Bookshops of Boston: Trident Books

Like other cities, Boston has many fewer independent bookshops than it once did. But there is one still standing among the boutiques of Newbury St, the smartest shopping street in town. Trident Booksellers has been there since 1984 and it seems to be still going strong.

This is a destination store for me; either I go into the centre primarily to visit Trident books or else I end up there. It is a two-storey bookshop with two cafes. Unlike most bookshops in the UK, the cafes are not franchised to a chain like Costa or Cafe Nero, but are run by the same management as the bookseller, one on the ground floor with tables outside in the summer, and one on the first floor where you can watch the shoppers and Berklee-bound music students passing by below.

These do hearty, homestyle health food, with lashings of quinoa and offer about 17 types of non-dairy milk for your latte. It is also licensed and you get a pint of robust New England porter here until midnight.

If you don’t feel like tackling a book, there is generally something interesting on the well-stocked magazine rack. By the till are selections of their current fiction and nonfiction top-sellers, which seem to reflect the tastes of the cultured crew who hang out here. I found Han Han’s essays there, Hillbilly Elegy by J D Vance, and Rupi Kaur’s two volumes of poetry.

There are sections on psychology, science, history and so forth, with serious and light-hearted choices, from hefty tomes on the American Revolution to books of photographs of log cabins. I got Russell Shorto’s Revolution Song here, which tells the story of the American Revolution by interweaving the biographies of six historical figures. I found it the most illuminating book on this subject I have come across. Reading George Washington’s narrative along with a slave’s makes the revolutionary emphasis on individual liberty seem so self-serving.

Browsing upstairs before Xmas, I bought a volume of Walt Whitman’s “Advice on Manly Health and Training”, compiled from newspaper columns, enabling my son to truthfully say he read Whitman in the holidays. There is also a sale table where hardbacks go when the paperback comes out. I am waiting for Clinton’s ‘What Happened’ to land there.

In the evening there is a busy calendar of events: author and poets talks, storytelling nights, but also more unexpected things like book swaps, a Golden Globe watching party and a Great British Bake-off Murder Mystery Dinner Party: “A star baker has been battered, and everyone's a suspect--even Mary Cherry. With the police loafing around and the whole set in a pitta despair, it's up to you to crack this case as tough as an overcooked biscuit and see the murderer is toast.”

These are challenging times for booksellers globally. They have to compete for people’s time and money in a crowded marketplace. Trident Booksellers shows how diversifying and employing a creative approach can succeed. Lang may its lum reek, as we Scots like to say at this time of year.

Another favourite bookshop of mine is Commonwealth Books, home to Leo the cat.