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Blogging From: Politics and Prose

Also, Pretty & Purple.

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.

Community!

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.

Underground, so indie!

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!)

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Celebrating International Literacy Day

If bookstores had a favorite holiday, it would be today, and that’s because today is International Literacy Day.

Instead of blogging about a bookstore or coffee shop today, (and by “instead of” I mean: Because the three day weekend totally threw me off and I didn’t make it to a second bookstore this week) I’m going to share some facts and figures about literacy around the world from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

  • This year’s International Literacy Day theme is Peace (As noted on the poster above.)
  • In 2008, about 796 million adults were unable to read and write, which means that about one in six adults is still not literate.
  • Of those 796 million, 64% were women.
  • “The adult literacy rate increased by about 8 percentage points globally over the past 20 years – an increase of 6% for men and 10% for women.”
  • In 2008, for the majority of countries surveyed, youth (ages 15-24) literacy rates were greater than adult literacy rates.
  • Still, “131 million youth worldwide lacked basic reading and writing skills,” that same year.

Whether it be in a book, on the Internet, or just a text message from a friend, most of us read everyday. Along with the ability to write,  it’s something that most of us had the privilege of learning at a very young age and is a skill that is easily taken for granted. It’s easy to forget that not everyone should be so fortunate. Let today not only be  a reminder for us to be thankful for our own reading and writing abilities, but also a means of spreading awareness about world literacy rates with the intention of continuing to increase the amount of people who have the ability to read and write globally.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”- Frederick Douglas

[All statistics and figures found in UNESCO’s Literacy Fact Sheet]

 

Blogging From: Kramer Books & Afterwards Cafe

What: Independent Bookstore, Cafe, & Bar

Where: Dupont Circle, Washington D.C.

GPOYSF: Gratuitous Picture of Your Storefront

Non-native DCers, who dare to enter the complicated traffic patterns of Dupont Circle often become lost and end up wandering around  the loop for some time before finding their way out. Fortunately, I didn’t have to take to the circle with my car (lord only knows I’d still be driving around it), but thanks to Kramer Books, I did get to wander and circle around quite a few bookshelves.

I don’t live in D.C., so I didn’t know, but Kramer Books is sort of  the place to be if you’re anybody who’s anybody residing in the city known as our nation’s capitol. And with good reason too. Not only is it a fully functioning bookstore with a hearty selection of books, it also houses a bar and a cafe. Books, food, and drinks. There’s not much else you need in life, so once you step inside Kramer Books, you’re pretty much good to go.

The most books.

The most food & drinks.

While some have recently suggested that the good old paper and ink book is on the decline, others support that the so called “death of books” is a huge exaggeration.  Judging by the amount of people (mostly twenty-somethings) that were shopping at Kramer Books during the middle of the day on a Saturday, I’m going to go ahead and confidently stand by the latter declaration. The store was crowded and people were buying books, lots of books.

As I browsed through the piles of contemporary literature I overheard a shopper recommended Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated to his friend. “It’s really funny because the main character’s grandfather doesn’t understand or speak English very well. But it gets pretty serious at the end. I liked it,” he told her. When I asked a store employee where Hunter Thompson’s books could be found, I was impressed by his knowledge of their exact location.  “Second case to the left, on the second shelf from the floor,” he said. I asked specifically about The Rum Diary. He even knew what color the book’s spine was. These little novelties,  browsing with and recommending books to friends and the expert knowledge of bookstore employees are not things that book lovers are willing to let go of and because of that, small independent bookstores like this one will continue to survive, even as e-readers gain popularity.

And drink.

Another distinct detail, that is typical of many bookstores but always unique and appreciated, was the employee recommendation note cards. It’s always fun to get inside the heads of a bookstore’s employees and see what they’re reading and recommending. This is another example of an in-store novelty that technology and e-readers can’t replace. (Or at least they haven’t yet.)

Thanks, Gus!

Although the store owners have certainly turned Kramer Books into a popular hangout spot, I didn’t notice any chairs or areas that invited shoppers to pop a squat and start a book or open up their computers to hop onto the Internet. This doesn’t take away from the store, though. Some bookstores are better suited for seating areas, but Kramer Books is more of a browse and shop type store. They have a good thing going on.

As far as the food and drink aspect of the store go, most would expect that a cafe attached to a bookstore would be the type of cafe populated by patrons lounging around with their laptops. But the Kramer Books cafe is more of a full fledged restaurant. You’ll sit down and order a real meal that will be delivered to you by a waiter or waitress. You’re not going to come here to eat a muffin while you write your latest blog post or finish up those last pages of your book. That’s cool though, because its a different sort of bookstore business model and it’s working for them. I didn’t sit down to eat at Kramer Books, and it’s a little silly to judge food by the way it looks, but going by some of the pictures on their Facebook page, I’m going to guess their menu is pretty delicious.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for reading or writing? No. This is a popular bookstore that is often busy and crowded (not too crowded, though) and it wasn’t set up with the intention of having customers come in to read or write within the vicinity. That’s not to say you  shouldn’t come here, though. Because you should. You should and you better.

