The South’s Best Bookstores 2020
Bookstores have a knack for offering us what we need at precisely the moment we need it. Whether it’s a great conversation, a fantastic book recommendation, or a quiet browse, bookstores and their booksellers meet us where we are. In a great big celebration of Southern bookstores, our readers voted for their favorites to be named the South’s Best 2020. What resulted is a list of shops that represents both cities and small towns, new businesses and some with decades of history. These bookstores are also vital community centers with calendars full of literary programming like book clubs, author talks, and signings. That’s thanks to the tireless work of those who plan and organize behind the scenes (thank you, booksellers!). Take your time browsing the ten bookstores our readers picked as their favorites this year—each shop has also provided a reading recommendation you’ll want to add to your TBR stack. Then thank your local bookstore for the work it does by making a visit today. Buy a book from their shelves in person or from their online shop, because when you make a habit of buying your books local, you contribute to the life of the bookstore for years to come.
10. Key West Island Books (Key West, Florida)
Located on Fleming Street in the heart of Old Town Key West, this shop is locals’ favorite destination for new, used, and rare books, as well as books by Key West and South Florida-area writers.
Book pick: The Woman at the Light by Joanna Brady
“The Woman at the Light is historical fiction set in the 1800s in Key West,” says shop owner Suzanne Orchard. “Vividly imagined, it brings an early, isolated Key West to life.”
To buy: keywestislandbooks.com, (305) 294-2904
keywestislandbooks.com, 305-294-2904, 513 1/2 Fleming Street, Key West, FL, 33040
9. New Dominion Bookshop (Charlottesville, Virginia)
This warm and inviting Charlottesville bookshop, the oldest independent bookseller in the Commonwealth, is located on the Historic Downtown Mall. It has big, bright windows and built-in wooden bookshelves lining the walls.
Book pick: Oblivion Banjo: The Poetry of Charles Wright by Charles Wright
“Charles Wright’s poems capture everything elusive about life in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” says marketing and communications director Sarah Crossland. “Even if you don't normally read poetry, there’s much to love in Oblivion Banjo, which finds wisdom in nature.”
To buy: ndbookshop.com, (434) 295-2552
ndbookshop.com, 434-295-2552, 404 East Main Street, Charlottesville, VA 22902
8. The Bookshelf (Thomasville, Georgia)
Thomasville’s friendly neighborhood bookshop is a destination for literary luncheons, community events, and a beautifully curated selection of new releases, gifts, and children’s books. Their weekly podcast, From the Front Porch, explores all things literature and small business.
Book pick: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
“With Such a Fun Age, debut novelist Kiley Reid has written a compelling page-turner that also quietly sheds light on race and class and work; it’s social commentary without ever feeling like social commentary,” says owner Annie B. Jones. “And Emira, Reid’s protagonist? She’ll stick with me for years.”
To buy: $26, bookshelfthomasville.com
bookshelfthomasville.com, 229-228-7767, 126 South Broad Street, Thomasville, GA 31792
7. Parnassus Books (Nashville, Tennessee)
Music City’s favorite independent bookstore is a source not only for new releases and great staff recommendations but also for literary events that bring authors from across the world to Nashville to talk books.
Book pick: Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep
“Casey Cep does an outstanding job of weaving together a gripping narrative from Harper Lee’s life after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird and her obsession with the murders and the subsequent trial,” says inventory manager and adult buyer Catherine Bock.
To buy: $26.95, parnassusbooks.net
parnassusbooks.net, 615-953-2243, 3900 Hillsboro Pike Suite 14, Nashville, TN 37215
6. Politics and Prose Bookstore (Washington, D.C.)
With outposts across the city, D.C.’s favorite independent bookstore has readers covered, with books and an expansive events schedule filled with classes, reading groups, and author events. It got its start in 1984, and the community that the shop has built becomes more dynamic every year.
Book pick: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
“Colson Whitehead follows his Pulitzer and National Book Award-winning The Underground Railroad with The Nickel Boys, which tells the story of the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reform facility that operated during the last, violent gasps of the Jim Crow South,” says deputy director of marketing Sarah Costello. “Based on actual, recent archaeological findings of remains of African American students at Florida’s Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead’s story shines a light on yet another institutional mechanism of racism and oppression.”
To buy: $24.95, politics-prose.com
politics-prose.com, 202-364-1919, multiple locations in D.C.
5. Blue Bicycle Books (Charleston, South Carolina)
Located on Upper King Street just around the corner from Marion Square, Blue Bicycle Books has become the literary heart of Charleston. It offers a big selection of new releases and books by area authors, and it’s also the hub for YALLFest, the city’s annual young adult book festival.
Book pick: Trust Exercise by Susan Choi
“Trust Exercise by Susan Choi is a new book I’m excited about. The second half takes some sharp, unexpected narrative turns and asks, as the title suggests, for us to trust it,” says store manager Sarah Peck.
To buy: bluebicyclebooks.com, 843-722-2666
bluebicyclebooks.com, 843-722-2666, 420 King Street, Charleston, SC 29403
4. Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe (Asheville, North Carolina)
With visits to Malaprop’s, which is both a beloved downtown bookstore and a café serving baked goods and locally roasted coffee, Asheville satisfies its caffeine fix and reading lists all at once.
Book pick: Tiny Love: The Complete Stories by Larry Brown
“With a chunk of Larry Brown’s stories long out of print, the emergence of his collected stories, Tiny Love, should—in any just world—be a literary event and the opportunity for old fans to reconnect with his work, and new ones to discover him for themselves,” says senior buyer and bookstore manager Justin Souther.
To buy: $18.95, malaprops.com
malaprops.com, 828-254-6734, 55 Haywood Street, Asheville, NC 28801
Check Out the South's Best Bookstores
3. Sundog Books (Seaside, Florida)
This sunny Seaside spot is a regular visit for beachgoers searching for something to read on the sand. Exploring its shelves, which are stacked two- and three-books deep, is also a perfect activity for rainy afternoons.
Book pick: The Travelers by Regina Porter
“The Travelers is a multi-generational family story well told by Regina Porter, a Savannah native and Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate,” says bookseller Laney Blanchard.
To buy: $27, sundogbooks.com
sundogbooks.com, 850-231-5481, 89 Central Square, Seaside, FL 32459
2. Square Books (Oxford, Mississippi)
In a Mississippi town with an impressive literary history, Square Books has become a must-visit stop for visitors to downtown Oxford. Its three locations—Square, Off-Square, and Square Books, Jr.—are all just a few steps apart.
Book pick: The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South by John T. Edge
CEO Lyn Roberts recommends this book, written by the director of the Southern Foodways Association. It’s a culinary history that traces cooking and eating in the region over six decades.
To buy: $18, squarebooks.com
squarebooks.com, 662-236-2262, 160 Courthouse Square, Oxford, MS 38655
1. E. Shaver, Bookseller (Savannah, Georgia)
Located on Savannah’s Madison Square, E. Shaver, Bookseller, is a labyrinth of book-filled rooms that draws locals and visitors in search of a browse. Shop cats Bartleby, Mr. Eliot, and Skimbleshanks pad around the store, which is housed in a historic building erected in the 1840s.
Book pick: Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson is “a beautiful and wild ride, the story of unlikely love and family, compulsively readable, dark, funny, and poignant,” says owner Jessica Osborne.
To buy: $26.99, eshaverbooks.com
eshaverbooks.com, 912-234-7257, 326 Bull Street, Savannah, GA 31401