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Great Book Stores in the Big Easy

Nancy Sundstrom - May 30th, 2002
New Orleans is my favorite city in the world, partially because like others (the list including London, Paris, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco), it has a remarkable literary heritage - one rich as a dessert of Grand Marnier bread pudding at Commander’s Palace, as spicy as the great gumbo found everywhere, and as varied as the human drama that plays itself out every five feet on the endlessly fascinating streets of the French Quarter.
Somewhat to the consternation of my family, I really indulged myself by spending more time than usual in the bookstores of the Quarter on a recent vacation to the Big Easy. The stores themselves truly reflect the marvelous tapestry of life in one of America’s oldest and most unique cities. It just doesn’t cut it to wander in to a national chain store (you know the names), when you can browse in the likes of the Garden District Book Shop where Anne Rice does all of her book signings, or lose yourself dreaming about taking home one of the rare collectibles at Faulkner House Books, a store that is, hands down, and like the city, my favorite in the world.
While there’s a lot to compete for your attention in the Crescent City, be it dining, historical sightseeing, people watching, or taking in a dizzying array of live music options, the next time you’re lucky enough to find yourself down there, check out a few of these recommendations.

Faulkner House Books
624 Pirate’s Alley (behind St. Louis Cathedral) 504-524-2940 www.faulknerhousebooks.com
This treasure trove is on a number of French Quarter walking tours because Nobel Prize-winning author Faulkner lived here in 1925, when he was writing “Mosquitoes“ and “Soldier’s Pay.“ The shop does hold a large collection of Faulkner first editions and rare and first edition classics by numerous other authors, including playwright Tennessee Williams, a longtime resident of the French Quarter who wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire“ while living there. FHB has been hailed by many a travel guide as having the best selection per square foot of any bookstore anywhere, but the customer service is equally outstanding. There seems to be nothing the store’s staff don’t know, and they’ll go out of their way to assist you, making a stop there always memorable, and quite often magical. It’s fairly small - comprised of just one main room and a hallway - and you can just feel the spirit of Faulkner himself smiling down on anyone who loves good books.

Garden District Book Shop
2727 Prytania (in the Rink) 504-895-2266 GDKreweaol.com
One of the most distinctive features of this cool bookstore, located in the heart of the beautiful Garden District with extraordinary homes that belong to the likes of Anne Rice and Trent Reznor, is that if you’re looking for any subject in reference to New Orleans or any region of Louisiana, you can be guaranteed you’ll find it. As mentioned, this is where Rice does book signings for her new work (the Anne Rice Collection store is also housed in the same building), and they have quite a few of her autographed books, as well as special editions of her works that they publish themselves, and a large number of signed books from authors ranging from Clive Barker to James Lee Burke.

Kaboom
915 Barracks (on the outskirts of the French Quarter) 504-529-5780 kaboombks@aol.com
You’ll find used books only here, but there’s very little you won’t find in general, especially in the fiction genre. The local lore is that the owner, who has a reputation for knowing more about literature than any other human walking the planet, is one of the main reason bibliophiles regularly seek out this shop, and to eavesdrop on some of their conversations is as educational as it is entertaining.

Bookstar
414 N. Peters 504-523-6411
This is a Barnes & Noble affiliate, but it really doesn’t feel like a franchise, thanks largely to a huge selection of New Orleans-related books, especially on the topics of food, architecture, jazz, history, art, photography, and novels written about the city.

Beckham’s Boookshop
228 Decatur 504-522-9875
Allow yourself some time to wander through two vast floors of antique and old editions, rare secondhands, bargain basement paperbacks, and who knows how many classical albums. It’s a good thing you can settle into one of a number of inviting armchairs to consider your purchases in this shop, which is considered a must-stop for dealers, collectors, and those seeking out the elusive. The owners also operate Librairie Bookshop at 823 Chartres (504-525-4837).

Faubourg Marigny Bookstore
600 Frenchmen 504-943-9875
This progressive, independent store is a resource for the city’s gay and lesbian community, and in addition to a good range of books that include local titles, there are gift items, cards, CD’s, and posters, most of which have a gay/lesbian motif. Live entertainment, book signing, readings, and talks are regularly offered.

Maple Street Book Shop
7523 Maple 504-866-4916

Maple Street Children’s Book Shop
7529 Maple 504-861-2105
It’s worth it to venture uptown a bit from the Quarter, and these two stores, located next to each other on Maple Street, will prove worth the trip. The original location in a shotgun house has been around for several decades, and has a reading room where you can peruse their large variety of mysteries and Pulitzer Prize winning books. The Children’s Book Shop is the only one of its kind in the city to specialize exclusively in fare for the younger set and has weekend story telling. Down the way a bit is Maple Street’s Old Metairie Book Shop at 200 Metairie (504-832-8937).

George Herget Books
3109 Magazine 504-891-6696
This is another of New Orleans’s signature bookstores, especially since it boasts more than 20,000 rare and used books, quite a few of which are considered hard to find. Local and regional fare abound, but ask away if there’s anything you’re looking for or curious about. Like every other store on this list, the staff is exceedingly helpful and love to talk shop.

Various Specialty
New Orleans also has numerous book stores devoted to specific genres of literature, and to mention just a few, there is the Afro-American Book Stop in the New Orleans Shopping Centre and Community Book Center on Broad Street, Starling Books on Royale and East Meets West Bookstore on Melvil Dewey Drive for selections on witchcraft, magic, new age philosophy, and divination, and the Catholic Book Store on Fig Street, adjacent to the Notre Dame Seminary.
 
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