I love bookstores; especially those wonderful little hole-in-the-wall places that you hear about from a friendly local, or even better yet, that you just stumble across when you aren’t even looking for them. Magus Books is one of those places.
Housed in an old brick building, that is covered in ivy, and has the uneven floors that only time and thousands of feet can carve out, Magus Books is the perfect quintessential used bookstore.
- It is small.
- It is near a university.
- It is housed in an old building full of character.
- It is owned and operated by people who love books, and more importantly read them.
- It is inexpensive, has an unbelievably broad selection.
- It is cavernous, but not dusty.
- There are no cats.
- It does not smell musty.
In short, Magus Books is everything you could possibly want in a used bookstore. I love that in one store, roughly the size of your average elementary classroom, you can find first hand travelogues from the turn of the century, classic literature, the last latest best seller, scholarly discussions on (just about every known) philosophical or religious movement, architecture, cooking, and even a fairly decent collection of Manga and gaming books. It also has an utterly fantastic children’s section. Like the store, it is small but well stocked. Timeless classics and more recent works sit side by side.
I first discovered Magus Books a few years ago while staying in the Seattle University District to attend a book signing. It was a rare swelteringly hot day in Seattle, and the hotel I was staying at, while full of 100-year-old charm, lacked air-conditioning. In search of respite from the heat, my companion and I headed out of the stifling hotel and began to make our way towards the bookstore where the signing was to be held a little later that day. Ok, four hours later, but with the promise of books and air-conditioning, it was hardly going to be a hardship. In truth, the short (.3 miles) walk in the heat was the only thing that was remotely daunting about the situation. I am ashamed to say it, but we actually considered driving.
However, our decision to walk instead of drive paid off in spades, for just as we reached the corner of 15th Avenue and 42nd, street I happened to notice a cart loaded with books sitting just outside the doorway of an old brick building. Cartloads of books outside usually mean one of two things; that the books are either on sale or, better yet, are free. How could I resist?
Heading towards the books, like a moth to a flame, it was only then that I noticed the green awning that was shading these books from the late afternoon sun. It read simply, Magus Books, in crisp white letters.
After a cursory glance at the outdoor selection, I entered the store, as much to investigate its treasures as to escape the glaring sunlight. Like all used bookstores, there is a wonderful labyrinth effect that seems to unfold as one wanders deeper and deeper into the stacks. However, with bookcases that are in excess of 10 feet tall, it may be better to compare the experience in this particular shop to exploring a deep cavern. I quickly allowed myself to be ensconced by the familiar insulated silence that comes from being surrounded by walls of books and began to explore the more than 80,000 volumes of used books, both scholarly and general.
How it was that I had never heard nor encountered this place still boggles my mind, because Magus Books has been a staple in Seattle’s University district since 1978. In fact, it is the oldest independent used book storefront in Seattle and was founded by David Bell, a man who loved books so much that when he passed away in 2006 he donated close to $700,000 to the University of Washington’s Libraries to ensure the preservation the special collections. And that love of books can be felt in the store; from the hand made bookcases to the unique art that lives behind the sales counter.
This is a bookstore for people who love books, and is one of my favorites. I never fail to leave with something, and more often than not, quite a few somethings.