Bonus points: Food & drinks and an excellent selection of contemporary literature. This store knows what books people are looking for and puts them at the forefront.

Website // Facebook

Blogging From: Dolce Coffee

What: Locally owned Coffee Shop/ Cafe

Where: East Market Street, Leesburg, Virginia

Sweet coffee.

Although renamed Dolce Cofee in the real word, if you type this coffee house’s address into Google, you’ll find that it was previously called “Greenberry’s.” Social Media Management people! Someone tell the owner of this place that they need to up their game when it comes to the their online presence. Just kidding! Does it really matter? Probably, not. Plus, I’m not here to judge their marketing strategies. Although, I guess I just did. Anyway…

When it was good ol’ Greenberry’s, this place was a franchise. During that time another blogger called it a  “local Starbucks wannabe.” I don’t know what it was like before now, but I’m going to guess that it’s at least made a little bit of an improvement from being a chain coffee shop. It’s not the greatest or cutest or nicest place in the world, but I don’t see it as a Starbuck’s wannabe, which to me, would be worse than being an actual Starbucks.

The first thing that I noticed about Dolce Coffee, before I even walked through the door, was the window display to the left of the entrance, which promotes the coffee shop’s weekly, Friday night Open Mic nights. Any establishment that fosters a weekly open mic is good in my book!

Support the all of the arts!

As I walked through the doors and toward the counter, I almost tripped on a huge bump in the floor, which I later found out from a sign placed oh-so-kindly on the front counter, is from water damage. The most annoying part about it is not that I did an awkward ooo-I-almost-just-tripped-but-I’m-going-to-pretend-that-no-one-saw-that dance, it’s that the girl behind the counter was waiting for it to happen. You know she just stands there all day waiting to laugh hysterically to herself over the unsuspecting customers who instantly become victims of the large bump in the floor. I know I would.

Thanks for the cone.

I ordered their Chicken Salad sandwich on wheat bread, which I can only say was an extremely disappointing excuse for chicken salad. It lacked any sort of taste and what little taste it did have was not enjoyable or chicken-like at all. Luckily, I also ordered a strawberry banana smoothie, which met and passed my extremely high smoothie standards. Although, it was no Shoes, Cup, and Cork Club Smoothie. But what can ya do? Not all smoothies can be the best smoothies, right?

Of course, now I am blogging and I do have to say that the environment here is very blogger friendly. Myself included, four people in this here coffee shop are currently situated behind Internet machines. The older man directly across the room from me looks like he’s reading the stock markets on his MacBook Pro. I say that because he’s bald, except for a few white hairs clinging for life on either side of his head, he’s wearing a white collared shirt, a tie, khaki dress pants, and suspenders, and just generally looks like an intensely stressed investment banker who just flew from Wallstreet to Leesburg in his private helicopter so that he could enjoy a diet coke at his favorite hometown coffee shop. Whatever, it could be true. Or maybe he’s just playing Farmville.

Another man who is across the room to my right is typing up a storm on his old-school IBM laptop. He look way too cool for a Mac. IBM all the way for him. From the looks of what little he has left of his greying hair, I’d say he’s middle-aged. He has a happy camper vibe going on. He is wearing a maroon T-shirt, dark brown cargo shorts, and hiking boots. He has sunglasses propped on  the top of his head and looks just a little bit too happy to be here. He probably just came home from a long, relaxing, technology free camping trip in the woods and is just so ecstatic to finally be reconnected with his beloved Internet. Either that or he just really likes his frappuccino and is telling everyone on Twitter how much so.

There is a decorative tree blocking my view of the third coffee shop laptop-user present here and so I will never know who he is or what he’s doing here. There is another man sitting on one of the stools that are lined up along the counter facing the window and I can’t tell if he has a Bluetooth device in one of his ears or if he’s talking to himself. Either way, why do you gotta do that here, man?

Oh and let’s not forget me. I’m also here. Little old me sitting in my big green comfy chair, blogging away about all of the people in the coffee shop. Am I totally creeping, or what?

Can you see the investment banker there in the corner?

I was also able to get some quality reading time in here. I’m currently feasting my brain upon L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, which is a total delight of a book that I would most certainly suggest to all lovers of young adult whimsy who have not yet read it.

Oh, Anne.

Conclusions

Is this a good place to reading or writing? Sure. It’s quiet and they’ve got barely audible indie music playing in the background. You’ll find it easy to concentrate here. (Unless you’re me and have a terrible habit of watching, judging, and making up stories about people.) Also, they’ve got WiFi so you can write and publish all in one stop. What a concept!

