The Best Independent Bookstores in Boston

Brattle Book Shop opened its doors in 1825
Brattle Book Shop opened its doors in 1825 | © Jeffrey Dunn
Cathryn Haight

Boston has always been a city of bookworms – it boasts a whopping population of about 152,000 students as well as plenty of renowned resident authors. These indie bookstores are perfect for perusing best-selling titles, scouring shelves for second-hand gems or grabbing a coffee to sip while settling in with your new favorite read.

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Brattle Book Shop

One of the oldest and largest used bookstores in America, the Brattle Book Shop has been peddling reads since 1825 and now is home to a stock of over 250,000 books, maps and postcards. The store spans three floors – the first two containing a broad variety of used titles and the third boasting a treasure trove of antiquarian editions – as well as an outdoor section tucked into a brick-clad alley. Owned and operated by book appraising master Ken Gloss, the eclectic shop always has an expert on hand to answer customer questions about the impressive stock or to guide them through the rare book room bursting with first-edition titles.

Harvard Book Store

A fixture on the indie book scene since 1932, Harvard Book Store combines an impressive inventory of titles with a star-studded events schedule that features multiple readings per week from literary heavyweights like Jeffrey Eugenides and David Sedaris. The shop takes up residence in Cambridge’s Harvard Square – across the street from the eponymous university – and is popular among students and scholars. Although there are enough books to keep you occupied for hours on the main floor, be sure to venture down into the used books cellar, where customers can sell their paperbacks and find a different kind of reading material. The store displays ephemera found in its purchased used books proudly on its shelves – from bookmarks, to vintage ticket stubs, to notes of love and loathing.

Trident Booksellers and Café

Trident has been a gathering place for bibliophiles for decades and continues to fill that niche after its recent renovations. Nestled on the far end of the ever-popular Newbury Street, the literary locale regularly hosts author readings, trivia nights and murder mystery parties that span themes such as Harry Potter and Stranger Things. The spot also has a full-service restaurant slinging everything from breakfast burritos to green smoothies all day, every day, for those who need to fuel up after some hours of exploring Trident’s wide selection of books, magazines and gifts.

Commonwealth Books

A diamond in the rough for fans of antiquarian texts, Commonwealth Books makes a great escape for book buffs looking to step away from the hubbub of Downtown Crossing. Each small, low-ceilinged room in this quaint shop opens up to another, creating a literary labyrinth filled with unique used titles as well as antique prints and other curiosities. With all sorts of cozy corners, the shop is ideal for cracking open book after book – best done in the company of the resident cat, Dusty.

Papercuts J.P.

Papercuts J.P. is a darling bookstore nook nestled in Jamaica Plain. Established by a former publishing professional, this 500-square-foot spot is filled to the brim with a curated selection of everything from bestsellers and classics to works by lesser-known authors, and really anything that catches the team’s expert eye as being well printed or designed. Papercuts is also home to a pint-size publishing house, Cutlass Press, which produces “cutting-edge” titles across formats such as short fiction, memoirs and anthologies.

More Than Words

A newer addition to the up-and-coming SoWa neighborhood, More Than Words, as the name suggests, serves its community in more ways than just providing sweet reads. The shop also operates as a non-profit, providing jobs, career counseling and mentorship for young adults aged 16-24 who have been impacted by hardships such as lack of education, homelessness and foster care. Operating on a donation basis, More Than Words boasts a slew of over 50,000 near-perfect used titles that includes everything from classic novels to Ina Garten’s latest cookbook, along with a selection of gifts and goods made by other local non-profits.

Brookline Booksmith

Nestled in nearby Brookline’s quaint Coolidge Corner, Brookline Booksmith is a small but mighty force in the city’s literary sphere – racking up numerous awards and accolades from Boston-area publications. The cheerful spot abides by the slogan: “Dedicated to the fine art of browsing,” and there are plenty of titles to take in between sections for new and used books, in addition to a well-stocked kids’ corner. On top of providing quality reads, the Booksmith also curates a thoughtful events schedule that includes a series focused on transnational works and a small-press book club.

Porter Square Books

Named for the sleepy Cambridge corner in which it’s located, Porter Square Books is a darling spot that’s been operating for over a decade. Its shelves are lined with plenty of variety – from novels to personal essay collections – but if you ever find yourself lost in a sea of literature, the store’s staff picks are spot on. Along with hosting author readings, story hours for children and numerous book clubs, Porter Square Books also runs a writers-in-residence program to support local authors. And if you ever need a pick-me-up after experiencing all the store has to offer, there’s an on-site coffee shop, too.

Grolier Poetry Shop

Grolier Poetry Book Shop is a must for any self-respecting verse virtuoso. Since 1927, the store has held a star-studded legacy – founded by poets Adrian Gambet and Gordon Cairnie and frequented by the likes of Anaïs Nin and Seamus Heaney. Now, the Cambridge spot continues to focus on celebrating the written and spoken art of poetry, with regular readings and a poetry-exclusive inventory. Grolier also has a namesake press that publishes the work of the Grolier Discovery Award winners and debut collections from members of the Established Poets Series.

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