by Susan Piperato
Slate magazine created a brouhaha last December by publishing a column claiming that independent bookstores basically don’t matter, and that their only advantage over Amazon is the fact that they offer “poofy chairs” from which to peruse titles. But there is much more than comfy public seats at local bookstores. The Hudson Valley offers wide-ranging general lists, wonderfully quirky specialist selections, a variety of ambiance, chock-full schedules of events and readings by local and national authors, proprietors and staff ready to engage in chit-chat or full-scale analyses of titles, and even the possibility of celebrity sightings.
Whether you pay a visit to a bookshop in a quaint little town or hit a long and windy road to one that’s out of the way and not always open, shopping for books locally means going on an adventure and coming home not just with a book but with a story about how you came to find it.
“If independent bookstores matter at all, they will matter only as long as they pander to our emotional needs beyond information,” says Get Real Books proprietor Andy Curtis, aka blogger Page Turner. “They matter to those who love to browse the shelves for that unexpected book that begs to be taken home and consumed. They matter to those who want to share the excitement of that book with friends without having to license another copy to another digital platform. This doesn’t even explore supply and demand, used versus newly minted, or old knowledge versus new knowledge. We haven’t touched the evolution or predicted changes in the digital delivery business model. The revolution is ongoing and will be blogged.”
So Take That Amazon.
Barner Books -- New Paltz
(and by appointment)
This longtime New Paltz fixture—formerly located on Main Street and now tucked away on Church Street behind the Main Street Bistro—is a repository of new and used books, including some very rare and amazing once-in-a-lifetime finds. Thanks to Barner’s, which buys as well as sells used books, this writer has picked up many a long-out-of-print, first-edition title in perfect condition there, from a collection of Hemingway’s journalism to a 1950s catalog of UFO sightings and Simone De Beauvoir’s Must We Burn De Sade? Barner is also great for finding used hippie literature, music books, and local history. Check the website for current highlights. The store’s new books collection includes several unusual children’s picture books. And if you’re looking for a handmade leather or cloth journal, handmade paper, or other writerly gifts, including gorgeous pens, this is definitely the place to go.
Beacon Reads -- Beacon
Hours vary, but generally open Monday through Saturday;
call Howland Public Library at 845.831.1134 x104 for hours
Beacon Reads was founded to benefit the Howland Public Library, located next door, and is run by volunteers. Here you’ll find a wonderful array of donated used books, videos, and other media. Books range from obscure titles and subjects to bestsellers. Prices are generally $0.25 to $1, and only rarely top $5. If you’ve got some time to spend browsing, it can be well worth the effort to visit Beacon Reads—and to stop in on a regular basis. You never know what you'll find, but you can plan on it being a bargain—not to mention benefiting the Beacon community. And donations of books are always welcome. Due to recycling costs, Beacon Reads only accepts saleable materials in good condition.
Get Real Books -- Accord
(and by appointment)
Get Real’s raison d’etre is to be a “real live brick and mortar used book store offering great eclectic titles at affordable prices.” The average in-store price is $4. Plus, Get Real is quite possibly the best source of fantasy and science fiction books in the area—and definitely the store that shelves them best (read: as separate genres)—along with a great go-to source for art books.
Proprietor Andy Curtis reports that he has 14,000 books listed on Amazon, 5,000 to 6,000 in the store, and another 250,000 in storage. He is selling his own 17,000-volume collection of science fiction over time; plus, he has acquired approximately 2,400 art books, largely on outsider art. He says he’ll be rolling these out as space allows. Curtis is a great in-person and online resource (he blogs as Page Turner on Get Real’s website). Curtis made the move to Accord in 2011 after owning bookstores and comic book stores in Queens from the late 1970s through the 1990s and selling books online since 2002. If you’re not inclined to take the drive along 209 to Accord, Get Real’s books can be ordered online. The books that have become redundant, are edging past “poor” condition, or are too old or just not valuable enough to be sold are distributed for free through Accord retail partners at JG’s Country Cafe & Deli, Stone Ridge Discount Tire Inc., Saunderskill Farm, and 209 Ming Moon Restaurant.
The Golden Notebook -- Woodstock
The Golden Notebook is perhaps the rock star of local bookstores. As the legend goes, the bookstore was founded in 1978 when two New Yorkers rented an empty bookstore in the middle of Woodstock, renovated it with the help of famed book publisher Betty Ballantine, bought a truckload of books from a New York distributor, and voila! Catering to Woodstock’s artists, writers, musicians and “iconoclastic ne’er-do-wells,” along with ubiquitous weekenders and tourists, The Golden Notebook is dedicated to quality literature. Whether you’re browsing in the store or you happen to listen to WAMC’s Book Picks, you’ll find The Golden Notebook’s staffers passionate and engaging in their suggestions for books—and far more knowledgeable and interesting than the average Amazon reviewer. Local authors are certainly highlighted here—from Martha Frankel to Will Nixon and Michael Perkins—but so is international literature, offbeat autobiographies, obscure poetry, terrific music, and history. And then there is the out-of-the-box and the pragmatic, like local Lester Walker’s Designing Houses: An Illustrated Guide to Building Your Own Home, which shows laypeople how to design a house starting with bubble diagrams. And if you want eBooks, they’re here too. Plus, pretty much every weekend features a reading and author’s talk.
