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If augurs of doom and gloom are right, this guide won't be worth much soon. With the popularity of eBooks, the ease and appeal of shopping deeply discounted online sellers and a publishing industry in disarray, the end of bookstores as we know them could be nigh. But then again, those same prognosticators wrote the obit for newspapers years ago, and we're still kicking.
Today there are fewer bookstores in Central Arkansas than anytime in recent memory, with only three big-box retailers, two indies and one used bookstore to pick from. Do not take them for granted.Barnes & Noble
Depending on your perspective, Barnes & Noble represents the crass commercialization of the book business or a nice way to kill a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon. For those who take the former position, the emergence of B&N and other big-box book retailers in the 1990s signaled the beginning of the end of many small, independent bookstores (Amazon signaled the end of the end). For those who take the latter view, it's hard to argue with the selection: Even in the age of Amazon's cut-rate prices and digital previews, we still crave the experience of picking a book up and thumbing through it. And Barnes & Noble has a lot of books to browse. Which means, particularly if you're looking for a niche publication, a Native American poetry compilation say, you're probably more likely to find it at a big box than a smaller store. More reasons to go: Its Starbucks cafe. DVDs and CDs, with listening stations for the latter. A massive wall of magazines. Discount books. Games and more games. For the unrepentant book-buyer, a $25 membership that knocks 5 percent off purchases for a year. What’s missing: Classical music. But then, CDs are going the way of books. Little Rock: 11500 Financial Center Parkway. 954-7646. CC. Free Wi-Fi. 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun. North Little Rock: 4000 McCain Blvd. 771-1124. CC. Free Wi-Fi. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
If you're going to shop a big box bookstore, why choose Books-A-Million over Barnes & Noble? For starters, it appears to have equal if not greater stock, so you might find something here that B&N doesn't have, particularly in the massive magazine section. If you're a bargain shopper, the Lakewood outlet often has big tubs to dig through. And like all bookstores fighting a losing battle with the web, BAM sells a lot of collectibles, including some fairly cool toys (Eric Carle caterpillar dolls, big-headed plush Marvel dolls and a small Kid Robot section, with plush donuts and Frank Kozik smoking rabbits). There's a Joe Muggs coffee shop attached, too. Like Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million heavily pushes an annual $20 membership, which promises a confusing array of deals and access to the store's otherwise private Wi-Fi. 2747 Lakewood Village Drive, NLR. 771-7581. CC. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.
River Market Books & Gifts
The best used-book deal we've ever come across. As in far and wide. The books, culled from donations to the Central Arkansas Library, don't follow the typical half-off-the-cover-price formulation that most used bookstores follow. Instead, everything is discounted by as much as 70 percent. And there are enough books to occupy four floors, including the basement level. Don't think that just because the books are donated you'll only find the likes of book-club editions of John Grisham novels (though you will find those) either. Particularly in its literary fiction section, RMBG always offers an impressive selection (on recent trips we've come away with a hardbound copy of Richard Price's "Clockers," David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" and Jennifer Egan's "Emerald City"). For lower-brows and bigger hearts, the romance section practically throbs. With some new books, especially in the strong Arkansas section, and collectibles, including "deluxe" librarian action figures. Inside the Cox Creative Center, 120 Commerce. 918-3093. CC. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
WordsWorth Books & Co.
Not only is WordsWorth the ideal of an independent bookstore — a cozy, carefully arranged shop manned by a staff of bibliophiles quick with help or suggestions — it's the last of its kind in Central Arkansas. Here you'll find a strong sampling of literary fiction, some first editions and one of the best children's sections around. New books of local or regional interest typically feature in the store's prominently displayed bestseller section. A small but strong selection of magazines can be found in the back. Like its competitors, WordsWorth's branched into gifts — T-shirts, candles, soaps, lotions, calendars, puzzles, journals and more. Usually, the store's quiet except for the quiet tweeting of caged finches in the rear of the fiction room. 5920 R St. 663-9198. CC. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 12 p.m.-5 p.m. Sun.
Pyramid Art Books and Custom Framing.
The literary and business side of Hearne Fine Art features three walls of books, offering children's literature, biography, fiction, self-help, religious and, of course, art and art history. All authors are African-American (though Pyramid doesn't have the corner on this niche; the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center bookstore has a wide selection as well). There are book-signings every second Saturday and other book-related events. Java Coffee next door handles the now traditional accompaniment of caffeine intake while browsing. And like other indie bookstores, you'll find gifts here as well, including wonderful dolls. 1001 Wright Ave. 372-5824. CC. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.