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Blogging From: Hole in the Wall Books

What: Independent Book and Comic Book Store

Where: Falls Church, VA

Bookstores with creative names, are always the best kinds of bookstores. What bookstore lover wouldn’t want to step inside of a store called Hole in the Wall Books, right? It’s funny because I think most people might shy away from any other type of establishment named after an idiom that sometimes has a bit of a negative connotation. But a bookstore with this name; it sounds like it will lead you right into a scene straight out of Alice in Wonderland! It leaves an impression that makes you feel like once you step though the door, you’ll be transported, through a hole in the wall, to a magical land of books. For the most part this is true. Minus the part about going through a hole in the wall.

Hole in the Wall Books, which turned 33 years old this year, opened in 1979. The store started out as a record shop, and half of the store was converted into a bookshop shortly after opening. After a few years in business, the record store portion of the store was eliminated and ever since it has been a thriving independent bookstore which specializes in used books and comics.

Excellent custom decorations!

The comic book aspect of Hole in the Wall Books is definitely its claim to fame. I spoke with the store’s owner, Edie, (who by the way, was extremely helpful and friendly) and she told me that in 1989 the store was one of the first and original sellers of Diamond Comics, which is now the largest North American comic book distributor. “The comic books help a lot,” she said. “I don’t think we would be able to stay open without them.” Unfortunately, that’s only a sign of the times. Today, independently owned bookstores need a distinguishing feature that will keep readers coming back. Lucky for Hole in the Wall, they’ve got that extra something that sets them apart.

Come here if you want comics.

While I’m no comic book fanatic, I could certainly tell that the store’s selection was extensive. The literature fanatic in me can happily say that the same goes for their book collection. The inside of the store is cozy. It’s a relatively small space with plenty of hidden corners and crevices, all filled with more and more books. Books are organized into sections including literature, mysteries, non-fiction, and cooking, just to name a few.

Books galore!

Hole in the Wall Books is another search-and-revel-in-the-loveliness-of-bookstore-browsing kind of bookstore. There’s no sitting area for reading or writing, which I’ve recently come to realize is a much more modern bookstore aspect. Of all the bookstores that I’ve visited so far, the trend seems to reveal that the more contemporary shops like Kramer Books or Borders (RIP) are more commonly set up for customers who want to come in a pop a squat with a book or their laptop for an hour or so. Most older bookstores that have been around for some time don’t tend to have this feature as often. Even though I’m always looking for a place where I can sit down and read or write, there’s no question that the older, more traditional bookstores will always have my heart. I hope they never go away.

However, one thing that is common to most older bookstores, that gives them character and spunk, is the decorations that are collected through the years. Hole in the Wall Books is very uniquely decorated. Much of the store is covered in comic book art and old newspaper articles.

Spiderman watches book browsers from the ceiling.

If you have the time to really browse, you’ll find some great gems at Hole in the Wall. For example, I shuffled through a few piles of books stacked on the floor and found a really cool Bob Dylan Scrapbook.

Bob salutes you.

I'm not sure how I resisted buying this.

The only reason this was not purchased is because I’m trying to be conscious of the amount of large, heavy books I collect. I’m moving back to New York in a few weeks and as I have learned from hauling my book collection around from place to place, books are heavy and not at all fun to pack and move. I did pick up a used copy of Oscar Wilde’s, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is significantly smaller and lighter.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for reading or writing? Nope, this is not that kind of store. Although it is definitely quiet enough for reading. So, by all means, you could certainly pull a book from the shelf and plant your butt on the floor if you felt like reading a chapter or two!

Bonus Points: Good prices, creative name, lasting power, and an excellent domain name. (Holeintheweb.com, love it!)

Blogging From: Capitol Hill Books

What: Epically awesome, Independent Bookstore

Where: Washington D.C.

You couldn't walk past here and not go inside.

I discovered Capitol Hill Books when I read some fine, bookish words of wisdom from the store’s owner, Jim Toole, on Peoplesdistrict.com last week. After reading Jim’s sentiments about, books, independent bookstores, and acting “mentally lame,” (Hint: do not act mentally lame at Capitol Hill Books! Or ever for that matter.) I knew I had to visit his store.

When I walked through the front door, I was pleasantly surprised to see the very same man I had read about in the article sitting in front of the cash register, ringing up books for his customers. “Welcome,” he said with a smile. I smiled back and began to browse.

The amount of books in this store is overwhelming. But when I say overwhelming, I mean overwhelming in the good way that any hardcore lover of bookstore browsing wholeheartedly appreciates. To put it simply, Capitol Hill Books is three floors of an endless array of books. Once inside, you’ll never want to stop browsing.

This times 1,000,000 = Capitol Hill Books.

The first floor houses endless shelves of non-fiction, plays, philosophy, and books about presidents and politics. (Just to name a few subjects.) Besides finding tons of used books by some of my favorite philosophers on the first floor, I was also smitten to find hanging on the wall, an article about Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History of the United States and a humorous note referring to Mr. J.D. Salinger. (Two deceased authors whom I would most certainly invite to my dinner table if you were to ask me which people, dead or alive, I would most want to have dinner with. Just in case you were wondering.)

