if we are speaking from my stomach’s point of view, there’s a restaurant in the back with the best peanut butter and chocolate pie you will ever taste.
Second Story Books
2000 P Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20036
Sometimes, it’s nice to go somewhere that cannot offer you something new- a place that is specifically created for objects that have been formerly loved by another. It sort of qualifies value in a way, doesn’t it? Second Story books is a great place to find the wackiest of reads, from the poems of Sappho to Hitchcock’s musings on mis en scene. It’s cozy and cute and reminiscent of a more cluttered office of Professor Dumbledore.
I’ve always thought this store was most reminiscent of the Parisian ‘Shakespeare and Company’, so take that as you will. Filled to the brim with books that take a considerably left wing stance, you can get lost for hours in its many publications about the beauties and disasters of the EU, the public school system, and environmental policy. Its fiction section is glorious, and supple enough to ensure that I bring a muffin with me each time I go so as to prevent hunger from the hours spent perusing. And, cough cough cough, it’s right down the street from Comet, which boasts possibly the greatest combination on earth: ping pong, pizza, beer, and live music…..combined with literary perfection down the street, this therefore makes it the greatest block in the world? It’s a distinct possibility.
The independent book stores of DC are some of the greatest places to get lost in, in so many ways. They form the symbolic barrier, preventing us from teetering into the total abyss of the computerized literary lifestyle. So take a carton of orange juice and slurp as you read, just for us.
Also check out our previous post on DC Bibliphilia–our list of favorite used book stores here.