Books on the Square – Providence, RI

The Award Wall

When I walked into this cozy community bookstore, I over heard a bookseller tell a child reading a book “it’s so nice to hear you laugh!”  The people working at Books on the Square love talking about books with everyone.  We chatted about the latest IndieBound Next List, one of my favorite monthly recommendation notifications.  This is a traditional independent bookstore involved in its community, the place many people dream about having in their lives.  There are several book clubs for the Providence resident and a list of author visits that could fill anyone’s calendar with literary events.  But for the 3,000 mile distance, I’d be there to hear Anthony Amore talk about his book Stealing Rembrandts next week.

I found one of my favorite displays at Books on the Square, a whole wall dedicated to award winners.  It’s not unusual for a bookstore to highlight the latest Pulitzer or National Book Award winner, but Books on the Square showed the current winners and those from several years in the past for the Pulitzer, the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner.  Just looking for trends in the winners was fascinating.  What award chose most new authors?  Females?  Which book fizzled despite the award?  Which ones were kind of boring?  Which ones made my sigh remembering how much I loved reading them?  I would add the Booker Award to the wall, it isn’t an American award, but certainly one that considers quality literature.

As for the child who was laughing?  His mother corralled him saying they’d been in the store “forever” and warning him “no walking while reading,” something I’ve said to my kids numerous times.  I left feeling I’d spent some time in a bookstore that works to be a member of the family in Providence.

Books on the Square

471 Angell St.

Providence, RI 02906

T:  401.331.9097


Old Harbor Books – Sitka, Alaska

I’m so sorry for the break in posts, the cold and flu season visited our home early this year and hit me the hardest, ugh!  Anyway, I’m hoping to get back in to the rhythm of two or three posts a week next month.  Until then, enjoy this post from my dear friend Leslie Boatwright.

Sitka, Alaska, is only accessible by boat or air but is the fourth largest city in Alaska. Unlike other similar cities such as Ketchikan and Juneau in Alaska’s inland waterway, Sitka does not have a deep water pier, which keeps many of the major cruise ships away. Most of the shops are owned and frequented by the locals, so they are open all year round, rather than just during the height of tourist season.

The Russian Orthodox church, dating back to when the Russians came to Alaska for the fur trade, is the focal point of the downtown area. Just down the street about one half block from the church is Old Harbor Books.

The bookstore is in a lovely wooden building that makes you immediately feel at home. I can easily imagine how cozy it is during the colder months, but even in the summer when this part of the state is misty and chilly, it is a welcome haven. If you are interested in learning about Alaska and Northwestern Canada, this is a terrific place to stop. Almost one wall of the store contains books about the history of Alaska and Canada, the animals, the flora and fauna, places to hike and information about local fishing.

Old Harbor Books is owned and run by eight local residents, six who have been owners since the bookstore opened in1976. The management has always taken a strong environmental position, including one of the owners chaining himself to the store in 1991 to protest local logging. You can find out much about the community including political and environmental issues by looking at the postings on the walls, shelves and center island.

There is an old functioning printing press in the center of the store, next to all of the New York Times bestsellers. My personal favorite when visiting bookstores is the employee recommendations and Old Harbor Books has lots of them. Clearly these folks are truly book lovers and heavy readers.

My daughters spent our entire visit in a corner nook with a really nice selection of both children’s books and YA books. While a small area, it had all their favorites, plus a few we weren’t familiar with yet.

And, if you just want to sit down, relax and peruse a book while enjoying coffee or tea, the Back Door Café opens up in the back of the store.

Old Harbor Books

201 Lincoln Street

Sitka, AK 99835

(907) 747-8808



Cottage Book Shop – Glen Arbor, MI

I love the canoe bookshelf in the front room

Cottage Book Shop reflects its community inside and out.  As independent bookstore lovers would expect, there are numerous books about the area.  Leelanau County is on the northern shore of Lake Michigan with a vibrant arts community and burgeoning vineyards.  The front section of the Cottage Book Shop is dedicated to these activities along with the history of the area, recreational activity books, and books by local authors.  Their bestseller is Historic Cottages of Glen Lake by Barbara Siepker which is appropriate since the store itself is an old log cabin with a quaint feel and Barbara Siepker is the owner of the store.  She certainly lives into her love of lake cottages.  In addition to books, there is lovely local artwork, maps, and drawings.

