Left Bank Books is a bookstore for romantics. Named in homage to the bouquinistes of Paris, the shop epitomizes the beauty and adventure of secondhand book culture. Students might come to Left Bank Books for its immaculate selection of curated literature, but we stay for the whimsical atmosphere and excellent customer service. From a floral tea set, stashed between crochet gloves and an antique copy of Babar’s Visit to Bird Island, to a vintage anthology of T.S. Eliot poems, Left Bank Books is filled to the brim with hidden treasures and conversation starters.
Left Bank Books opened in 1999, undergoing multiple changes in ownership since its inception. Rena Mosterin ’05 took ownership of the shop in the summer of 2020, when it was at risk of shutting down due to COVID-19. Currently, the shop is supported through community book donations. In addition to curating inventory and managing the store, Mosterin writes experimental poetry, hosts local poetry workshops and teaches in the MALS program.
When sorting through books, Mosterin searches for unconventional voices and stories. She spotlights local authors and poets, dedicating entire sections of the store to their work. Her inventory is divided into various sections — including Native American Studies, philosophy and political theory, Shakespeare, the “poet’s corner” and various Dartmouth College yearbooks and publications.
“At a new bookstore you get books that are coming through the same gatekeepers of the time,” Mosterin explained in reference to publishing houses. “Those institutions have changed so much over the last hundred years or so. On the shelves of this bookstore you get a lot of different conversations, different gatekeepers — I imagine the books arguing with each other on the shelves.”
Dom Carrese ’19, a current Thayer graduate student who works at Left Bank Books, described Mosterin’s selection as “eclectic” and “creatively excellent.”
“There is much more diversity to our selection,” Carrese said. “You might find something that you didn’t know you were interested in or you weren’t looking for.”
Carrese frames Left Bank Books as “an alternative to the waste economy.” By preserving books that would have otherwise been thrown away, Carrese said that Left Bank Books is a sustainable method of consumption for avid readers.
Carrese encourages the practice of secondhand shopping for more than just sustainability. He relishes in “the serendipity and adventure” of hand-me-down novels. Many of the books at Left Bank are cluttered with notes and annotations — the whispers and ponderings of past readers.
For Mosterin, Left Bank Books is more than a commercial endeavor. She views the shop as a community space and refuge.
“All sorts of people are writing and it's important to have a space for their voices,” Mosterin said. “In a used book store, you may not feel like your literary taste corresponds with this exact moment and for those folks, building community in a shop like this is going to be easier than building community in Still North or the public library.”
Mosterin’s favorite part of the job is chatting with Dartmouth students. This sentiment is shared by Carrese, who enjoys recommending books and talking to undergrads.
“As compared to a more commercial establishment, there is an opportunity for more casual conversations,” Carrese explained.
“This town needs small businesses run by people in the community that care and want to chat with you,” Mosterin explained. “If someone’s having a bad day and they want a cup of tea, I’m happy to make them a cup of tea.” Mosterin gestured to the set of mismatched gilded teacups adorning a shelf.
Left Bank Books attracts curious thinkers. As Mosterin described, “The people who shop here want to take recommendations that are off the beaten path.” Mosterin’s thoughtfully-curated environment encourages curiosity. You could spend an entire afternoon sifting through the shop’s diverse selection of literary artifacts.
“One of my secret dreams is that someone will meet the person that they are going to end up with here. I would like for this to be a book store where people fall in love with each other,” Mosterin said.
Left Bank Books is certainly worthy of a meet-cute; its floral armchairs and paper doilies make for a cozy, homey environment.
Frances Pool-Crane ’23 said that she appreciates Left Bank Books’ fair prices. As an English major, Crane tries to source all of her required readings from Left Bank Books. Earlier this year she scored on an $11 Virginia Woolf biography for her senior thesis — a book she would never have purchased retail.
“There's no point in buying a new printing of an older book if I can find it used,” Crane explained.
But Crane loves Left Bank Books for much more than its thriftiness.
“I feel like there’s not any pressure to spend money there. Obviously I’d like to if I can, but I feel like you can definitely go and just look around and hang out and it doesn’t feel like anyone is pressuring you to buy something,” she said.
In a somewhat similar vein, Carrese views Left Bank Books as an escape from a technology-driven culture aligned with “techno fetishism” and “recency bias.” For him, Left Bank Books is an oasis from the hostile confines of the engineering classroom.
“It’s very difficult to be in an engineering environment where people don’t think or read books or appreciate creative practice” he described. “It’s amazing to be part of an establishment that subscribes to a different value exchange model.”
Carrese understands Left Bank Books as an anti-capitalist community space focused on promoting book culture, rather than a commercial endeavor focused on maximizing profit. As he put it, the primary value exchange at Left Bank Books is one of pleasure rather than money.
In contrast to many of Main Street’s grossly commercial storefronts (I’m looking at you, J Crew), Left Bank Books epitomizes everything we love about Hanover: community, intellectualism and spontaneous teatime.
Correction appended (Oct. 9, 2:10 p.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Left Bank Books was founded in 2007. The store was first started in 1999. The article has been updated.