No one told me that parking my car in D.C. would give me severe anxiety. It’s not because of the traffic or anything like that. It’s because none of the Pay to Park stations work! I had finally found a legal curbside parking space, only to find that I wasn’t really able to make it “legal” because of stupid failed technology’s inability to allow me to pay for it. Seriously, people. It’s almost 2012. We have robots in space and iPads! I don’t think a working Pay to Park Station is too much to ask for. You’d think our nation’s capitol would be much more efficient, right? HA!
For this reason, today’s “Blogging From” post is a combination recap of my time at Idle Time Books and Tryst, all of which was spent playing the game of, “How Long Can I Last Before I Break Into a Serious Sweat Wondering Weather or Not I’ve Received a Parking Ticket I Can’t Afford for Something Completely Out of My Control.”
Thankfully, Idle Time and Tryst are located only a few doors down from one another. I was headed to Tryst because reader Mike Ridley so kindly recommended it as one of his favorite “work in public” D.C. establishments. It was originally my one and only destination, where I was planning to sit and stay a while. But as I made my way up the street, a bright green storefront came into view and there was absolutely no question as to whether or not I was going to go in.
Idle Time; what an ironic store name given my time-limited situation. I really had no “idle time,” but I stepped inside and gave the store a quick browse. It was a pretty standard used book store. You won’t find every single book here but they have a hearty selection of classic literature, non-fiction, science, history, and a few other categories too. They also have a miniature vinyl record section, which is something that for me, will always set any store apart from others. Books and music man. Books and music.
I ventured upstairs where plenty of signs had indicated I would find even more books. And more books I found. A small and simple quirk that added that little extra something to the store was the books that were lined along the stairs. The types of books a store chooses to feature in this kind of fashion give the store character. Judging by their staircase books, I’d pin Idle Time’s character as classically diverse. And of course all things classic are essentially good.
The second floor was warm and inviting thanks to it’s large windows and the sunshine shining through. With a few chairs scattered here and there, the store certainly invites its shoppers to pop a squat and read for a while. Unfortunately I had not been granted the luxury of doing so.
As for Tryst, I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get to spend some quality time with my laptop there. Although, I don’t know that even if I had had the time I would have been able to, because man, the place was packed. There was not one empty table that I could see. Almost everyone there was either working on a laptop or buried in a book with a highlighter in their hand. Clearly, Tryst is a D.C. Student “work in public” hot-spot. It was a bit loud in there though. I’m not sure if I would be able to concentrate on writing surrounded by so many chatty “studiers.”
Because of my anxiety-induced time limit, I walked up to the to-go counter and ordered a Strawberry Banana Pineapple smoothie. So all I can tell you about Tryst is that it’s crowded on Saturdays, they’ve got some kick-butt artwork on their walls (I spied Dirty Harry), they have decent smoothies, and oh, really good looking men work there. At least three different handsome baristas assisted me with my order and they only made me wish that I could have stayed a while.
Are these good places for reading and writing?
Idle Time: I could see myself getting lost in books pulled from their shelves for hours at time. (That is when I have the time. *Rolls eyes at city of D.C.*) So yes. But it’s not so much a “write in public” place.
Tryst: Yes. Not that I would really know, but everyone else there seemed to be getting some kind of work done.
Bonus Points: Tryst and Idle Time are neighbors on 18th St NW in D.C.’s cutesy Adams Morgan neighborhood. They are like bookstore and coffee shop best friends!
There’s nothing like a big, bright bookstore to brighten up a rainy day. It’s dark and gloomy outside in D.C. today, but I knew that dreary, rainy-day feeling would vanish once I stepped inside Politics and Prose. I could tell that it was going to be a bookstore well worth my trip into D.C. before even stepping inside. I think it was the big purple awning hanging over the store front that gave it away. It was either that or the name.
According to their website, the store opened twenty five years ago and the owners chose the name wanting to represent the D.C. area without being “pretentious.” I can understand not wanting to seem pretentious. Pretentious people are generally not enjoyable or friendly or fun. But bookstores, I think bookstores should be allowed to be a little bit pretentious. You know? They are bookstores. They provide the public with books and books are important. We need books. So if anything in this world could get away with being pretentious, it should be a bookstore. They never are though, which speaks a lot to bookstore’s personalities. They’re probably the only existing entity that could rightfully get away with being a teensy bit smug and proud, and yet they choose not to.
So, speaking of being unpretentious, Politics and Prose is friendly and welcoming and it offers an excellent stock of carefully selected books to its customers, just the way a good bookstore should. It’s neatly organized into easy to find sections and there’s something for every type of reader. When I first walked into the store I first stumbled into a table of books dedicated to books on current politics. How fitting. To the left side of the store I found the “New and Recommended” shelf, which features the current top ten bet sellers and a handpicked display of new and notable literature.
Politics and Prose is, without a doubt, a “Blogging from Bookstores” kind of place. They have plenty of chairs strewn all across the store that invite shoppers to take a seat and read for a bit. This idea is basically even a part of their business model. On their website they write:
“We see the store as a fun place to be, to shop, and to work in. We chat with customers. We urge them to sit down and look at books before they make a decision.”
