“They”, in the DJ-Khaledian sense of the word, would like you to believe that the era of the bookstore is dead and gone. And they could have a point. It seems like bookstores are disappearing. I walked into the GW Bookstore the other day and I almost was ready to believe them. There was nothing redeeming about the trip. I was there for 11 minutes: I spent $60 on a printout written by the physics department and spent $45 on an iClicker, both of which were required. It was musty and sour and I realized I had not been in a proper bookstore in at least a year.
The Borders bookstore by my house became a Barnes and Nobles with a coffee shop inside it and then it became a BevMo, which is like the Costco of liquor stores. I’m not usually one to complain about deals on alcohol, but having a bookstore nearby when I grew up was a big part of my childhood. There’s something wonderful about bookstores: a place to walk around and flip through books you would never see anywhere else. If you don’t wander and watch, you’ll have a tough time finding books in new subjects and by new authors. Amazon may be convenient but it doesn’t encourage branching out, it recommends you books like the ones you’ve already read. And that’s not the point of a bookstore. Bookstores are about branching out and exploring new interests as well as old ones.
Luckily, we have at least one great used bookstore in D.C. Everything about Capitol Hill Books shouts in your face that the bookstore is owned and run by real people who care about books. There is no Dewey Decimal system sorting the books as you would find in a library. There is no algorithm deciding which books go where in order to maximize profit like a national chain. What there is, is organized chaos. Books are sorted loosely by subject and slightly more rigidly by the first letter in the author’s last name. It is a unique bookstore run by unique people, as can be seen in store and on their Twitter account.
Before visiting Capitol Hill Books, I had never been afraid of avalanches in D.C. And never had I been so careful and particular with my motions, lest I cause a whole roomful of books to crash down over me and everyone else in the store. It’s not a bad feeling, really. I highly recommend taking a trip and squeezing through their stacks.
Capitol Hill Books is a used bookstore so you can get the books you want at low prices while supporting a local bookstore. I saw tons of fantastic books there for under $10. As if you needed more of a reason to visit, the store has free wine and cheese nights during which they discuss their book of the month. And since it’s in Eastern Market, it’s just a short Metro ride away. It’s even walkable, if you’re really feeling this newly tolerable weather.