Well Read

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Photo by Michael Schalk

A local’s guide to browsing Savannah’s independent bookstores

Written by ALLISON LANE FARMER
Photography by MICHAEL HRIZUK AND MICHAEL SCHALK

“SAVANNAH IS ONE OF THE BEST PLACES in the world to have a bookstore,” shares Betsy Hoit-Thetford, owner of vintage bookstore Books on Bay. For those familiar with Savannah’s thriving arts scene and rich literary history, it’s no surprise that the city is a welcoming host to an impressive and distinct group of bookstores.

With half a dozen independent bookstores within a 5-mile radius, you might expect a certain amount of overlap. Savannah’s literary scene, though, has taken a page from the natural world and exists in an artful state of balance. “Each one of us has a slightly different focus,” Hoit-Thetford says. “Each one of us is needed to make this picture complete for Savannah.” If Savannah is a great city to be a bookseller, it’s an even better city to be a bookworm.

Smiling woman with long gray hair standing behind a glass case of vintage children's books
Betsy Hoit-Thetford is the owner of Books on Bay, one of the top bookstores in the country for vintage children’s series. / Photo by Michael Hrizuk
Woman holding a Nancy Drew Mystery book
Photo by Michael Hrizuk

Books on Bay
411 Abercorn St.

Books on Bay is home to a charming mix of vintage books and curios curated by purveyor and owner Betsy Hoit-Thetford. Now located at 411 Abercorn St. between Taylor Square and Clary’s Cafe, Books on Bay “The Sequel” (as it’s been fondly dubbed following the loss of the original Bay Street storefront’s lease) is more of what shoppers have come to love about the plucky owner and her nostalgic wares.

One of the top bookstores in the country for vintage children’s series and a destination for collectors, The Sequel houses an extensive selection of “Nancy Drew,” “The Hardy Boys,” “Trixie Belden” and “Tom Swift” series, as well as first editions of notable names like “Gone With the Wind” and rare volumes from the 1500s. 

The wall of yellow-spined Nancy Drew novels has become a favorite photo op for sleuths of all ages, but Hoit-Thetford’s true masterstroke is her rotating collection of original paintings commissioned for book covers of the same pop-culture classics found on the shelves.

RECOMMENDED READING: On Hoit-Thetford’s reading list for 2024? A book from her childhood — probably a “Trixie Belden” series, featuring a sassy tomboy who reminds the bookseller a lot of herself. 
Little girl reaching for a book high on a book shelf
Photo by Michael Schalk

E. Shaver, Bookseller
326 Bull St.

Satisfy your reading list and get your feline fix at longtime Savannah establishment, E. Shaver, Bookseller. Established in 1975 by Esther and Ed Shaver and now under the care of co-owners Jessica Osborne and Melissa Taylor, E. Shaver, Bookseller on Madison Square is a one-stop shop for new releases, genre-specific book clubs and a host of literary events. 

Like stepping into a homey and eccentric menagerie of books, E. Shaver’s titles run the gamut of literary fiction, mystery, young adult, sci-fi, children’s, graphic novels and everything in between. To help you navigate their literary wonderland, E. Shaver is home to a knowledgeable and well-read staff, eager to help you find the now-forgotten title you heard of from a friend of a friend. Less helpful with a book search but equally customer service-oriented, E. Shaver is also home to four shop cats: Bartleby, Mr. Eliot, Skimbleshanks and Morticia.

Fans of this beloved bookstore can now revel in additional space to peruse their favorite titles at E. Shaver’s second location in the Starland District’s famed Gingerbread House (1921 Bull St.). Enjoy storytime events for budding bookworms, author events, a courtyard and beverage bar shared with the adjacent Foxy Loxy Cafe and, best of all, free parking.

RECOMMENDED READING: Looking ahead, owners Osborne and Taylor are eagerly awaiting upcoming releases like the historical fantasy “The Warm Hands of Ghosts” by Katherine Arden (author of “The Bear and the Nightingale”) and local author Taylor Brown’s “Rednecks” — a fictional account of the West Virginia coal miners that led the largest labor union uprising in American history. Also on the books? E. Shaver is organizing its first-of-its-kind Jane Austen-themed literary tour. This 15-day group trip will take Austenites through England and culminate at the annual Jane Austen Festival in September 2024.
white shelves in a children's boutique filled with books and toys
Stylish children’t boutique Peaches keeps a wall of white shelves well-stocked with timeless and contemporary picture books. / Photo by Michael Schalk

Peaches
409 Whitaker St.

Among the stylish children’s clothing and toys inside this Downtown Design District boutique, owner Rebecca Bustinduy keeps a wall of white shelves well-stocked with timeless and contemporary picture books, from the beloved “Pete the Cat” and “Little People, Big Dreams” series to “Manners Begin at Breakfast,” a modern etiquette guide for families written by Marie-Chantal, the Crown Princess of Greece.

“We try to stock a mix of classic children’s books that people will come in looking for, as well as a healthy selection of new titles that folks can discover while they are here,” Bustinduy says. She adds that she wants the selection at Peaches to be reflective of the community, so she makes an effort to curate a broad selection of diverse authors — and hopes to do more to support local authors in the future.

