Breaking All Four Walls: Boston Bookstores That Aren’t Actually Stores

Posted by Allison Racicot
I love indie bookstores. Especially ones that smell like funky used paperbacks and whose wooden floors creak under your shoes. They’re probably some of my favorite places ever.
But do you know what can feel even cooler than floors creaking under your shoes? Outdoor bookstores! Outdoor libraries! Where grass and gravel crunch under your shoes instead! These little bookstores are just hanging out in different corners of your neighborhood, waiting for you to stumble upon them in all their bookish glory, and the Boston area has several of them all over the place. Here are three super-cool outdoor havens to drop off and pick up books without actually stepping foot inside a bookstore.
Harvard Square Book TableThe Harvard Square Book Table is a perfect example of stumbling upon an outdoor bookstore. The whole book table business is built on the honor system, and has been doing so for over five years. Shoppers have nearly 100 book choices that are constantly changing, and are trusted to leave their money in the lockbox, which seems to be working pretty well. One of my friends and I found the table while walking around Harvard Square one day (for anyone around Boston, it’s down near the Brattle Theatre), and were automatically preparing ourselves to walk away with at least four or five books each. The books were cheap—I don’t remember one being more than seven dollars—and with no dude with a cash register or anything, the store was even more awesome. Try to check this place out during sunny days, though; at even the slightest chance of rain, the books are packed away and a tarp is thrown over the table to protect your future purchases.
Brattle Book Shop AlleywayThis little shop is on West Street, almost right across from the Boston Common, and pretty much offers the best of both worlds, funky used paperback smell included. Complete with a mural devoted to several famous authors including Hemingway, Kafka, Asimov, and of course, Dr. Seuss, the Brattle’s alley is lined with bookshelves that are embedded in the walls of the surrounding buildings, and a bunch of pushcarts are arranged in the middle, as well (except, like the book table, on rainy days). Added bonus! When the Brattle closes for the night, the bookshelves in the walls close, too, offering even more bookish paintings for people to enjoy. And who can say no to book art?
Somerville’s Payphone Library: James Fox, president of the Friends of the Somerville Public Library, put together the phone booth and revamped it into one of the tiniest and most intriguing libraries in the city. Its bright red paint job makes it hard to miss, and the clear flip-up covering protects books from the weather while also acting as a browsing window for passersby. Several little signs taped up on the payphone instruct people to “take one, leave one,” but that rule isn’t set in stone—a sticker on the top shelf also suggests “heck, just take one,” so hey, you’re free to do whatever your heart desires. Just take a book, enjoy it, and maybe leave one for someone else to enjoy, too; it’s good karma. As a bonus, this little library is right across from a bakery in Ball Square in Somerville, so you can totally go grab a cupcake or something and then browse the payphone’s book selection. That’s something that I never thought I’d be writing, but there’s a first time for everything, right?

Want to see if there are any shops or libraries like these in your area? Check out! They have a list of hundreds of little free libraries all over the world, so you’re bound to find one nearby.