The South's Best Bookstores
When you visit your local independent bookstore, you’re likely to find much more than book-lined shelves—though you can expect a fair few of those. In addition to sharing stories and recommending new reads, the South’s indie bookshops are also building community and nurturing conversations. They’re sparking connections through events and programming. They’re spearheading literacy and education initiatives all while connecting readers with the books that will excite, challenge, cheer, and resonate with them. This is important work, and it's done by teams of knowledgeable booksellers who know the reading landscape better than anyone else. It’s hard to overstate how important these shops are to the communities in which they make their homes. The literary life is thriving in the South, and that’s thanks to indie bookstores and the people who love them—their owners, staff, and customers past, present, and future. So the next time you have a free hour, stop in and browse a while. You’ll be glad you did.
Blue Bicycle Books
If you find yourself on King Street in Charleston, a visit to Blue Bicycle Books is mandatory. You'll know you’ve found it when you see a bike stacked with books parked outside. It’s a charming shop and event space (they host a few hundred writers every year) offering used and rare books and a big selection of works by local authors. This inviting spot got its start as Boomer’s Books in 1995, and it has been known as Blue Bicycle Books since 2007, when owner Jonathan Sanchez took the helm. The next time you’re in the city, wander inside. There you'll find a literature lover’s paradise—and a book-lined corridor that seems to stretch to infinity.
On North Lamar in downtown Austin, Texas, you’ll find BookPeople, the city’s go-to indie bookshop and a destination for all things reading. It’s been an Austin institution for nearly half a century, and its claim to fame is that it’s the largest independent bookstore in the state. The shop describes itself as “a community bound by books,” which is why its calling cards are not only covers and pages, but also an array of busy book clubs and a packed events calendar. Across its substantial square footage, you'll find something for everyone, including a wide range of genres, all of which perfectly accompany a cup of coffee from the BookPeople Cafe, which stays open late. BookPeople is at the top of every book lover’s must-visit list when they arrive in Austin—stop in, and see for yourself.
This friendly downtown store is a home away from home for locals and visitors alike. Annie B. Jones took the helm six years ago and has made the charming shop a destination for booklovers from across South Georgia. Visit once, and you’ll feel like a regular for life. In addition to a thoughtfully curated offering of fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, and gifts, they also have a subscription service; weekly literary dinners; and From the Front Porch, a podcast in which Jones and staffer Chris Jensen chat about entrepreneurship, reading recommendations, and life in the South.
Houston’s favorite indie bookshop first opened in 1974. In 2006, it was purchased by a collective of 27 locals, making it a community bookstore in every sense. The staff runs The Brazos Book Club and offers up plenty of recommendations, both in person and online. Houstonians have come to love the shop’s busy lineup of author events, which bring groundbreaking new literary voices to the city.
Carmichael’s, the oldest indie bookshop in town, got its start in 1978. Over the years, it's developed a dedicated fan base of readers in Kentucky and across the South. It's still run by family members of the store’s original owners, Carol Besse and Michael Boggs, both of whom gave the shop its name. With two locations—one on Bardstown Road and the other a few miles away on Frankfort Avenue—Louisville shelves are at no loss for great books and personalized recommendations. The shop also operates Carmichael’s Kids, a vibrant location on Bardstown Road just for little ones.
Oklahoma City, OK
If you’re an avid reader looking to slow down and sink in, this shop is paradise. Commonplace Books was founded by a group of friends with a shared passion for books. They established this storefront in the Midtown area of Oklahoma City with the objective of not only selling books but also cultivating curiosity. They describe it this way: “It is our mission to build a flourishing environment for the life of the mind. Our shop is a welcoming respite that bustles with excitement and unhurried wonder.” There’s wonder aplenty to be found in the shelves of this bookshop, which also provides fantastic recommendations and regular events in addition to a carefully curated selection of books, gifts, and something unexpected on every shelf.
Faulkner House Books
New Orleans, LA
Billed as “a sanctuary for fine literature,” this tucked-away shop makes its home in the historic French Quarter. It's located on Pirate Alley in a former residence once occupied by William Faulkner. Owner Joseph J. DeSalvo Jr. has created a jewel box of unexpected finds—new and used—with an emphasis on rare volumes, first editions, and the works of Faulkner as well as Tennessee Williams, another former New Orleans resident.
This storied shop, which can be found on a tree- and lamppost-lined cobblestone lane in downtown Richmond, has been in operation since 1978. It’s a well-loved store that has an iconic facade with windowpanes bearing the words “books” and “gifts” painted in gleaming gold. The staff at Fountain call this place “the quirkiest, heartwarmingest bookstore on the planet,” and they couldn't be closer to the truth. Fountain Bookstore offers customers a relaxing retreat with warm-wood shelves, a chorus of quietly rustling pages, literary programming galore, and unmatched staff recommendations—enough to fill even the most exacting of reading lists.
