Bookworming: Charlottesville loves its words


It's no secret that Charlottesville is a reader's paradise. Whether your mission is to surround yourself with tatty used paperbacks, rare first editions, thoughtful book groupies, or bestselling novelists– it's an easy task in this town. Even with only two chain booksellers in the yellow pages, Charlottesville nevertheless boasts an average 2.75 bookstores for every 10,000 people. That's the same density as dieticians in British Columbia!

No, really… UVA's monumental stacks alone hold close to five million volumes, and the inventory at the legendary Daedalus Bookshop may rival that soon (with a net worth that's a fraction of a single floor of Alderman.) Close to two dozen specialty shops sell used and rare books around town, and if you still can't find that elusive title, there's the Green Valley experience just up the highwayРsort of like a quarterly trip to the literary Sam's Club.

As with everything, Charlottesville values quality over quantity, as evidenced by a survey of local bestsellers at the peak of summer. What you will find is a tasteful sample of recently published books by area writers, engaging histories, Harry Potter, well-received novels with pretty covers, Harry Potter, the foreign policy fetish du jour, and that nice story about a castaway boy and his Bengal Tiger. With the exception of a poorly titled self-help tome, Charlottesville's August reading list is supremely commendable.

But the true reading season for Charlottesville arrives in late March, when thousands converge for the annual Virginia Festival of the Book. Drawing over 17,000 attendees for the past two years, this event presents an open forum for both readers and writers. For five days panelists and attendees consider the merits of self-publishing and co-authoring, track the history of war reporting and sports writing and offer tips on body art, talking fish, Asian cuisine, and thought bubbles in texts.

The rest of the year, with its Dostoevsky book groups and Garry Wills swaps and John Grisham signings, is just a warm-up.