Indie Reads: Matthew Koch Browses Bookstores in Williamsburg

Williamsburg Brooklyn bookstores

Amid Williamsburg’s nebulous parade of trendy bars and boutiques, you will find a peppering of excellent independent bookstores. These singular bastions of culture live on in the area, despite the decline of bookstores elsewhere, answering the call of bookish locals. Sure, North Brooklyn is known for its sea of style-conscious hipster youth, but it’s also home to an authentic intellectualism. We are avid readers, poets, critics, professors, and many of us are published authors. And, for folks like us, local booksellers are a social tour de force. I pay homage here to the quirky little lairs that feed this literary corner of Brooklyn.

Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers

If you’ve ventured into Williamsburg via the L-train, trekked a few blocks along Bedford Avenue amid the throngs of cigarette-wielding hipsters, and chanced upon a quaint bookstore, then you’ve probably encountered this place. Carrying both new and used texts, they are particularly strong in poetry, including collections in foreign languages. One eccentricity is their selection of rare and signed books that safely rests behind protective glass in locked cabinets. In the back of the store, you’ll find a small children’s nook that includes several classics (Where the Wild Things Are, Le Petit Prince, etc.) in addition to a range of more contemporary and experimental kid lit. Also noteworthy is their plethora of oversized art and coffee table books. When you stop by this hip home of ars poetica (and you will), be sure to pet the resident cat, a handsome tuxedo called Hayes (or “Haze,” depending on whom you ask).  218 Bedford Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-387-7322; Subway: L to Bedford Ave.; Website: http://www.spoonbillbooks.com.

Word

If you’re from the deep South like me, Word’s name may suggest a Christian AM talk radio station, but it’s actually a literary mainstay on Greenpoint’s trendy Franklin Avenue. The independent bookseller packs in a surprisingly broad range of new texts within a space the size of a studio apartment. Their efficiently-arranged shelves evenly represent classics, contemporary works, children’s books, as well as kitschy guidebooks and animal fripperies. Word also serves as a unique social center within the combined community of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, hosting author readings, talks and events. They even have a “Matchmaker” bulletin board, a place for those seeking like-minded literary friends, roommates, or romantic partners. 126 Franklin St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn; 718-383-0096; Subway: G to Greenpoint Ave. or East River Ferry to Greenpoint; Website: http://www.wordbrooklyn.com.

Desert Island

This venue is a decidedly niche bookstore, dealing exclusively in comic books and graphic novels. If you are, in fact, a comic lover, this place will draw you in like a tractor beam! You’ll find all matter of illustrated gems, from vintage Spiderman to The Walking Dead to manga and kid lit. For those who favor traditional texts, you should still stop in, if for no other reason than to peruse their collection of dynamic poster art and greeting cards, some by local street artists.540 Metropolitan Ave., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 718-388-5087; Subway: L to Lorimer St. or G to Metropolitan; Website: http://www.desertislandbrooklyn.com.

Desert Island Comic Book store in Brooklyn
Desert Island

Book Thug Nation

Our final Williamsburg bookstore is almost exclusively a used retailer. While not much of a glittery souvenir outlet, this store packs a wallop when it comes to the classics. Somehow even more minuscule than the three small spaces above, Book Thug Nation stuffs library-like stacks to their structural limit with a full range, from trade paperbacks to vintage hardcovers. The intimidating height of the shelves coupled with the chill ambiance of the dim lighting, mild mustiness, and classical music could easily deter a non-bibliophile from paying this joint the respect it deserves. They have expansive and distinctly designated sections that cover subjects like modern drama, philosophy, and even “filth/smut.” They have shelves for signed books and for foreign languages (especially French and Spanish). Hang out a while and browse. Don’t miss their stash of old-timey pamphlets and rare vinyl.

100 North 3rd St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn; Subway: L to Bedford Ave or East River Ferry to N. Williamsburg; Website: http://www.bookthugnation.com.


Bio: Contributing author, Matthew Koch, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of English at Queensborough Community College. He hails from Texas and now calls Greenpoint, Brooklyn his home.

Photographs by Vanessa Ray. All rights reserved.