Literary Locales: The Best of Bookish Nantucket
In a bittersweet turn of events, I am leaving Nantucket, and moving back to western New York, in the coming weeks. Over my last year here, I’ve discovered that Nantucket is a gloriously literate place, with an entire festival devoted to books, little nooks offering free or low-cost books at almost every turn, fabulous independent bookstores, and the best public library I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.
So, as letter of farewell to a place I have truly loved, here’s an ode to all that is good and book-related on Nantucket:
Let’s start at the very beginning: bookstores. Nantucket has been notoriously successful at preventing the incursion of chain stores, so it should come as no surprise that Nantucket Island boasts not one, but two excellent independent bookstores: Mitchell’s Book Corner (54 Main Street) and Nantucket Bookworks (25 Broad Street). Both have their perks and idiosyncrasies (and I personally prefer Bookworks), but both are havens.
Mitchell’s Book Corner is the sunnier of the two, with two floors worth of bright, cheerful bookshelves overlooking Main Street, an extensive Nantucket section, and big comfy leather chairs perfect for curling up in.
Nantucket Bookworks, meanwhile, is currently under renovation and therefore closed, so I can’t comment on what it will be like going forward. However, the owners have made every indication that they are seeking to preserve what makes Bookworks so lovable: its coziness, its narrow isles with books spilling from everywhere, its wooden floors and walls, and its quirkiness. I look forward to coming back to see the new Bookworks whenever it’s open and ready!
And if you want to be a bit more thrifty, the numerous thrift shops on-island tend to have good used book offerings. I find the Seconds Shop at 32 Sparks Avenue, benefiting Family & Children’s Services of Nantucket, has the best selection with hefty fiction, nonfiction, and cookbook sections.
I cannot say enough positive things about the Nantucket Atheneum (1 India Street), the island’s public library. I’ve lived in a lot of different places and used a lot of libraries, both public and private, but it is still safe to say that the Nantucket Atheneum is the best one by far.
The Atheneum is historic, it’s comprehensive, it’s friendly (heck, it’s even dog-friendly, with a full jar of treats at the front desk), and it’s beautiful, with the Great Hall upstairs if you want grandeur and plenty of little corners downstairs for more intimate reading. Tied in with the Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing (CLAMS, geddit?) system, the Atheneum can get pretty much anything you could possibly want and keeps a well-stocked home base full of goodies to tide you over until it arrives on the next fast ferry.
And, if you’re looking for book-based activities, the Atheneum also offers an incredibly diverse roster of programs to keep up with all your bookish hobbies, from the Moving Pen Writer’s Group to bookbinding and other book arts workshops to poetry discussion groups (not to mention great lectures and film screenings!).
Book Swaps/Community Libraries
Because everyone seems to enjoy reading so much, there are a number of great little book swaps around the island. These seem to keep popping up, so forgive me if I missed anyone, but two of my favorites are Annye’s Whole Foods‘ “Little Free Library” (14 Amelia Drive) and the swap shelf at The Handlebar Cafe (15 Washington Street).
Of the two, Annye’s “Little Free Library” (motto: Get Some, Give Some) has the more comprehensive selection, with a big old bookshelf filled to the brim with great options. (A recent trip there unearthed Sarah Waters’ latest The Paying Guests, LT-favorite Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and a number of old Penguin classics. Yes, please.)
Handlebar Cafe, however, is great for luxuriating with a new-found book-friend. You can stop by their little book swap, find something new, and then enjoy coffee or tea with a Wicked Island morning bun while you read and enjoy the view of the harbor. There is quite seriously nothing better!
Of course, often there is nothing more enticing than a big ole pile of books, free for the taking. And for that, you need look no further than the “Take It Or Leave It.” This Nantucket institution is out on the Madaket Road and is a place for people to leave all manner of things they no longer want for others to take for free.
Happily, there is a huge book section, mixed in with the Everest of clothing, furniture that has seen better days, and the is-it-broken-maybe-not-let’s-find-out appliances. You can’t go in looking for any book in particular, but I have never come away from the Take It Or Leave book area empty-handed. More often, I come away with books I’ve always meant to read, favorites to share with friends, and newly-discovered To Be Read List entrants.
Top of the list for bookish activity on-island is undoubtedly the Nantucket Book Festival. Happening one magical weekend a year (June 19-21, 2015 this year), the Nantucket Book Festival offers a variety of book talks, lectures, and panel discussions of all things book.
For the rest of the year, there’s the aforementioned Nantucket Atheneum for all book needs as well as occasional offerings in book arts classes from the Artists Association of Nantucket.
Also worth a mention is the Nantucket Historical Association, which plays host to visiting authors, offering book talks and writing workshops throughout the year.
And, of course, as far as bookish activities go, is there anything better than reading by the sea? As I was told by a long-time island resident when I first moved here, on Nantucket you’re never more than 5 minutes away from a beach at any given moment. So take advantage! Many Nantucket beaches, even at the height of summer, are a delight — rarely crowded and incredibly calming — and bringing a book just makes them even better. So hunker down in the sand with a good book. It doesn’t get any better than this.