Sure, the turmoil of our modern age may have you staring at your brightly lit screen every waking moment, but when's the last time you put down the device and looked at a nice, non-glowing book? There's something reassuring about the printed word nowadays, whether it be the novel that transports you to distant lands or the finely sourced cookbook that will give you better recipes than anywhere online. Luckily, there are plenty of places in the Valley where you can find these magical objects, sometimes for free. Here are our favorite literary locations in the Phoenix metro are.
Best Library: Yucca Branch, Phoenix Public Library
5648 North 15th Avenue
Among the mainstays in our Phoenix Public Library chain, Yucca Branch manages to maintain its old-timey charm and combine it with state-of-the-art features that make checking out a book or researching a term paper a real pleasure. Friendly and helpful staff are on hand to cheerfully renew your library card, help you find the best popcorn movie, or recommend nice new fiction based on what you like best to read. Lots of comfortable seating and a fast auto-checkout are among Yucca's newest features — two more reasons why, when it comes to multimedia borrowing, this place is the best.
Best Zine Shop: Wasted Ink Zine Distro
2222 North 16th Street
Zines may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of Phoenix, but we're a city that boasts a pretty vibrant DIY publishing scene. Scan the shelves of record stores and coffee shops over the years and you'll have seen stapled, folded, and hand-bound zines with evocative titles like Hoozdo, AZ Kaos, B-Sides, The Paper Plane, and Pages Per Content. The downside to this literary underground was not having a dedicated place to find all these amazing indie pubs. But over time that's changed, and nobody is doing it as well as the folks at Wasted Ink Zine Distro. Run by Charissa Lucille, WIZD is a home for chapbooks, photo zines, memoirs, how-to books, and a wealth of other DIY publications.
Best Used Bookstore: Old Town Books
518 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
Spotting a little wheeled bookshelf packed with used books on Mill Avenue can be a welcome change to the rowdy clubs and weirdly lit women's clothing shops. It means you've reached the entrance to Old Town Books — a classic Tempe bookstore around since the 1980s. It's a cash-only operation run by an incredibly friendly older couple, and is jammed with used books and periodicals from floor to ceiling. The shop is general-interest in nature, but has expansive sections in Arizona, Native American, and Old West history. Old Town also carries vintage, first edition, and out-of-print books, along with the more familiar used books you'd expect to see.
Best Bookstore: Changing Hands Bookstore
6428 South McClintock Drive, Tempe
In the long-ago time, there were lots of bookstores dotting the Valley — mostly chains, but it was easy to find a place to pick up something to read. Even then, we still made our way to Changing Hands, an institution since 1974, because of the diverse selection of books and other merchandise; knowledgable, friendly staff; and the cool neighborhood vibe. Today, most of the chain stores are gone, but Changing Hands has stood the test of time (and with a second location to boot). From signings with prominent authors and a packed event calendar that includes workshops and children's activities, to the Phoenix location's hip First Draft Book Bar and an ongoing commitment to being a community-minded business, there is plenty to love about Changing Hands.
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Best Comic Book Shop: All About Books and Comics
24 West Camelback Road
All About Books and Comics has been around for over three decades in the Valley. That's a hell of a lot longer than the tenure of most of the creative teams who make the comic books they sell. The staff at All About Books and Comics are knowledgeable and passionate about their stock. And there is a lot of it. Home to a dizzying array of single issues, graphic novel collections, toys, and other geeky paraphernalia, All About is a one-stop shop for any fan of four-color culture. And if you're looking to stock up comics on a budget, All About has a discount comic hub just four doors down from their "superstore."
Best Book Sale: VNSA Book Sale
1826 West McDowell Road
Once a year, bibliophiles and bookworms across the Valley congregate for a long weekend of standing in lines and rifling through stacks and stacks of books. Like the pilgrims heading to Canterbury, devoted readers converge on the Arizona State Fairgrounds, to score some sweet finds at the annual Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association book sale. Folks line up way before sunrise for a chance to get a first crack at a huge warehouse full of books. The VNSA collects book donations year-round, amassing a huge collection of works — everything from best-sellers to rare, one-of-a-kind volumes. Most of these books are priced to move, so a frugal book fiend can walk away with a shopping cart jam-packed with goodies.
Best Spanish-Language Bookstore: Palabras Bilingual Bookstore
1738 East McDowell Road
Palabras is a unique gathering place in central Phoenix, a bright, energetic space that caters to the community while providing an invaluable resource for the city's large Spanish-speaking population. The book selection veers toward titles in Spanish and English that promote diversity and social and cultural awareness. There's other merchandise for sale, too, including shirts, home goods, and work by local artists. Palabras offers far more than just what it sells, though. The space is home to programming like POC (people of color) open mics, language classes, and writing nights for both Spanish and English writers. We're lucky to have it in the Valley.