What are you up to this weekend? If you are fortunate enough to be reading this while looking at a forecast of sunny skies and warm weather then I presume your answer will involve warm weather activities. In fact, I’d imagine that given the chance you might insist it will only be warm weather activities for warm weather weekends forever! But even our collective Pacific Northwest short-term memory where the weather is concerned cannot hide from the inexorable approach of autumn. We can already spy the signs of things to come: the soft morning light from the sun as the Earth travels further away in its orbit, the hues of amber and sienna replacing the verdant green in the foliage, and the sprinkling of leaves on the ground. Soon the temperature will call for activities that keep us warm, and is it any surprise that this logophile would find no greater pleasure than perusing my favorite used bookstores? In the off chance you also find a familiar comfort in the smell of old books, the amiable chatter of bookshop attendants, and the taste of really good coffee then take a look at some of my favorite used bookstores below.
McDonald’s Book Exchange
McDonald’s Book Exchange is not exceptional in first appearance. You can walk in through a door with a handwritten note asking you to lift the handle so as to gain entry to the store and are met with floor to ceiling walls of books. The store really comes to life with the shopkeeper, Colae, greets you in the most delightful manner and provides you with a “T-Pain-free tour” of the shop. The bookcases contain a selection of 40,000 titles teeming from the shelves with sections devoted to paranormal (“Vampires and Ghosts and such!”), romance, romance suspense, historical romance (there are an abundance of romance novels in the used book business) — to name a few. Upon checking out with two novels, Colae, a veteran of healthcare since retired now proprietor of used books, was quick to share the book exchange program they employ in the shop: buyback for 40% or resale value or store credit for 60%.
Sealing the experience of a stop at McDonald’s Book Exchange is the neighboring coffee shop, Victor’s Coffee, where a $9 will procure you the most delicious mocha and enormous bread pudding slice you have ever had. I was amused by the sign hanging above my table that there is no WIFI on the premises and that we are encouraged to talk to each other (like it’s 1995 and, presumably, an episode of “Friends”). I did not miss scrolling through social media as I sipped my beverage between mouthfuls of that sinfully good pastry. I admired my newly purchased books and made a mental note to return for the volume of 17th century Japanese love stories on my next visit to the book shop.
Mercer Street Books
My first impression of Mercer Street Books was this is a shop where aesthetics meets a love of books old and new. The delightfully small and tidy shop front opens into a deep and richly stocked bookstore. The handsome shelves are stocked with a rotating selection of new and used titles and cleverly placed book ends and statues of various sizes. The walls above the shelves are lined with framed prints and plants and one can’t help but feel that each and every item in the shop has been curated with love and care. By her own admission the proprietor of the shop takes no credit for the shop’s collection, but since the owner passed away two years ago she has been its caretaker.
In this shop you will find a greater variety of categories, some surprisingly specific (I’ll take Pet Memoirs for 500 Alex), but if you are of the particular Western aficionado I’m afraid their western selection consists of an entire bookcase filled with Louis L’Amoure novels. The variety and condition of the books makes you suspect that they too have been selected with such care as the discerning mind that decorated the shop but it is impossible to pass over the $0.50 cart that greets you inside the entrance. I myself picked up a hardcover copy of “The Splendid Table,” “Illywhacker,” “Of Mice and Men,” “In Praise of Difficult Women,” “Run River” by Joan Didion, and a vintage hardback of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” within the first several minutes in the shop. It was just as difficult to peel myself away from the shelves of nature books and travel books and photography and history and so many of the rest. It was all I could do stop myself from leaving with a tome of Annie Liebovitz photography.
Lion Heart Books
Underneath the market tucked in between the knick knack shops is a nondescript, signless bookshop that we passed by more than once in our quest for this location. And that was after being misdirected to the address currently listed on Google Maps. Lion Heart Books is a small shop stuffed with books, perhaps not 40,000, but enough to give you a worthy browse. You will not be in that shop long before you interact with the man behind the counter who brings the shop to life. I picked up a copy of Dr. Seuss and from across the room he invited me to read one line while he was able to recite the next line on any page of the book. When he was speaking to another customer and informing them to his chagrin that the book she was seeking had been sold just earlier that day he chided, “no soup for you,” and I couldn’t help but chuckle at her misfortune.
My mother was with me on this particular visit and the lovely man advised her on a selection of books for my nieces and when he saw me pick up a strange looking book (Weird Washington – more articles stemming from that I am sure) he informed me that since it was previously a display book that he cannot sell in its current condition, it was his gift to me. This book remains a cherished possession that has inspired many adventures around Washington.
Twice Sold Tales
Should you find yourself in Capitol Hill, do step into Twice Sold Tales for a book or three, and stick around for the kitties. The bookstore is similar to any other you might find: countless titles, shelves stacked floor to ceiling, and a friendly woman behind the counter ready and willing to assist you with your bookish needs. The unique delight in the shop is the hands down the cats who are friendly and at times cuddly (unless you are one the unfortunate people with allergies). Bookstores are peculiar places where the proprietors often encourage their customers to take all the time they want, even if they do not end up purchasing anything (though of course they prefer if you do). And the smell of a good book, especially one that is older and well-worn is simply irresistible. Twice Sold Tales is the place to find great books at terrific prices and to get your animal fix in.
Now if you wander out of Seattle proper and travel up north you will be in for a treat. Magus Books has been in business since 1978 and boasts the largest selection of used titles (70,000+) of the bookshops visited. This shop is a treasure and can be found on 42nd street near the University of Washington. Come round here and try to take in the sheer volume of titles without a gasp or an awe. And if you are in the market for something rare or special then look no further: a signed first edition of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? An illustrated first edition of “Moby Dick”? Or would you prefer a Magus branded tote, tee shirt, or coffee mug? All of those can be found here.
One particular highlight that this bibliophile adores is their selection of graphic novels (a rarity of used book stores). Back in the pre-covid days you could find me sitting on a stool with a coffee from neighboring Allegro flipping through old copies of “Preacher” (if I could find one) or “They Boys”. If you are an old school type and still hip to audio hardware you can find audiobooks on cassettes and CDs. Graduate students will be spotted on break from their research browsing vintage cookbooks. Magus is a Seattle institution with something for everybody.