While the front room is largely dedicated to local interest books, the remainder of the store is divided into the rooms of the former cottage.  I like stores that are in re-purposed buildings that retain the feel of their original use.  Here, the logs used to build the cabin are exposed and the kitchen still feels like one, albeit with some books.  The book selection is obviously well thought out.  A multitude of genres are offered, each with a few choice selections.  The fiction section was larger and contained books frequently recommended by other independent bookstores, so a reader can’t go wrong.  While I didn’t look at the children’s section myself, I did see two girls with several books trying to convince their mother to buy them, I’ll accept that as an endorsement of the kids books.

With a warm, welcoming atmosphere and lots of interesting books to peruse, Cottage Book Shop a terrific store to leisurely meander through.

Cottage Book Shop

5989 Lake St.

Glen Arbor, MI

T:  231.334.4223





Contemporary Art Museum Bookstores: Hirshhorn Museum and Dia:Beacon

Recently I was fortunate enough to visit Dia:Beacon and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden within days of each other.  In addition to viewing incredible art, I easily compared the difference between the bookstores for these two contemporary art museums.

A separate issue for each animal, vultures anyone?

Dia:Beacon’s bookstore is well stocked and fairly high brow.  There is an impressive collection of journals, monographs, criticism, and unique publications.  I was intrigued by the colorful shelf of journals in which each issue specialized in a specific type of animal.  Who knew there was enough interest in the crow to dedicate an entire journal to it.

The selections were challenging.  This isn’t the bookstore for the contemporary art novice, but what a treasure trove for people who are ready to go beyond The Shock of the New.  While the store is compact, the choices available for felt overwhelming at times.  I stared at the criticism shelves alternating between delighted and exhausted.  There is a children’s section that offers a variety of fun and educational options.  Even better, cases with actual art and art books are sprinkled through out the store.  I wish more museum bookstores offered more original current art and less reproductions.  While Dia:Beacon is a little remote for visit just for the bookstore, it is certainly worth carving out some time to peruse books about the art represented in the collection.  Moreover, the Dia Foundation hosts an online store that is a good place to start any foray into contemporary art books.

Some I already owned, some I've bought, and some are on my wish list

The experience at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is significantly different.  This is at a museum store, the space is divided fairly evenly between books and museum reproductions/jewelry/toys.  While there are significantly less offerings at the Hirshhorn than at Dia:Beacon, these books are geared toward the lay person.  In fact, there were so many books that I wanted that I couldn’t choose, so instead of buying any I just took a picture of the shelves to make a wish list for later.  On the one hand, the store overall is a lovely museum store, but the book section is fairly sparse and normally not worth stopping by unless you’re already at the museum.  On the other, I was surprised at how interested I was in the books that were on display.  Unlike Dia:Beacon, this isn’t a store to explore contemporary art in depth; the Hirshhorn store sells books that take a reader from a basic understanding of contemporary art to a deeper level.  If you’re walking down the Mall, meander over and drop by the art and maybe a book that will expand your understanding of contemporary art.


3 Beekman St.

Beacon, NY 12508

T:  845.440.0100

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Independence Ave at 7th Street SW

Washington, DC

T:  202.357.1429


Rebels in Paradise – Experiencing it Chapter by Chapter

Pacific Standard Time is an examination of the formation of art in Los Angeles from the 1950s through the 1980s. More than 60 cultural institutions and 70 galleries from Santa Barabara to San Diego are participating. It’s huge and overwhelming. One way to approach the event is with Rebels in Paradise by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp in hand. Drohojowska-Philp’s book describes the LA art culture of the 1960s akin to Vassari, that is part information and part gossip. The book gives a foundation to seeing the art spread out all over Southern California. Readers learn about how Walter Hopps started the Ferus Gallery and provided the fertile ground for the art, but also about his affairs and drug problems. If you think the Cool School artists were sitting around talking about their new art forms-plastics, light, found items, installations the way we imagine the Impressionists in Paris-you’re wrong, they worked all day, then met to drink and talk about women (or men) at night. Chapter by chapter, Rebels in Paradise drops in on the swirl of artists who free of any obligation to the art historical past, created their own art and started entirely new movements. So what better way to approach the extravaganza of Pacific Standard Time then by pairing up events with each chapter? (The ending chapters aren’t included.)

Rebels in Paradise as a Guide to Pacific Standard Time

Chapter One: 1963: Andy and Marcel

Stop by Beatrice Wood: Career Woman-Drawings, Paintings, Vessels, and Objects at the Santa Monica Museum of Art to see the objects she used to serve Marcel Duchamp when he dropped by for tea.

Chapter Two and Three: Ferus Gallery

These chapters describe how the Ferus Gallery started, a great overview of the art is found at California Art: Selections from the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation at the Weisman Museum of Art and at the quintessential Getty Center exhibit, Pacific Standard Time: Crosscurrents in L.A. Painting and Sculpture, 1950 to 1970. Plus, why not see the movie? “The Cool School” is a fun documentary of the era.

