Portland, Maine has a good number of bookstores, considering its small size. Along with the late (and missed) Casco Bay Books, you have Yes Books, with its amazing selection of used and rare books. (Leave your wallet at home and take a predetermined amount of cash. Trust me.) Books, Etc. has been in the Old Port for years; despite being smack in the middle of this tourist-heavy part of town, they largely avoid stocking piles upon piles of books about lobsters and ornery-yet-handsome old fishermen.
There are others, all deserving of praise in their own way, but standing above them all is Longfellow Books. Since I am already on record describing it as “dynamite,” I now face the task of proving its dynamiteness.
Named after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who was born and raised here, and attended Bowdoin College, the store is a short distance down Congress St. from the Longfellow Square statue. The space itself has a sort of aura of calm once you enter — other bookstores, there’s just a different atmosphere. At Longfellow, one gets a sense of having entered a retreat, a sanctuary. Somehow, the store seems to sense customers who aren’t serious about their books and burps them right back out onto the sidewalk. There’s usually unassuming music playing, just loud enough to pick up on and trigger curiosity, if you’re interested. There’s occasionally a dog sleeping inside. The dog is, without fail, calm.
The selection is eclectic — yes, there are a few books aimed at the heavy tourist trade, but the store is often more focused on books by local, just-getting-started authors of fiction and poetry. Longfellow does the most to support local writers, from holding readings to drumming up support in its e-mail newsletter, and seems to draw the bigger names more readily as well. An enormous crowd turned up for the recent Achak Deng/Eggers reading. That’s one of my favorite things about Longfellow — one gets a sense there, more than anywhere, of not being the only person in Maine with an interest in good writing.
If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to see your favorite bookstore mentioned, send email to bookstores [at] maudnewton [dot] com telling me about it. Please include a photo or a link to one.