Cruising the Square

A Reader's Guide

If there's one thing Cambridge isn't hurting for, it's bookstores. And, as everyone around here learns sooner or later, spending a couple of hours browsing around, listening to classical music and feeling either proud of the number of books you've read, or (more likely) devastated by the number which you haven't, can actually be a lot of fun.

Uh, yes, well, there are three kinds on bookstores in Cambridge: the first sells a nice mixture of the classics, bestsellers and new publications, and the second sports good collections of the out-of-print variety. The third type, in a class by itself, is the one and only Schoenhof's on Mass Ave with an amazing supply of foreign language tomes on almost every subject.

The Harvard Coop bills itself as the largest bookstore in Boston; whether it's true or not, you can probably find what you're looking for there, especially if you're academically inclined. A Coop charge account can ease some of your financial burden, especially with the rebate deal they throw in. And you certainly feel as though you are spending less, because the place has a definite supermarket-type atmosphere. A warning, however: it is more than easy to go hog-wild in the Coop, especially with one of those little cards in hand, so be careful.

Another inspiring home for the bookworm is Harvard Bookstore on Mass Ave. There are actually two stores called Harvard Bookstore--one on the corner by Plympton St. and another, two stores up, which sells cheap copies of out-of-print books--generally good for such bargains as The New York Times Most Famous Front Page Collection, for $1.98, the $25 Baseball Encyclopedia for $8.98, and other cut-rate goodies. Meanwhile, the Harvard Bookstore (corner variety) has a marvelous display case of newly-released first editions, so you can spend your summer popping in and out, looking to see what's new in the literary world, and generally feeling very up-to-date on things. These books, of course, go for the full market price, as do most of the others in the store, which range from classic Dostoevsky and James Joyce to a fairly comprehensive collection of political and historical books. The Harvard Bookstore is a must for every Cambridge intellectual, whether of the full-time or summer scholar folk.

A little further out of the Square on Brattle St., the Paperback booksmith sells largely the same assortment as Harvard Bookstore. The decor is more in the '60s style and the atmosphere is a little less intense, and as a bonus, you can usually find more weirdos browsing there than anywhere else in town. Again, the prices are whatever is printed on the cover, so don't come looking for any sensational bargains. You're sure to find any and all popsychology books, plus the Rolling Stones-'60s revival volume you've been looking for so long, so spend away.


Those interested in the deeper and darker--and older--side of things will like the Starr Bookstore on Plympton St. It's one of those places that you stroll into, perhaps in search of an obscure, out-of-print copy of The Scarlet Letter. When you walk in the door, your first glance will tell you that you will never be able to find it; amazingly enough, however, the salespeople there usually seem to know off the top of their heads if they have what you want, and they are extraordinarily nice about helping you. The store is very crowded--with books, that is--and very quaint, so a trip there can be sort of fun even if you don't find what you want.

Pangloss Bookstore, from the outside, looks to be more organized and accessible to the casual bookhunter, but once again, you really must resort to bugging the storekeepers for titles. I have yet to find anything in there that I've ever been looking for, but you are welcome to try.

The famous Reading International on Brattle St., on the corner of Church St., is better if you're looking for magazines and journals rather than for books. Whatever you can't buy in the Square Kiosk or Nini's Corner can usually be found there.

For more specialized tastes, Cambridge isn't rich in offerings. Temple Bar on Boylston St. seems to have a better collection of photography books than anywhere else; if you're looking for some good feminist literature or poetry, the Grolier Bookstore, a quaint little shop on Plympton St. (right next to Harvard Bookstore) should help. Sometimes, in fact, you can find someone like Adrien Rich there discussing her books with old friends. Of course, sometimes you can't too. And for really obscure stuff, there's this guy who sits in the Cafe Pamplona with an assortment of books he's collected from the garbage or something...