Bonus Points: Random pictures of Audrey Hepburn that have nothing to do with anything else int he entire shop. I’ll take it.

Breakfast at...Dolce's?

Blogging From: Reston’s Used Book Shop

What: The second oldest business and only independently owned, bookstore in Reston, Virginia.

Where: Reston, Virginia (Duh, I just said that.)

BRB, moving into the apartment above the store.

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.

Pretty, pretty books.

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?!)

Lots of books for little moolah.

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.

DIY! Yeah!

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.

Maybe it's the rocking chair. Rocking chairs are grandma-y.

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:

Cat nap on the dictionary.

A tea pot of books.

Epic bookmark collage.

Hello there, Mr. Twain.

Mmmm, old books.

Conclusions

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.)

AKA, you are awesome for shopping here.

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.

Website // Facebook

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!

Website // Facebook

Blogging From: Shoes Cup and Cork Club

What: Local Shoe Repair Store turned Coffee Shop/ Miniature-Restaurant

Where: Downtown Leesburg, Virginia

What are you?

The first time I walked by Shoes Cup and Cork Club, it fooled me. It was all, look at me, I’m a shoe repair shop! (And in my head, I was all, What the heck? Who still gets their shoes repaired? Talk about keeping the history in a historic town.) But that was only the first time. The second time I walked by it, I was able to see past the giant “Shoes” sign (mainly by looking through the window) and realized that it is actually one little kick-ass coffee shop. I knew that it was kick-ass before even walking in because it also had a sign pointing to the alleyway next door that said, “This way to our secret garden.” Which really leads to their outdoor sitting area, but for all intents and purposes, it’s a secret garden.

This is my second time at Shoes Cup and Cork Club. My first visit was with my best friend Tara and one of the cool things about it that she pointed out to me right away is that they have a shoe chandelier. That’s right, a fancy, old-fashioned light fixture that has early 1900’s style shoes dangling from it’s arms. Yes, It’s as cool as it sounds. (Or as stupid as it sounds, depending on who you are.) The rest of the decor here is just as unique. All of the tables and chairs are wooden and no two are the same. There is a bench with cozy pillows that spans along the left wall and the wall on the right side has a rather large chalkboard that anyone can draw on. So DIY!

Shoes Cup and Cork Club boasts that they have the best coffee in Leesburg and all of Loudoun County (voted by Loudoun Living), but I cannot confirm or deny these statements because, one word: SMOOTHIES! You would have to pay me large sums of money to come to this establishment and order anything besides a smoothie. These smoothies here are unlike any smoothie your little blended-fruit-beverage-loving heart could ever dream of. During my first visit here, I ordered the Pina Colada smoothie and let me just say, that was the end of me ever ordering another smoothie from any other smoothie-making business ever. Today I ordered their Very, Berry, Berry smoothie and it is all of the fruity goodness I ever could have imagined and then some. If I were President of the World, I would make it mandatory that every living person have a SCCC Smoothie every day for their entire life forever. Except, if they didn’t want to, because, free will, freedom, etc.

All hail the heavenly smoothie.

When I first got here, I got distracted from blogging and played Words With Friends for like 20 minutes. As a result, I found out that this is a great place to sit and play Words With Friends while enjoying a smoothie. I was about to take out my laptop and start blogging, but first I checked out the WiFi situation on my phone and it turns out that they don’t offer any free, wireless connections to the Internet. I take that as a sign that maybe they wouldn’t really appreciate their Number One Smoothie Fan hogging one of their tables with her laptop. (Even though I am their Number One Smoothie fan and all.) So I decided to partake in all of my blogging activity via my phone and then took out my book to test out the reading environment.

It’s nice to read here but it’s also not the quietest place either. If you can concentrate over other people’s conversations than you’ll get along fine, but if you prefer mostly silence when you read than this is probably not the place for your public reading endeavors. More than anything,  it seems like Shoes Cup and Cork Club is a perfect little place to come to with your best friend when you want to drink lots of coffee, perfect smoothies, and maybe even some wine (Yeah, they have wine too. I know, right?!) while you sit and talk about everything and nothing for hours at a time.

Being all historical in Historic Leesburg.

Conclusions

Is this a good place for writing or reading?: Maybe. Writing only if you’re doing it the old way. You know, with paper and ink. There’s no WiFi so blogging is sort of O-U-T, out. Reading if you can tolerate moderate amounts of other people chatting. It’s not a spacey place so you will hear all about how your table neighbor’s week went.

Bonus Points: +1,000,000 points for their Smoothies! Also, shoe chandelier, fake-out storefront sign, and secret garden.

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