Half Moon Books -- Kingston
Used and rare books are Half Moon’s specialty. Located in the heart of historic Uptown Kingston, this large, quiet store, deep with shelves, is replete with history and art books. But that’s not all—you can find anything here. Jessica, Half Moon’s extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic owner, is always on hand to direct customers toward out-of-print books they’ve never heard of or even gave up hope of finding. There are occasional author events. Plus, the store doubles as an art gallery with regular opening receptions. Check out Jessica’s delightful writings on Facebook—facebook.com/HalfMoonBooks—for details.
Inquiring Minds Bookstore -- New Paltz
The Inquiring Mind Bookstore and Café
Inquiring Minds bills itself as the Hudson Valley’s largest independent bookstore. In both New Paltz and Saugerties, this company has created a social and cultural center, with its two very charming bookstores housed in lovingly restored old buildings (the floors creak!). Each store offers workshops, kids’ programs, book groups, author readings and open mike nights, live music, and other events—and there’s a cozy cafe offering chess boards, good coffee, and an abundance of snack choices (try the cookies!) in the Saugerties store. Local artwork adorns the walls. The arrays of indie bestsellers as well as children’s books in both locations are outstanding. You’ll find some unusual used books, local authors, books about the region, indie magazines, DVDs, and music and toys (including some very sweet puppets). Each section is shelved separately and features its own seating area, so no matter where in the stores you find yourself, you can sit down to browse. And local booklists feature current favorite reads and mini-reviews by local authors, professionals and residents alike.
Mirabai of Woodstock -- Woodstock
Situated in the center of Woodstock’s green, Mirabai of Woodstock is housed in a Victorian home with charming gardens at its entrance—itself a kind of living talisman for inner peace. Mirabai was created as Mirabai Books in 1987, and expanded to Mirabai of Woodstock in 2003. Mirabai remains true to its original mission to provide a sanctuary for the soul. Owners Jeffe Cuiule and Audrey Cusson, transplants from New York City, are committed to realizing Mirabai’s goal of providing knowledge and experiences to inspire people to improve the quality of their lives and of their world. They provide not only a huge selection of books devoted to inspiration, transformation and healing, but also offer spiritual workshops, a substantial collection of World Music (which can be sampled on the store’s listening station), statuary and jewelry imported from Asia and the South Seas, crystals from around the world, and a large selection of incense and meditation and yoga supplies. People who shop at Mirabai tend to become devotees of the store thanks to its very positive vibe, its unparalleled offering of all things connected to spiritual journeying, and a very knowledgeable and friendly staff.
Oblong Books & Music -- Millerton
Oblong Books & Music -- Rhinebeck
Oblong Books & Music takes its name from an historic eastern New York district—it’s nothing short of a local legend, having established its Millerton store as Oblong Books & Records in October 1975. This is a general independent bookstore and a very rare sizeable indie music store, whose shelves, whether holding books or CDs and whether located in Millerton or Rhinebeck, are stocked with the expected and the unexpected—as the website states, you can find anything from Moby Dick to Moby Grape. It’s a store that’s big enough in spirit to find its way into USA Today and small enough to feature small-print-run books by local history buffs. Here you’ll find Hudson Valley history, bestsellers, New England history, guide books, art books, and both classic and indie fiction. Both stores also offer great journals, kids’ books and toys, and stationery and cards. Suggestions for reading may be found on the website under Shelf Awareness or throughout the stores—or better yet, talk to some of the winning and extremely well-read and musically well-rounded staff. Events abound, with readings by local and national authors, a YA author series, kids’ book celebrations, and family fun challenges. Oblong offers a rewards program and free shipping on orders over $50.
Reader’s Quarry Bookshop Woodstock
Originally established in 1974 by two local residents, Reader’s Quarry moved in 2003 to Tinker Street’s Basil Complex, a famed collection of colorful structures collected by the Basil family and comprised of the Gilded Carriage, Train Station, and Yellow Building. The complex has a generous parking lot for customers as well as on-street parking—a plus in busy Woodstock—and it’s just a short walk to the library and the center of town. Step inside from Reader’s Quarry’s picturesque setting and you’ll find a myriad of content focusing on the arts, nature, local history, and spirituality. Books include art history and criticism, fine art monographs and biographies, decorative arts, interior design and architecture, music, film, dance, and theater. Children’s literature focuses on illustrated classics. In literature, you’ll find contemporary and past, the classics, poetry, plays, literary biographies, letters and memoirs, as well as criticism and essays. The avant-garde and the 1960s also appeal to owner Anne Benson. And there are books on spiritual practice, Judaica, the esoteric and occult, anthropology, Native Americans, local and state history, natural history, garden design, history, and cooking, along with reference books and handsomely bound and handcrafted books.