The evolution of books is a long and beautiful history. Did you know the first book—as we know them today—was published in the 1830s when book jackets were added and “cheap” novels were born? To the working class, these “penny dreadfuls” were just mass-marketed British paperback novels that cost a penny. As these books migrated to America, the term “dime novel” was coined, which roughly means a sensationalized yet superficial piece of written work. Over the next hundred years, books evolved from print to e-book versions.
Did you also know that in 1995, Amazon launched the first-ever platform for online books? Or that Stephen King’s “Riding the Bullet” is credited as the first mass-marketed online book? Or even that the launch of Amazon’s Kindle sold out in 5.5 hours and remained out of stock for almost five months?
Books are my favorite things in the world! Since I can remember, I have always had a book with me. Whether it was a trip to the mall, an overnight stay at the grandparents or a family vacation, I never left home without a book. While I will admit to having an extensive Kindle library, I do still prefer to read a physical book.
Following are a few of the well-known bookstores in the Pittsburgh area. I have not visited any of them, but after researching for this article, I plan to rectify that. Maybe I will see you there.
908 Galveston Ave. (in the North Side)
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Tuesday by appointment only
City Books, Pittsburgh’s oldest bookstore, was established in 1984 under the ownership of Arlan Hess. City Books is a used bookstore, with most book prices under $10. Collectible and first editions are available around the $30 price point. Limited book sales happen online via the store’s Instagram account. Since City Books is predominately a used bookstore, it does not often carry newer titles. However, City Books offers a Bookshop.org storefront where readers can purchase new books from the distributor for direct home delivery. City Books also has a trade-in program, offering store credit for previously read books. The bookstore is very selective about its inventory, so if you wish to participate in the trade-in program, please email photos of your books to firstname.lastname@example.org.
White Whale Bookstore
4754 Liberty Ave.
Hours: Daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
White Whale Bookstore is a family-owned, general-interest bookstore that opened in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville area in 2016. Its selection of books includes contemporary and literary fiction and nonfiction, poetry, history, philosophy, local authors, independent presses, children’s books and much more. When the pandemic hit, White Whale expanded to include an online book inventory. Today, you can either visit in person or shop online from the comfort of your own home.
Amazing Books and Records
929 Liberty Ave. (downtown Pittsburgh)
Hours: Monday through Thursday 12-6 p.m., Friday and Sunday 12–4 p.m.
5858 Forbes Ave. (Squirrel Hill)
Hours: Sunday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m
Amazing Books and Records is known for its free book or record deal: a free book or record with the purchase of three items (free item not to exceed $10). The company’s Liberty Avenue location first opened in 2013, and its Squirrel Hill location opened the following year. Both locations buy used books and records, so the company’s inventory is constantly growing. The company will purchase any books or records, but it’s best to check the website to see what genres are needed. While on the website, you can also browse the online inventory or use a link to preorder any new book at a discount. Amazing Books and Records also offer Book & (free) Beer Nights! — every Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Squirrel Hill store and every Saturday about an hour after sunset until midnight so that you can drink while you browse. ID is required, and nonalcoholic beverages are available, so all ages are permitted.
Caliban Book Shop
410 S Craig St.
Hours: Daily from 12-5:30 p.m.
Caliban Book Shop is a used bookstore in the heart of Oakland near the Carnegie Museum of Art. The shop buys and sells used and rare books. They have a wide variety of books but tend to avoid purchasing bestsellers, romance novels, and the like. Their prices are about 25% less than online retailers. While they offer in-store shopping only, you can visit the website and preview some of the store’s inventory, including Caliban Book’s selection of rare books. The store also carries a mix of indie rock, ’60s pop, punk, Americana, folk, blues, and jazz albums.
5900 Ellsworth Ave.
Hours: Daily from 12-7 p.m.
Shadyside Books carries over 5,000 books in all fields, with specialties in history, arts, and the sciences. It is located on the second floor of the Caboodle Trading Post store in Shadyside. Books are available for purchase books both in-store and online. The store’s inventory is available online via their website, and new items are added frequently under the New Arrivals website tab.
Whether you decide to visit these bookstores in person or online, I do hope you at least check them out or refer a friend. Print books are a dying art, so let’s do our part by shopping local and keeping books around for future generations. There’s no better feeling than the satisfaction one gets after finishing the last page of a hardcover novel.