So basically, it’s perfect. Perfect for book shopping. Perfect for reading. Perfect for writing and working. It seems like it couldn’t be any more perfect, right? Wrong. What really takes this bookstore to the next level is it’s Modern Times Cafe. It’s located in the store’s basement and is well equipped with plenty of tables and chairs, free WiFi, and of course, coffee and food! The menus are written in chalk on chalk boards in classic cafe style and everyone here is either working on their laptop, reading a book, or engaged in a deep conversation with friends.
When I entered Modern Times, it was packed. It didn’t look like there was one seat open, yet I still ordered my Iced Tea to stay because I was determined to find somewhere to set up camp with my laptop. I spotted a space where two older women were seated and noticed an open chair next to them. “Is anyone sitting here?” I asked. “Just my books,” one of the women responded as she smiled at me and moved her pile of newly purchased books to the floor. She cleared the space and I thanked her as I snagged the last available spot in this Bookstore Cafe Heaven. As I’m writing, I just overheard one of the baristas say to a customer, “Yeah, everybody’s doing double trips today.” I don’t blame them. If I lived closer to Politics & Prose and their Modern Times Cafe, there’s a good chance I’d make it here at least three times a day. Hell, who am I kidding, I’d just live here.
Is this a good place for reading and writing? I believe I have already made that clear, but just to reiterate, YES! YES! YES! Come here and bring your books (or better, buy some from them!) and your laptop and read and write away!
Bonus Points: A built in cafe, a kick-ass name, and noteworthy contributions to the local community by hosting tons of educational events and supporting local book clubs! Other highlights also include, fairly priced books, a cheap cafe menu (my iced tea was only $2!), an extremely knowledgeable staff, and a fantasy land kids section complete with a beanbag nook! (See slideshow for photos!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
What: The second oldest business and only independently owned, bookstore in Reston, Virginia.
Where: Reston, Virginia (Duh, I just said that.)
It’s the weekend of Hurricane Irene and today I went out and braved the storm in search of Reston’s Used Book Shop. Just kidding, it was only raining a tiny bit when I made the trip, but the store is located along the lovely Lake Anne and it definitely felt like a storm was brewing as I walked along the waterside.
Enough about the weather, though. What we’re here to talk about is the bookstore, and the bookstore we shall talk about! Reston’s Used Book shop is everything that the quintessential, cozy, cute book store should be and then some. Upon walking inside, I was immediately greeted by an antique-like china closet turned bookcase, filled with rare collectible books. The store has a classic, vintage-y vibe that triggered my old soul senses right away. It’s a cute little maze of tall, towering bookcases, all filled to the brink, with books of course.
I browsed around for a good hour or so, searching up and down for all of my favorite authors. This isn’t the biggest bookstore, but for their modest size, they have a fun, diverse selection of reading material. There are chairs alongside a good majority of the shelves, so that if you find something really good you can plop your bottom right down without even really having to think and dive right in. Excellent.
Part of being a really great used bookstore is having reasonable prices, which is not something that Reston’s Used Book Shop has overlooked. Their paperback books are all half off of the original price and their hardcovers are individually priced, but I don’t think I opened one that was more than $10. (Don’t quote me on that though, because I only opened a few hardcovers. I’m a total paperback girl, OK?!)
Aside from the stellar prices, the thing I love most about Reston’s Used Book Shop next is their signage. All of it is very DIY and consistent throughout, giving the shop it’s own unique character. Each categorical section had it’s own creatively designed sign, making it all the more apparent that a lot of passion went into creating the distinct aesthetic of the store.
The second room of the store, which one of the store employees told me they had expanded into about 15 years ago, (the store has been open for 33 years) houses a hearty children’s section, as well as a nice collection of art books, classic collectibles, and books on a few other various topics. This room has a cozy little seating area that’s sort of reminiscent of your grandma’s living room. And just to be clear, I say that with a positive connotation attached to the living rooms of grandmas in my mind. I find grandma’s living rooms to be generally favorable places.
There’s no Wifi here so you won’t sit down and do any Interneting, but even with several other shoppers in the store, it was peacefully quiet so it’s a great atmosphere to sit down and delve into a book for a while. Also, I think there’s something to be said about the fact that there were several other shoppers in the store despite the fact that little, old Hurricane Irene was on her way. The people want their books! At one point I talked to another woman who was scouring the shelves so diligently, that at first I thought she was an employee. She told me that she was from out of town but that her daughter lived in the area and her and her husband visit the store whenever they’re in town. “You love it that much, huh?” I said to her. “Oh yes, I love my books,” she said. Right on.
Here are a few more quirky, book-ish things I found around the store:
Is this a good place for reading or writing? Certainly! There was no WiFi as far as my computer was concerned , but there’s ample seating and plenty of peace and quiet. They’ve accurately captured the bookstore-esque atmosphere here.
Bonus Points: Advocating of independent bookstores, supporting the local economy, and embracing uniqueness. (See sign below.)
It says, you have just: “Kept money in the local economy, embraced our uniqueness, created local jobs, helped the environment, nurtured community, conserved tax dollars, created more choices, took advantage of our expertise, invested in entrepreneurship, and made us a destination.” All true and all good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!