by Hannah Weber
1. It’s a piece of Boston history.
You know you’re at the right place when you see a large wooden sign in the shape of a red book with a quill hanging over West Street. While the storefront of Brattle Book Shop is unassuming, it’s history is not quiet at all. Brattle has been around since 1825 and has survived over seven moves and a fire before settling in their latest location at 9 West St. They credit their survival to their loyal customers, from the mobs who showed up on free book days in the ‘50s and ‘60s, to the people across the world who ask Brattle to send them a book. However, some of the items that Brattle Book Shop has owned, and in some cases, still owns, predate the store itself. Staffers claim some of the most interesting things they’ve seen include The Gutenberg Bible pages, silk-printed books and incunables, which are books and pamphlets from before 1501 that were printed, not handwritten.
2. It’s outdoor and unique.
I dare you to find another bookstore that lets you browse through books in the fresh air. Provided there’s no rain or snow, Brattle Book Shop staff rolls out carts full of books to wait outside from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. A black-and-white piece of art graces the the brick side of the building with faces of famous thinkers and authors. Though it’s just off the streets of Boston, there’s a reverent atmosphere in that open block. It’s also a good space to take a breath from the hubbub of the city.
3. The sheer volume of books is amazing.
Three stories of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves mean that you could spend ages wandering through the stacks and perusing the seemingly endless book spines that wait to be chosen and read. When you realize that almost none of the titles are repeated, you really understand what a varied collection Brattle has. There are books for every subject you could imagine: religion, music, cookbooks and autobiographies. You name it, they have it.
4. Secondhand books mean cheaper prices.
The majority of Brattle’s books are from book buys. People across New England, but even as far away as Oregon, call Brattle when they have an immense amount of books to get rid of. Brattle staffers personally go to take the books off their hands. Secondhand books tend to be cheaper than their freshly printed counterparts, and you can find secondhand hardcovers in perfect condition for around $10. That also includes that warm, welcoming old book smell.
5. It’s a great place for research projects.
If you’re someone who cannot stand staring at their computer screen for hours on end, scrolling through endless JSTOR journals and articles, you might feel a lot less overwhelmed if you use an actual book. If you panic at the thought of finding books on your topic in the low-lit, tomb-silent, upper floors of Mugar Library, then try going to Brattle. There are no electronic records of the books, but if you ask a Brattle staffer where Walden would be, they would tell you to try aisle three, all the way down to the left, or check the transcendentalist section on the second floor. The third floor is dedicated to research, and even has tables and chairs for sitting and reading. A staffer is also stationed there to help you locate exactly what you need.
6. You’ll always find something unique for yourself.
Since Brattle is a secondhand store, and tends to have only single copies of books, you might not find your specific book in mind. But if you don’t mind looking around, you’ll find a book for yourself that you might not have even heard of, but if jumps out at you, maybe it was meant to be.