New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – Portsmouth Book and Bar, Portsmouth, NH

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Last fall I had the opportunity to (individually) catch up with two of my favorite ladies from Maine. Portsmouth, New Hampshire is roughly ‘half-way’ between us these days, and therefore we chose that as a meeting point. We spent hours poring over the months or years since we’d last been in the same space, and in both cases it was (as I prefer to feel most of my friendships are) as if we’d just sat down together the day before.

On the first outing, my fellow literary-obsessed friend Leslie and I also ventured into a couple of Portsmouth’s used book stores to check their offerings. In the first shop I came across a book I had just finished a few weeks before, The Bells, by Richard Harvell and one other book I had heard of but not yet read, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Leslie purchased the former and I the latter.

After indulging in lunch at nearby RiRu, a converted bank turned eatery, Leslie and i were sitting outside on a bench, and I looked up information on any other book stores in the area and am thankful that I did.

Just down the street from where we sat lay an (for me) untapped venue – Portsmouth Book and Bar. Located in the former Custom House and Post Office, built in 1860, and home of several other businesses over the years, the Book and Bar is a worthwhile stop if you happen to venture to Portsmouth and have some time to kill.

Granted, the selection may not look as substantial as other places I’ve visited, but don’t be fooled by that. The neatly spaced and stacked shelving holds a world of treasures at very reasonable prices. Their fiction section (my immediate go-to) is extensive, and their non-fiction and children’s equally impressive.

Aside from the books accorded for sale, the venue boasts an enticing menu of sandwiches and small plate offerings, a decent selection of beer and wine, and of course coffee, tea, and soft drinks for those who choose to not imbibe. I have yet to eat or drink at this location, but the smiles on the faces of the patrons each time I have visited lead me to believe the food and beverages, like the book selection, do not disappoint.

The book store also offers live music to patrons, as well as comfy couches and cafe tables  on which to alight and enjoy the eclectic mix of musical styles performed regularly.

Located in the historic downtown district of a beautiful sea-side city, this is a locale I plan to visit again and again. Most recently I left the store with newly owned books by George Gissing, Orhan Pamuk, and Edmund White. There were other editions of interest that caught my eye – and hopefully they’ll be there for future perusal.

Portsmouth Book and Bar can be found at:

40 Pleasant St
Portsmouth, NH 03801
603.427.9197

OPEN 7 DAYS
SUN – THU : 10a–10p
FRI – SAT : 10a–midnight

http://www.bookandbar.com/index.html

Happy reading!

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New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book – Simon’s Winthrop Bookshop, Winthrop, MA

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One of the most attractive features of moving to the town I live in was that many people, even Massachusetts residents, reply ‘Where’s that?’ when they ask where I live and I answer them.

Despite being named after the second Governor of Massachusetts (who was amongst the founding fathers of Boston), the town enjoys relative obscurity (read this as not a whole lot of traffic or crowds). Once considered a ‘resort’ destination for those looking to escape city life and enjoy a salty summer breeze, at the tail end of a narrow gauge railroad branch that ran nearly to the ocean, which surrounds three sides of the town, and Winthrop Beach.

Nowadays people access Winthrop via bridge on Route 145 which is the one way into the town (from East Boston) and the same way out (via Revere), which is the one way out of town. I often tell people that Winthrop is like Pompeii – there’s one road in and one road out and if Vesuvius ever blows, we’re all screwed.

Sometimes people laugh at that.

Often not.

Winthrop is a small town. Also, to me, an attractive feature of living here. There’s a small grocery store, a couple of small pharmacies (one a chain, one not), small restaurants with small bars (though no businesses that are just bars, small or not), the requisite (small) ‘House Of Pizza’ no town seems complete without, small schools, a library (not really ‘small’, per se, but not as big as say Boston Public), small public safety buildings, and various and sundry other businesses, mostly contained in the (small) town center.

Hidden on a side-street that runs from Winthrop’s Main Street all the way to the tip of the town’s peninsula is a (small) red building attached to an (equally small) cedar shingled house.  There is no sign out front – save for the faded ‘Books’ placard in the left-hand corner of the front window and the conspicuous plastic totes on the sidewalk under the picture window  (filled with books) – to advertise the business. There’s nothing visible from the street to tell you what hours they might be open, no ‘open’ or ‘closed’ sign hanging in the window, and no indication of what type of books they offer  for sale (new or used, fiction or non-fiction, etc.), or anything to otherwise beckon you inside to look around.

Similarly to the way people, when told I live in Winthrop, respond, ‘Where’s that?’ – Simon’s seems to beg a response of ‘What do they sell?’ from anyone who notices it in their travels – which really takes some work to notice it at all. It’s almost as if you have to already know where it is to find it and patronize it, rather than be a novice seeking it out for the first time.

Nevertheless, seek it out I did, and despite having to drive past it for months before I found it to be open (which I recognized solely by the fact that the inside door, behind the outer storm door, was open and a light was on inside on a gloomy, overcast afternoon). When I saw this, I immediately parked my vehicle (parking is limited to on-street availability), abandoned my plan to go to the grocery store, and went inside, despite my long-time belief that the entire place had to be some kind of literary witness protection program.

The books are plentiful, lined from floor to ceiling, and laying about in stacks here and there and everywhere as well. There are separate sections for fiction and non-fiction, and mystery novels even have their own segregated shelving from the fiction. There is a children’s area as well, and if you are curious enough to venture through the doorway that connects the bookshop to the attached ‘house’ you will even find an assortment of very recent releases – so recent they still qualify as ‘new’.

The contents of the store are a treasure trove. But entering the store to browse is not for the faint of heart. The building (once a neighborhood grocery, according to the shop owner, Lee, a lovely woman who often inquires what made me choose a particular novel or classic work that I have brought to her desk to purchase) holds a lot of books in a small area, and the shelves are very close together – so close in fact that in order to use the ‘reading’ section of my progressive bifocals to see the top shelf offerings I need to tilt my head all the way back, which results in rubbing my head on the shelf behind me. The floors are sloping (more so in some places than others) and the walking paths between the shelves and sections are not always clear of boxes of books waiting to find either space on the shelves or on the shelves of their new homes once purchased.

But don’t let any of that deter you. If you are hale of heart and hearty of a desire to find a good book at a great price (I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than four dollars for a used fiction selection), and if you can not let your joy of finding a good book deter you from paying at least some attention to the floor you are walking on and be mindful of your step, then this is a great place to go. It may not be the only game in town for used books in Winthrop, MA, but it certainly has the largest selection.

On a final note, the store does have a ‘website’, although the information there is as Spartan as the store’s exterior in terms of what it tells you. The hours are listed as 1pm to 10pm Monday through Thursday, 1pm to 6pm on Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.

But don’t quote me on that. I have driven past the store in the afternoon and found the door closed, the lights off, and the plastic bins in the front covered over with blue tarps (what I assume is the anti-theft system employed as the bins never leave the sidewalk) in hours they are supposedly open.

The website can be found at simonswinthropbooks.comcastbiz.net – but don’t quote me on that either, because I tried to copy the link and paste it, and could not.

Again – like a literary witness protection program.

But, like many other New England book stores, definitely worth the trip.

If you can find the town.

Happy Reading!

If you can find the store.

 

 

 

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