Hooray for Books!
In the heart of Old Town Alexandria, you’ll find Hooray for Books!, an inviting shop filled with great selections for children (and more than a few for grown-ups too!). It opened in 2008, and in the past decade, it has hosted literary events, author signings, story times, and book clubs for both adults and kids. Hooray for Books! also partners with over 75 area schools to bring authors to Alexandria and inspire young readers and writers in the area. This is one shop that’s not only deeply invested in its community but also willing to go the extra mile (or two) to help educate and nurture the next generation of authors.
Hub City Bookshop
Hub City Bookshop not only provides Spartanburg with some of the most exciting new books being published today—fiction, Southern books, and Hub City titles, too—but it also nurtures the city’s creative community. The shop is located in the town’s Grain District and is operated by the Hub City Writers Project, which runs the organization’s independent press and provides programming and education for readers and writers across Spartanburg. According to Hub City, “All proceeds from the sale of books fund creative writing education and independent book publishing in our home community,” which is helping to write new stories in the life of the city.
The Ivy Bookshop
Located outside the city, near Towson, The Ivy Bookshop is a charming spot that invites fans of literature to come in and browse awhile. Owned and operated by Baltimore native Emma Snyder, it’s open every day of the week and hosts a full calendar of events, including writing workshops for children, teens, and adults. The Ivy is filled wall to wall with a collection of books spanning the genres, some of which are displayed on repurposed card catalog consoles, and an assortment of comfy chairs and inviting reading nooks.
Key West Island Books
Key West, FL
This independent shop, tucked away on Fleming Street in the heart of town, has been welcoming readers since 1976. Today, you’ll find it brimming with new, used, and rare books stacked to the ceiling. It’s also a great purveyor of works by local authors and new books that are emerging from the island’s thriving creative scene. If you stop in to say hello—it’s owned and operated by Key West resident Suzanne Orchard, who has a passion for connecting people with books they’re going to love—you’re likely to end up browsing all afternoon.
This shop has been providing Mississippi’s capital city with an exciting array of literature since 1975. It’s home to a big catalog of books by Southern writers, as well as signed first editions. The store’s First Editions Clubs, now over 25 years old, are still some of their most popular offerings. The shop is named for a mythical place (the lost continent of Lemuria) that was home to an advanced civilization of humans who could communicate telepathically, but their pride angered the gods, who took away their abilities, forcing them to find a new method of sharing their thoughts—by writing them in books.
Little Professor Book Center
You’ll find this warm and welcoming shop in the heart of Homewood, one of Birmingham’s suburbs. Little Professor has been family owned and operated since 1973, making it the oldest independent bookstore in the Birmingham area. It’s aging well though: In 2017, Little Professor moved to its current location on 18th Street South, where the new, light-filled storefront now anchors the bustling retail district. Drop in to browse the shop’s big selection of fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, magazines, and literary quarterlies, and if you’re in need of a recommendation, be sure to ask the shop’s knowledgeable booksellers about their favorites.
Asheville’s go-to independent bookstore is Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, which is located downtown on the corner of Walnut and Haywood Streets. It was founded in 1982 and remains a hub for books and the people who love them. The name of the shop derives from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play, The Rivals, in which a character named Mrs. Malaprop uses language incorrectly—and to hilarious ends. Malaprop's is a destination for the city’s book clubs, and it hosts author talks and signings every season. It’s also home to a cozy café, which serves baked goods from West End Bakery and coffee from the roasters at Counter Culture Coffee.
Marfa Book Company
In business for nearly two decades, Marfa Book Company is a store of many talents. Not only can visitors find crisp new releases on its clean-lined tables, but it also serves as a performance venue for artists and musicians. The shop is located on South Highland Avenue next to the Marfa City Hall and is filled with a curated selection—from novels to coffee-table books exploring every subject from history to design—as well as beautifully crafted gifts and a few curiosities that can’t be found anywhere else in town.
New Orleans, LA
This literary city is at its finest in Octavia Books, a bright and inviting locally owned store that makes its home in Uptown. The shop brings the community together for talks by visiting and local authors, as well as frequent book signings, all of which are shared in the store’s fantastic newsletter, The Octavian. The bi-monthly dispatch keeps locals and far-away fans abreast of the shop’s literary happenings and book clubs. It’s also filled with a host of inspired and wide-ranging staff recommendations in the realms of new fiction, YA, and children’s books.
