The Book Barn, Niantic, CT

Coastal Connecticut is on my mind these days as we’re getting ready for another trip. Not sure yet what bookstores I’ll be able to visit, but I have a handy list made up and a new GPS unit, so I’m ready to roll.

During our last trip I was thrilled to visit the Book Barn in Niantic. This is probably the most unique bookstore, in terms of layout, that I’ve ever had the pleasure of browsing. We didn’t have as much time to browse as I would have liked (really, is there ever enough time for books?) and this is one of those shops that requires either a very long visit, or frequent shorter visits. If time isn’t a factor, long frequent visits would be ideal.

The Book Barn is more than just a barn, it’s a collection of buildings, sheds, telephone booths, and even an outhouse, all of which are filled with books. It’s all wonderfully landscaped and there’s seating scattered about. And if that’s not enough for you, there’s two other locations in town.

At the main location the various structures on the property are home to different subject matter. Cats wander around the property and some liked to be petted whereas others had their own agenda which didn’t include me. The folks who worked there were friendly but not overly chatty (which is perfect when one is faced with a time constraint).

With only one hour at my disposal and over 350,000 books to explore, I figured I could rush around to each building and run through it, or I could target a few sections and browse. History and literary fiction were on my mind that night. I spent most of my time in the military history section, which is in the main building. It is by far the best military history section that I’ve ever come across in a general used bookstore.

Let me tell you about one of the books that I bought on that visit:
New York:  W.W. Norton & Co, Inc., 1969

I’d never heard of Mr. Bosworth (1901-1986) who served 38 years in the Navy, but I was immediately captivated by his relaxed, conversational prose style. Apparently he’d written about twenty books in his day: half non-fiction on various topics and the other half fiction in the western genre.

In My Love Affair with the Navy, Bosworth sets out to answer the question, Just what is the United States Navy? His attempt is not technical, he says, like weighty tomes that cover ships, submarines, and jets. The Navy “is and always has been people” (15) and this book is loaded with all sorts of funny and heroic stories from people who have served.

Early in the book Boswell explains how Naval service begins with a recruiter and shares this story:

Not long ago, a Navy chief and a Marine Corps sergeant were invited to address a high school senior class. The globe-and-anchor man spoke first, and turned out to be quite an orator. He made a very dramatic talk about the traditions and honors of the Marines, and ended on a high note by thumping the table and saying, “Remember this! The Marine Corps builds men!”

The Navy CPO rose, and studied his audience for a full minute without opening his mouth. Finally, in a perfectly flat tone, he said: “If you aren’t already a man, the Navy doesn’t want you.” Then he sat down.

This spiked the Marine Corps’ guns–a thing that has seldom happened–and the Navy got all the lads who were eligible and could pass the physical examination (36-37).

Sixth printing, 1983 edition

I’m a globe-and-anchor woman, but got a kick out of this story nonetheless. It’s a taste of Bosworth’s style for you. It reminds me of Major H.G. Duncan’s series of Marine Corps Sea-Stories [Green Side Out, Brown Side Out, Run in Circles, Scream and Shout] that I purchased through mail order, inhaled, and then passed around to the Marines in my unit in the mid 80s.

Another reason I bought the book is because within its pages I found a letter, a Dear Abby column, and an ad for exorcisms. The letter is addressed to George from a man named John Bauernschmidt who had, from the contents of the letter, served with Boswell from 1950-53 and sent this copy of My Love Affair to George. I love finding clippings, notes, and photos in used books, but this was the first time I found an actual letter. I appreciate bookstores that don’t clear out such bookworm detritus. I’m doing a bit of research on the letter, so perhaps more on that in the future. 

Back to the Book Barn: We arrived at twilight and many of my pictures didn’t turn out that great, but let me leave you with some so you get a bit of a taste for the place–

The entrance.


 The white tent had mass market mystery & thrillers. I believe the red building in the back housed literary fiction.

Guard or greeter, depending on your perspective.

This kitty wanted some petting.


New arrivals, mystery & thrillers.

Of course I checked out their Willa Cather offerings.

Care to guess what subject is shelved in the outhouse?

Nope, not politics . . . but travel!

This kitty just wasn’t that into me.


Subject appropriate decor in the military history secion.


Napoleon Bonaparte keeps an eye on things.

Alas, my time was up and I did not make it into this section.
If you have a favorite bookstore on the coast of CT, I’d love to hear about it!

Visit the Book Barn:
The Book Barn
41 West Main St.
Niantic, CT


  1. There is a Book Barn of the Finger Lakes near Courtland, NY but it is kind of a frustrating experience. When I was in grad school at Cornell I enjoyed going there despite the truly odd owner who sometimes made you feel just awful. When I went back there a few years ago, he was much friendlier, but he was so overstocked that I couldn't even get close to the stuff I really wanted to look at. The one you went to looks like a paragon of organization.

  2. Yes, it was very well organized and clean! I'm looking forward to spending some serious time there in the future. There's an independent bookstore here in my area that many people claim to love, but I have always had rather . . . disappointing experiences there. The owners and booksellers are never rude, but they are icy at best. I kept giving them 'one more chance,' but after the last time I said no more. Glad they aren't the only game in town.

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