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Planning A Vacation? Add Indie Bookstores To Your Travel Itinerary

The Dusty Bookshelf in Manhattan, KS
Suzanne Perez
courtesy photo
The Dusty Bookshelf in Manhattan, KS

I’ve been traveling a bit lately. Getting my COVID shot has meant finally heading beyond Kansas again, seeing new parts of the country or getting reacquainted with some old favorite destinations.

Whenever I travel, there’s one must-see on my itinerary: a local independent bookstore. It’s right up there with art galleries and local breweries on my vacation to-do list, for several reasons.

One: I’m a reader, and readers love bookstores. An hour or two of peace and quiet, browsing the shelves, is heaven on a normal day. It’s even better on vacation.

But beyond that, local bookstores provide a window into the real flavor, culture and history of a place. During a trip to Chicago, I visited Exile in Bookville, which recently opened on the second floor of the historic Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue. Getting upstairs meant riding on an old-fashioned elevator run by a lift operator. Inside the store, portraits of famous Chicago-land authors lined the walls, and the “staff picks” table featured several local works.

Some of my favorite vacation memories include visits to Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles and Tattered Cover in Denver. Public libraries are a favorite, too. I’ve marveled at the green banker’s lamps in the reading room of the Boston Public Library, and thanks to a college friend who works at the Library of Congress, I got a behind-the-scenes tour of that institution.

And there are so many stores on my bookstore bucket list. I can't wait to visit Powell's in Portland, Oregon, or The Strand in New York City.

I make a point of buying a book wherever I travel -- usually something related to the destination. Booksellers are the friendliest people on the planet, and I love when they press a book into my hands. Even better is coming home with a beloved title that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Books are the best souvenirs.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.