I didn’t buy very many books before the pandemic. It used to be that I’d only buy four or five books a year, usually just a few beloved titles I’d already read from the library and knew I wanted to own. But when everything shut down in March 2020, including the library, I realized how badly I missed having a constant influx of new books — a rush of pleasure my library habit had previously given me. On top of that, I wanted to support indie bookstores that were struggling. So I started browsing the websites of a few of my favorites. And I started buying. And here we are.
I have, thankfully for my budget, reigned myself in from the height of my book buying in 2020 and 2021. I still buy more books than I did pre-pandemic, but it’s much more reasonable. Now I have lots of exciting books I still haven’t read and something I did not expect — a new appreciation for indie bookstore websites!
I’ve always loved browsing bookstores (and libraries), partially for the thrill of an unexpected surprise. This was something else I missed sorely in the early days of the pandemic: the serendipity of coming across a book you’ve never heard of, reading a few pages, and falling in love. I soon discovered that, while it’s a different experience from walking into a brick-and-mortar store, the same thing is possible on the internet, thanks to wonderful recommendation lists curated by indie booksellers.
Even though bookstores are now open again, there’s still something magical about browsing indie bookstores from home and experiencing the thrill of finding the perfect book you didn’t know you needed. Some people don’t live near indie bookstores. Some people can’t easily leave home. Sometimes it’s simply easier not to go out. Indie bookstores with great websites for browsing provide a fun and accessible alternative.
The Best Bookstore Websites to Browse From Your Couch
A Room of One’s Own
If you’re not following A Room Of One’s Own, a queer and trans-owned bookstore in Madison, WI, on Instagram, you’re missing out. They share incredible themed charts with tons of amazing recs, such as this one about abolition, and this one featuring book recs based on the album of your summer.
If you’re not on Instagram, don’t worry! Their website is equally amazing. They have an entire page devoted to browsable booklists — and you can literally spend hours there. Get lost in trans comics, genderqueerness, disability studies, fuck it books (you’ll have to click through if you want to know), robot-themed reads, and Covid novels. And this is just the beginning! A Room of One’s Own is on my bookstore bucket list, but in the meantime, their website makes me feel like I’m already there.
Massy Books, an Indigenous-owned new and used bookstore in Vancouver, BC, is another one on my bookstore bucket list. They host lots of community events, have an adjacent art gallery, and send out a newsletter that makes me wish I lived in Vancouver.
Since I have no plans to move, I comfort myself with periodic visits to their fantastic website. Simply browsing their stock is a joy — you can filter by used/new, what’s available for shipping or in-store pickup, and about a million subjects and tags, from specific countries and world regions to various LGBTQ+ identities. They also have many thoughtful and creative curated booklists, such as anti-oppressive approaches to healing and wellness, recs from the Massy Books ghost, and imagining woven futures — a collection of sci-fi and speculative books centering decolonial visions. I sometimes buy Canadian books from Massy that aren’t available in the U.S., and I have never logged into their website without adding something else, unexpected and wonderful, to my cart.
East City Bookshop
East City Bookshop in Washington D.C. is another store I hope to visit one day (along with Loyalty Books, also in the neighborhood)! If you’re looking for more basic booklists, their website is fantastic (and by basic I don’t mean bad, just straightforward). Check out their recs for Caribbean American reads, disability lit, and Jewish American books. They also have a fantastic selection of LGBTQ+ booklists, and a truly wonderful staff picks page.
Yu & Me Books
Yu & Me Books, a beloved community space in New York City’s Chinatown, and the first Asian American women-owned bookstore in NYC, recently suffered a devastating fire and will be closed indefinitely as they rebuild and repair. In the meantime, you can support them by purchasing through their Bookshop.org storefront. You can, of course, buy just about any book through their shop and they’ll earn a commission, but they also have some fantastic lists set up for your browsing pleasure: food & noms, joy & love, and favorite NYC & Chinatown stories, to name just a few.
The Imaginary Bookshop
I have to give a shoutout to my local indie, The Imaginary Bookshop in Greenfield, MA. They are a tiny but mighty store with a big focus on speculative fiction, horror, fantasy, and queer lit. I can personally attest to their impeccably curated selection — I’ve found some indie press gems there I rarely see in bookstores! But if you don’t live in Western MA, don’t fret. Their Bookshop.org storefront is one of my favorites, with fabulous rec lists such as: Books for Your Terrible Uncle, Cute Cryptids, and Oh Dang: It’s Mushrooms!
And there are so many more than just these five! Third Place Books in Seattle has one of my favorite staff picks pages (and they have three locations and a lot of staff, so don’t say I didn’t warn you). Each staff member has their own page with a list of favorites, and they’re all personally annotated, so buying books from these lists is basically like having a real human handsell you a book.
Bluestockings Cooperative in NYC has a website I just love everything about. The booklist currently on their homepage is “Hot Beach Reads Every Hot Bitch Needs” and they also have a whole section simply called “Yeah We Gay” with about 15 separate rec lists. Need I say more?
Good luck reigning yourselves in, readers.