RECOMMENDED READING: A few of Bustinduy’s recent favorites for families include “A Book for Escargot,” by Dashka Slater, “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña and “Painting Pepette” by Linda Ravin Lodding.

The Book Lady
6 E. Liberty St.

A bookstore with a big heart, The Book Lady is home to an ever-changing selection of books curated by owner Joni Saxon-Giusti. No newcomer to Savannah, The Book Lady has played a part in our historic city’s literary scene since first opening its doors in 1978. Under the leadership of Saxon-Giusti since 2002, The Book Lady has expanded its offerings and outreach, and its historic district location continues to overflow with gently used, new and rare books covering just about every genre and subject.

In addition to peddling and purchasing books, The Book Lady also curates custom libraries, appraises and purchases private collections, hosts author events, works with just about every nonprofit in town and employs the help of shop dog, Jenny.

RECOMMENDED READING: On Saxon-Giusti’s list for 2024 are two books that capture the spirit of The Book Lady’s commitment to saving and passing on wonderful stories: revisiting 1990s cult classics like “O Caledonia” by the late Scottish writer Elspeth Barker and Cecil Dawkins’ “The Quiet Enemy,” a collection of short stories set in the rural South and West.

The Stacks Bookstore
2409 Waters Ave.

With a focus on marginalized authors, accessibility, community and fostering writers of all backgrounds, The Stacks Bookstore is a welcome addition to Savannah’s diverse literary scene. Owner/author Cindy Otis has stacked The Stacks with a beautiful selection of new books covering the range of the human experience — with special attention paid to authors from marginalized communities. Shelves brimming with underrepresented stories ensure visitors can find stories unique to their experience within The Stacks’ welcoming walls. 

Otis has also doubled down on her commitment to serving the community and the immediate neighborhoods, crafting what promises to be the newest neighborhood hang, even if you don’t consider yourself a reader or writer. The end result is a bookstore that is physically and financially accessible, inclusive and inspiring for all. Writers can find a space to hone their craft, while younger readers can enjoy the robust young adult and children’s section and programming.

RECOMMENDED READING: Otis is looking forward to a deep roster of books in 2024, including “The Honey Witch” by Savannah’s own Sydney J. Shields, “The Women” by Kristin Hannah and “The Color of a Lie” by Kim Johnson.

The Books Bus, The Tiniest Bookshop
300 W. River St., Kiosk 1 

Beach Reads Bookshop
1213 US-80, Unit C

If you mix one part traveling book bus, one part itty-bitty bookstore and one part beach read outpost, you’ve got the makings of a Kaitlynn Perry special. Perry, who owns The Books Bus, The Tiniest Bookshop and now Beach Reads Bookshop, has carved out a niche selling books in small and unique spaces. 

Her first foray into pint-sized bookselling, The Books Bus offers a variety of used books with pop-up locations ranging from the Richmond Hill Farmers Market to the Starland District’s First Fridays. The Tiniest Bookshop, on the other hand, is Perry’s first brick-and-mortar, boasting a snug 150 square feet along River Street in the Plant Riverside District. Rounding out the trio, Perry has opened a third outpost, The Beach Reads Bookshop, on Tybee Island, nestled next to Huc-A-Poo’s.

RECOMMENDED READING: When asked what book Perry’s most looking forward to in 2024, there was no question: the third installment of Sarah J. Maas’ “Crescent City” series.


Grow Your Stack

Bookmark these new releases with local ties for your next read

Compiled by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY

  • Johnathon Scott Barrett has worked as a certified public accountant, an executive director of the State Botanical Garden at the University of Georgia in Athens and has written several cookbooks and even a memoir about this relationship with Southern food. Now, he’s added novelist to the list with the debut of “Ship Watch,” a story that undoubtedly draws upon the author’s unique, cultivated perspective and deep passion for the Southern lifestyle. Reaching across Savannah to the wealthy enclaves of Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, Sea Island and Highlands, North Carolina, the fictional, multi-generational characters are captivatingly familiar, with a central drama that fans of Mary Kay Andrews will devour.
Ship Watch book cover
  • The award-winning author of “Nigel and the Moon,” Antwan Eady delivers his next picture book for children on Jan. 30. Titled “The Last Stand,” the heartwarming story follows the multigenerational family behind a farm stand in the rural South, with stunning illustrations by Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey.
The Last Stand book cover
  • The debut novel by Keith F. Miller Jr., “Pritty” offers readers a chance to take a new look at the 912 — through the complex story of young love between two teenage boys navigating family trauma and territory tensions in Savannah’s Black neighborhoods.
Pritty book cover
  • “The Little Butterfly” by Aimee Spring is part story and part memory book for young hearts that have experienced loss. The sentimental keepsake is designed to remind children of their cherished loved ones in a gentle and sensitive way that brings comfort and peace.  
The Little Butterfly book cover

This story and much more in the January/February issue of Savannah magazine. Get your copy today!