Chapter Four: Ferus Goes Forth

Drop by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art‘s installation of Edward Kienholz, Five Car Stud 1969-72, Revisited and their permanent exhibit of “The Illegal Operation.”

Chapter Five: Okies: Ed Ruscha, Mason Williams, Joe Goode, and Jerry McMillan

Ruscha is famous for many works (his backwards Hollywood sign is sure to be seen everywhere the next few months) including his photographs of every building on Sunset Blvd. Check out the video of a current drive down Sunset Blvd with Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Anthony Kiedis. See “The Back of Hollywood” at Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974-1981 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Chapter Six: Bell, Box and Venice

Bell’s work will be party of the Getty exhibit, afterwards drop by his eponymous restaurant in Venice and walk the beach that inspired so many of these artists.

Chapter Seven: Glamour Gains Ground

Gain a sense of the nightlife and music talked about in this chapter by attending a showing and discussion of the documentary “The Troubadors” at the Broad in Santa Monica on November 5th.

Chapter Eight: The Dawn of Dwan

This gallery no longer exists, but visit the exhibit Portrait of L.A. Artists at the Craig Krull Gallery for photos of people discussed in this chatty chapter.

Chapter Nine: A Bit of British Brilliance: David Hockney

Leslie Sacks Fine Art in Brentwood recently opened a show of David Hockney prints from his time in Los Angeles.

Chapter Ten: Wilder Times with Bruce Nauman and Artforum

Nauman’s site specific Green Light Corridor will be shown at the La Jolla branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego as part of the monumental Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface exhibit.

Chapter Eleven: The Ascendency of Irwin’s Atmospherics

Shown throughout the Pacific Standard Times exhibits (his art is in the Weisman, Getty, and MOCA exhibits), make a point of seeing the site specific work the Getty commissioned “Black on White” in the Getty’s entrance rotunda. I saw it during part of the installation a few weeks ago, can’t wait to see it complete.

Chapter Twelve: Set the Night on Fire

Several exhibits will cover the political and African-American art experience: Under the Big Black Sun at MOCA, Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 at the Hammer Museum, Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change at the University Art Museum, Cal State Long Beach, and John Outterbridge at LA>.

Chapter Thirteen: Chicago Comes to Los Angeles

Judy Chicago will speak a few times at the Pomona College Museum of Art, plus the Otis College of Art and Design is hosting a series of events about women artists all around their exhibit Doin’ It in Public: Feminism and Art at the Woman’s Building.

Chapter Fourteen and Fifteen: See Chapter Four above.

Chapter Sixteen: Gemini GEL

Gemini GEL is offering behind-the-scenes tours several times throughout Pacific Standard Time, also visit the Norton Simon for Proof: The Rise of Printmaking in Southern California.

Chapter Seventeen: Between Form and Function: Frank Gehry

Cirrus Gallery is hosting an exhibit featuring works by Gehry, Ruscha and Baldessari, plus Gehry will be speaking at the Getty on December 13th.

Chapter Eighteen: London Calling, L.A. Answers

See Chapter Seven plus for a different take visit the GRAMMY Museum’s Trouble in Paradise: Music and Los Angeles, 1945-1975.

Chapter Nineteen: Love-ins and Outs

Visit the Pacific Party Time exhibit at the Craig Krull Gallery, gives some background as to why the loves were in and out.

Chapter Twenty: Change of Light Brigade: Irwin, Wheeler, and Turrell

For a chance to experience Turrell on his own, drop by his exhibit Present Tense at the Kayne Griffin Corcoran Gallery. For a wonderful overview of the Light and Space movement, visit Phenomenal at Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Chapter Twenty-One: Fantastic Plastic Lovers: DeWain Valentine, Peter Alexander, and Helen Pashgian

One of the Getty’s exhibits is dedicated to DeWain Valentine, From Start to Finish: De Wain Valentine’s Gray Column, plus his art can be seen at the Weisman Museum.

Chapter Twenty-Two: Odd Man In: John Baldessari

The artist included in the most Pacific Standard Time exhibits, you’re sure to see examples everywhere (the Getty, Weisman, MOCA), but for a more intimate experience, drop by the Cirrus Gallery. Even better, he’ll be speaking at the Hammer on October 4th.

Pacific Standard Time is as exciting as it is massive. My list is far from complete, I’d love to hear your additions. With Rebels in Paradise you’ll get the background to fully enjoy the exhibits and for the book lovers, what better guide is there?