Nice to see you again, Mr. Zinn.

If only!

Except for the the floors and the ceilings, there isn’t really one inch of Capitol Hill Books that isn’t occupied by books. Even the wall lining the stairway to the second floor is stacked to the brim with one book after another.

You cannot escape the books.

The second floor is mostly dedicated to fiction, and subsequently where I spent most of my time browsing. I found every author from Jane Austen to Tom Wolfe  and the Bronte sisters to Vonnegut. Here, I decided on buying a used copy of The Great Gatsby, which I unfortunately have not read since high school and have been very much wanting to re-read. I also found and purchased Tom Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. I’ve been wanting to read that one ever since I heard Demi Moore’s character reference it in Now and Then. (So, since 5th grade. Finally got to that one about 11 years later!)

The third level of the store is in the basement. The level beneath the ground is home to everything from humor to reference and books on specific topics such as hunting or Russia. Down here, there is at least one pile of books, if not more, dedicated to almost any topic you can think of. The one thing about the basement that you have to watch out for though, is the height of the ceilings. Anyone taller than me (and I’m not tall) will have a bit of difficulty navigating the lower level.

Straight and to the point.

Low ceiling perspective.

Although the amount of shelves and rooms in this store seemed endless and the organization of the books isn’t always completely clear, it’s neither frustrating or annoying because there are tons of little notes that direct you happily towards whatever it is you might be looking for. Plus, browsing and searching and then finally discovering is the best part of bookstore browsing, and I can safely say that Capitol Hill Books is essentially one of the best places I have found for doing so. It’s the perfect set up for an exciting book exploration adventure. When you start, you’re not sure just what you’ll find but you know for sure that it’s going to be good. At one point I overheard a girl say to her friend, “This is like your heaven.” No, girl, this IS heaven; enough books to last a lifetime and plenty of friendly fellow book lovers to share them with.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for reading or writing? This is a not a place for you to whip out your laptop and start blogging or writing. In fact, Jim Toole even says no cell phones. (“This is a book store and not a phone booth,” he says.) It’s a good, old fashioned bookstore and it will stay that way. However, the second floor is the perfect reading hideout. There are several chairs and any book lover could easily pull a book from one of the many shelves and feel perfectly comfortable diving into the pages for hours at a time without being bothered by anyone.

Bonus Points: Quirky categorical notes & signs, culturally relevant and unique decorations, reasonable prices, and the overall feeling of entering some sort of magical wonderland of books.

Overheard near this sign: "But Mommy, we don't wanna get the books! We wanna get lollipops!"

Capitol Hill Books’ Website

Blogging From: Winchester Book Gallery

Every business needs an old fashioned sign like this.

What: Independent Bookstore

Where: Historic, Downtown Winchester, Virginia

Today I am at Winchester Book Gallery. Winchester Book Gallery is the kind of bookstore that has a totally swoon-worthy window display and just anoverall really attractive storefront that lets you know, without even having to read a sign, that it is a bookstore you definitely won’t want to pass by.

Outdoor discount book carts always seal the deal.

WBG isn’t the largest of bookstores. But what they lack in space they most certainly make up for in content and awesome decorations. The first shelf on the right hand side of the store houses tons of really great new releases, including Patti Smith’s “Just Kids,” which I finally purchased thanks to the fact that it was 15% off here! Score!

Due to the lack of space, there aren’t many places to sit down where you can read or write. That is, unless you would like to pop a squat in that big, comfy white armchair in the windowsill. I don’t think the owners would even oppose if you chose to do so because they were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. It seemed like they would be more than happy to have one of their customers become a part of their window display.

My favorite part of WBG is the enormous, literary wall display above the shelves on the right hand side of the store. It features David Foster Wallace, Flannery O’Conner, Mark Twain, and the best damn chalk artwork that has ever graced my eyes. What’s even cooler than this chalky literature homage  itself, is that all of the author portraits were done by local artists. Plus, the store sells smaller-sized prints of the artwork.

"To the Library, and step on it!"

Someone give this an award.

Miniature versions for purchase!

Even though WBG is a great bookstore, the thing that I found inside that really won my heart over was a piece of paper that is actually completely unrelated to books and bookstores.

Who put this here? I love you.

If you do not know what this is referring to, click here. Then please go watch every episode of The Colbert Report, listen to a bunch of Jack White’s music, and then come back to me when you have a full, proper appreciation for these two awesome humans.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for reading or writing? Not particularly, mainly because there is nowhere to do so. If there was more space for a few comfy chairs and a table or two, then it would be ideal. Otherwise, it’s generally a great place for merrily browsing books!

Bonus Points: Epic wall of art and chalk, support of local artists, & cool customers that hang up Stephen Colbert references.

*Update*

The Winchester Book Gallery so kindly shared this entry on their Facebook Wall and added that the author portrait artwork is by Niel and Kerry Focer Stavely at Horse and Hare! Check out their work, it rocks!

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