Some people think I’m awful because I never remember birthdays, and holidays like Mother’s Day register more as minor annoyances than celebrations. But I’m not completely unsentimental. Sometimes I get quite excited over minor holidays. Like Independent Bookstore Day. Of course, I can never remember when it’s coming up, but even caught by surprise, I try to make the day special.
This year, Independent Bookstore Day was on May 2. Seventeen local bookstores participated, which was heartening, because when I run through the list of my favorite independent bookstores in my head, most of them have long since closed. If you made it to every one of the bookstores on Bookstore Day, you would get 20 percent off at all of them – for an entire year. That my friend is a noble cause.
It only took a glance at the list of participating bookstores to see that I would not be going for gold this year. One was on Bainbridge Island, another in Edmonds, a couple on the Eastside. There were 12 bookstores in Seattle proper, and that seemed like a pretty good goal. I spent too much time fiddling with Google maps to create a route before remembering that the viaduct was closed that weekend and traffic would be a nightmare. Okay, so no bookstores south of the ship canal.
Then the kids reminded me of a few promises made before I realized it was Bookstore Day, and pretty soon it was 1 pm on the day and we were just heading out. I thought I knew all my neighborhood bookstores, so I was surprised to see an unfamiliar bookstore nearby. We headed there first.
10:00am – 6:00pm
7405 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103
I can’t believe I’d never noticed this bookshop before. It’s a typical Seattle shoebox, but high ceilings and white paint make it feel spacious. Space up front is given to cards and games, the north wall features nonfiction and the south wall holds fiction. In the back sofas give parents a view of the small elevated children’s section. They stock is a carefully curated collection of the Right Sort of Books; you will find this year’s literary award-winning novels and buzzworthy nonfiction. But a few small quirks (like a section called “Cities” containing a mix of fiction and nonfiction on an urban theme) keep it from being too academic. We bought four books and we will be back.
11:00am – 6:00pm
2414 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103
When people want you to know exactly how bookish Seattle is, they cite Open Books, “Seattle has an entire bookstore dedicated to poetry!” It’s not far from my house, and I pass it all the time. But it’s on a busy street with no parking, so this was the first time I ever visited Open Books.
It wasn’t what I expected. Instead of compensating for the circumscribed contents with lots of bookish and poetic paraphernalia (a survival mechanism even the big box bookstores use) and thematic book end displays, Open Books embraces its limitations. The stark white, narrow space is lined with three walls of shoulder-high bookshelves. There are no endcaps, no posters, and few section headings. I guess poetry fans know what they want and they know how to get it. I had hoped to pick up a copy of Karen Finneyfrock’s Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls, but they were sold out. I still managed to pick up two books, though, and received a special Bookstore Day “Stock Certificate” for my purchase.
9:00am – 7:00pm
7220 Woodlawn Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115
Mockingbird is an old favorite. This children’s bookstore has cleaned out my wallet on many occasions in the past, and even though it had a bit of a picked-over feel on this particular afternoon, I still managed to buy more books than planned. We completed our Phoebe and Her Unicorn set and added to the Shannon Hale and Kate DiCamillo collections. I also got some rewards from my frequent buyer card (sunk immediately back into merchandise) and grabbed an ARC from the giveaway pile.
Third Place Books
6504 20th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115
8:00am – 10:00pm
Last summer we made a pilgrimage to Lake Forest Park to see the original Third Place Books, but I had never stopped at the Ravenna store. It’s on an awkward corner, and looks so small and insignificant that I never bothered. But lo! There is a parking lot in back and like Narnia, it’s bigger on the inside. And instead of the requisite café, there’s a Greek restaurant. Third Place reminded me a lot of Elliot Bay Bookstore. It’s a cavernous space with strange little corners and a section for just about everything. You can find what you’re looking for, but the real joy is in idly browsing and discovering the books you didn’t know you needed. For Bookstore Day they had free cake and gave out prizes at the checkout (temporary tattoos and ARCs). My daughters fell in love with the kids’ section, which did have the best selection of early chapter books I’ve seen in one place. We ended up spending more here than anywhere else.
So there you have it. Four bookstores and, I confess, many dollars in one day. About a week later, I got an email announcing that my passport had been pulled in the raffle and I had won a book. (I enter all the time, but I never win raffles. Only once before, when I was an undergrad and won a Mother’s Day basket at a long gone bookstore on Madison near Broadway). This time I won a signed, first edition copy of Blue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems 1995-2015 by Kevin Young. So I’ve already been back to Open Books to pick up my prize. I will certainly return to the other bookstores I discovered on Independent Bookstore Day. And let’s face it, I’m a completist. I made a Google map of twelve local bookstores and I’m not going to waste it. I might take all year but I will visit them all.