What: Epically awesome, Independent Bookstore
Where: Washington D.C.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.