Old Fox Books & Coffeehouse
A visit to Old Fox, located in downtown Annapolis, promises a satisfying dose of stories and caffeine, as well as an inspiring conversation or two. It's a welcoming space that’s located in an historic mercantile structure on Maryland Avenue—look for the black-and-white striped awning, and you'll know you’ve found it. The shop, which gets its name from a Revolutionary War-era story about General George Washington, is a must-visit destination for book browsing, and you can also find gifts, stationery, the Brown Mustache Coffeehouse, and plenty of story times there too.
This Nashville spot takes great pride in its reputation for being “an independent bookstore for independent people.” It got its start in 2011, when novelist Ann Patchett and her business partner, Karen Hayes, brought this storefront to life in the Green Hills neighborhood. Since then, Parnassus has provided the area with a stellar calendar of events and has invited big literary names to Music City for talks and signings. Why call the store Parnassus? In Greek mythology, Mount Parnassus was a source of inspiration for literature, learning, and music—perfect for a bookstore in Nashville. Check out the shop’s blog, Musing, for recommendations guaranteed to lead you to your next favorite read.
Politics and Prose Bookstore
Politics and Prose got its start as a small bookshop in 1984, and in the years since, it has grown and grown, adding two new locations as well as The Den Coffeehouse and Wine Bar, all of which have cemented the P&P's place as the D.C. area’s favorite independent bookstore. Its three locations—one on Connecticut Avenue, one at The Wharf, and one at Union Market—offer an extensive catalog of books and inspired staff picks, as well as an impressive lineup of events and author talks, which keep readers coming back for more. Politics and Prose is one of the city’s best loved cultural destinations, one that also offers classes to keep you learning, trips to inspire adventure, and reading groups to help you find your next favorite read.
This shop in downtown Greensboro takes its name from the scuppernong, a muscadine grape native to the South. It offers selections spanning the genres, along with a children’s section and a cafe, where visitors pair their favorite book with a glass of wine, a cup of organic coffee, or a house-made sandwich. The sign outside, which features a brown-and-white fox standing on two legs (you can’t miss it), tells you just what you’ll find inside: books, wine, and community—with an emphasis on community.
Columbia, Missouri’s newest independent bookstore is quickly becoming its favorite literary destination. Much-loved by locals, the shop is owned and operated by attorney and novelist Alex George, who also founded the city’s Unbound Book Festival, a literary gathering that brings authors and readers to the city every April. Skylark Bookshop makes its home in a bright and welcoming space on Columbia’s 9th Street, where it offers a variety of new fiction, classics, and children’s books. Its dynamic events calendar is always growing and includes author readings, story time for kids, and even bookshop yoga.
Visit Square Books, and you’ll need to make three stops. That’s because Oxford’s favorite literary emporium just happens to be three linked stores: Square Books, Square Books, Jr., and Off Square Books. All are close by, on or near the city’s charming historic downtown square. The shop is a thriving landmark in a place with a deep literary history. It also sponsors a live radio show, the Thacker Mountain Radio Hour, a weekly happening featuring authors and musicians that’s broadcast live from Off Square Books and, occasionally, from Oxford’s Lyric Theatre.
Seaside, Florida’s favorite sun-drenched independent bookshop is Sundog Books, a storefront with a breezy porch that looks out on the town’s iconic Central Square. Step on in—and along the way, be sure to read the chalkboard by the front door. There’s always a new quotation there to spark your imagination. Sundog is filled with stacks upon stacks of handpicked (and loosely organized) books, including a big selection of new fiction and kids’ books, as well as merchandise emblazoned with—what else?—beaming suns. After browsing away the afternoon, wander upstairs to Central Square Records to find a soundtrack to accompany your new reads.
Little Rock, AR
This Little Rock location has been serving the city’s readers for over 30 years. WordsWorth is currently owned by two customers turned booksellers, Lia Lent and Tom McGowan. In 2017, they took the reins from previous owner Jean Cazort, who still works at the shop part-time. WordsWorth is open every day of the week and offers a big selection of new releases and classics to visitors from near and far. It hosts popular book clubs and is a gathering place for countless other groups from across the city.
Taylor Books, which was opened in 1995 by owner Ann Saville, is the literary gem of leafy Capitol Street in downtown Charleston, West Virginia. Inside its current home, an historic building just blocks from the Kanawha River, you’ll find exposed brick walls and tall bookshelves lined with stories—an idyllic reading retreat inviting visitors in to browse awhile. Taylor Books is a shop with plenty of personality. It’s not only the city’s go-to independent bookstore, it also houses an espresso bar, a café (Saville bakes too!), and an art gallery.