A brief guide to northern Michigan bookstores: Traverse City

As I’ve already shared, J and I recently returned from a lovely week-long vacation in northern Michigan, specifically the Traverse City region. While we made sure to hit up all the important sites – namely, lots of wineries and breweries – I also made a point to visit as many independent bookstores as I could. While it sometimes feels like I have to drive all over town to find a great, welcoming indie here in Metro Detroit, one can’t go a few feet Up North without stumbling across some great book shop, all of which are incredibly different and special.

Obviously, we didn’t go to EVERY bookstore in the Traverse City region (remember: wineries and the beach were calling), but here’s a brief guide to the ones we revisited, as well as the ones we discovered for the first time.

Horizons Books

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This is the place it seems every book lover visits in Traverse City, not surprising considering it’s on Front Street in the heart of historic downtown Traverse City. Horizons was the biggest indie I visited, with three floors of books and coffee accessible on two of those levels. I think this place can feel a little sterile sometimes, but I absolutely adore its collection of bargain books in the basement – we ended up buying three great titles for less than $15. Plus, the place is big enough to hold readings and book clubs, and is always hopping.

Brilliant Books

This was a new one for me, which is surprising considering it’s also on Front Street in Traverse City. I think this is one of my favorite new bookstores. The shop is in an older building with a charming front window display, and so it wins the cute factor. It’s not huge, but it’s well laid out and with plenty of browsing space. But what I loved most was how well curated the space was; it felt like the employees have taken great care to create meaningful displays, highlighting great titles rarely seen in big box bookstores. I definitely want to return.

Leelanau Books

The other little town we hit up while we were north was Leland, MI on a particularly nasty and rainy day. I didn’t know this shop existed (didn’t see on the visitors’ map, that is) until we were forced to duck inside to escape the gale. It’s very small, but completely charming. It’s in a long, narrow space, so it’s a little cramped making your way from front to back, but they had a great section on northern Michigan history and nature guides. Remind me to buy a book on wildflowers sometime – how adorable would it be to learn the names of your local wildflowers? I have to do it.

Good Old Books

photo 5 (1)Good Old Books, however, wins – hands down – for my favorite bookstore of the trip, and perhaps one of my favorite bookstores ever. We kept seeing signs for this place while we were exploring Leland, and so once the rain died down, we hiked a block outside downtown, following signs until it led to…a random house? Well, there were arrows saying the “Books” were this way, so we kept going until we found ourselves in the back room of master bookseller George Ball’s house, where he has amassed a huge collection of used books. He specializes in signed copies, rare books, and the Rivers of America series – Ball said he may have one of the largest complete collection of this series in the country. His books were unfortunately a tad too expensive for me, though it was awesome browsing his shelves. Of course, the space is small so you can’t escape a conversation with Mr. Ball, though why would you want to? The man is fascinating and full of stories, and even taught this English major/future librarian/former bookseller/all around book nerd a fact or two.

And those were the spots we hit up this trip. I’m sure there are some that we missed and I’d love to hear about them! What other great indies are Up North, in the Traverse City region or elsewhere? Because really, there’s no tourism like book tourism.

A different country

If you noticed the rash of published book reviews here lately, I can explain. J and I just returned from a wonderful week in northern Michigan, and I’m still playing catch-up with life. We were fortunate to stay with some old college friends whose family has a house on a smaller lake (smaller compared to Lake Michigan) in the Traverse City area, and so for six whole days we: swam, boated, read on the dock, tasted a lot of wine and spirits, climbed some sand dunes, went to some great independent bookstores, ate a lot of cherries, saw a movie, ate really good food, and stared at a lot of blue water. It. Was. Wonderful.

We’re already planning next year’s trip.

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Lake Michigan from the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

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Coffee by the lake.

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Peninsula Cellars Winery.

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Field of sunflowers.

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Lake Michigan feels like the ice bucket challenge.

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The dock.

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The land where all the cherries come from.

In total, I went to four or five bookstores. Only bought three books - good girl.

In total, I went to four or five bookstores. Only bought three books – good girl.

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The view from 2 Lads Winery – does it get any better?

Summertime in northern Michigan

The past few years have been the height of J’s and my WEDDING SEASON, also known as the period in your life where everyone you know is getting married (including yourself!), and you’re invited to ten dozen weddings, and in more than half of them. It’s exhausting and financially draining, but I’m happy to say that our WEDDING SEASON is thankfully winding down. We have only (!) four weddings to attend this year, and are in none – phew.

Next up is BABY SEASON, which has sorta already started though not for most of my close friends. Which is worse? We’ll see.

Yesterday, we went to our second wedding of the year in Petoskey, Michigan. It’s a four-hour drive, but it’s all worth it because it’s northern Michigan, on Lake Michigan, and it’s summertime. The living is easy.

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This trip was sort of a preview of our big Up North trip this year – a whole week with friends in Traverse City. Can’t. Wait.

Getting ready to embark on an adventure

Ahh, back to real life again.  The Christmas holiday is finally over, and while New Years is quickly approaching, the boyfriend and I have moved out of the parents’ homes (where we were staying for a week in order to partake in more holiday cheer) and back into our Cincinnati apartment.  I continue to work at Half-Price like a mad woman (who is growing ever more mad with Half-Price Books’ everything-is-20%-off-after-Christmas-sale), and Joel heads back to class next week.  Real life, right?

Wrong.  With the UC Bearcats set to play in the Sugar Bowl on New Years Day, myself, my Bearcat boyfriend and our friends will be heading down to New Orleans for the next couple of days to attend said shindig.  While we’re there, we’ll be enjoying the various New Years’ eve activities in one of America’s craziest, most beautiful cities.

I’ve never been a football fan myself (there’s a reason I went to Miami University, not Ohio State), and so the *football* part of this trip doesn’t particularly interest me.  Of course, it will be a worthwhile experience to be at a major BCS bowl game–something many people don’t get to do.  What I’m really excited about, though, is being in New Orleans, a city I’ve always wanted to visit.  Satisfying my francophilia, our hotel is conveniently located right next to the French quarter.  I’m also excited because of New Orleans’ literary history.  Besides being the setting for one of my favorite novels of all time–The Awakening by Kate Chopin–it is also the home of Ignatius J. Reilly, the indomitable star of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  A statue of Ignatius happens to be down the road from where we’re staying, so I’m definitely going to drag my friends there.

If you have any ideas for neat places to visit in New Orleans, let me know!  We leave early-early tomorrow morning (1 a.m….ugh, what an ungodly hour).  Since I work today, I will be sacked out in the back, hopefully resting up for my 4 hour driving shift in Alabama or Mississippi.  I’m going to need lots of coffee for this one…

Also, the Christmas holiday has understandably distracted me from sufficiently updating this blog lately.  I have a few posts planned for the upcoming weeks, so keep an eye out for posts on

  • More annals of customer service, part 2 and 3.  With the Christmas shopping rush, and post-holiday sales, there have been plenty of hijinks and mishaps that have forever changed the way I see humanity.
  • New books and New Years’ resolutions.  Even though I’ll be in New Orleans for New Years, I have big plans for my New Years resolution, starring a new book I picked up from Half-Price yesterday.  Don’t worry though; I’m starting my project on Monday.
  • A review of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence.  I won’t be starting a new book until I’m back from New Orleans, and so I’ll be reading my New Yorkers in the time being.