My favorite indie bookstores

I love independent bookstores. Who doesn’t? The curated selection! The friendly booksellers! The atmosphere! I miss a lot about life outside my house, and dawdling through a bookstore with a coffee and my baby in a stroller ranks pretty high on my list.

(I’m gonna cry through writing this one, aren’t I).

It’s only natural that some of my favorite indies are in Baltimore, where I currently live. There’s the Bird In Hand, where my speculative fiction reading series meets. It’s a delightful little bookstore right next to Johns Hopkins, serving the best mocha you’ll ever taste. They’re run by the same people who own the Ivy further uptown—oh, the Ivy, full of absolutely delightful people and the books they love. While this wood-paneled store is currently located in a small shopping mall, they’re moving closer to the city to expand, including the addition of space for community events. I’m ordering most of my pandemic reads through the Ivy.

Further down in the city is Greedy Reads, an adorable space with an incredible book club and wonderful service. In Hampden is the incomparable Atomic Books, full of the latest releases, a ton of graphic novels, and even a bar in the back where you can get Baltimore’s most interesting brews. The Book Escape is my favorite place in Baltimore to find old used science fiction paperbacks I thought I would never see again.

Baltimore is also home to The Book Thing, which is my favorite book space in America. Basically, it’s a “free bookstore,” where anyone — anyone! — can walk in on a Saturday or Sunday and walk out with as many books as they want. They’re closed now because of Covid, but on one day in February, they gave away more than 20,000 books in just eight hours—that’s 42 books a minute. I can’t wait to go back.

In upstate New York, where I’m from, two indies are near and dear to my heart: The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, whose decorations hasn’t really changed since I started browsing there in twenty years, and thank God for it (they’re also closest to emulating the Waldenbooks chain where I used to work, size-wise, and being there just feels like home). I also adore Schenectady’s Open Door Bookstore, located on pedestrian Jay Street. They specialize in children’s books, and were one of the first places I remember browsing as a kid.

Currently, though, my favorite bookstore is the most accessible one to me—the Little Free Library down on the corner. The folks on my street are incredibly smart people, and through the benevolence of a neighbor I haven’t yet met (and a bunch of Lysol wipes), we’ve been sharing our libraries for months now. I’m hoping that once this is all over we can have a Baltimore literary potluck shindig for the ages.

Stay safe out there, and stay reading.

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Karen Osborne

KAREN OSBORNE is a writer, visual storyteller and violinist. Her short fiction appears in Escape Pod, Robot Dinosaurs, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Uncanny and Fireside. She is a member of the DC/MD-based Homespun Ceilidh Band, emcees the Charm City Spec reading series, and once won a major event filmmaking award for taping a Klingon wedding. Her debut novel, Architects of Memory, is forthcoming in 2020 from Tor Books.