Like Don Quixote, veteran bookseller John Petrovato has embarked on a tempestuous journey spawned from a love of books. In defiance of chain and online bookstores, John is returning the human face to the neighborhood book shop, parsing out used tomes with a personal smile and, often, a few words from the author. And he’s succeeding. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that this first incarnation of the new Raven Used Books—he made an amicable split with the co-owner of the original location—is located in Cambridge, where Harvard’s distinguished student body and professorship dwells. But even John's second store, located on Newbury Street, drew an equal number of book lovers, as well as speakers such as Noam Chomsky and a Best of the New nod from the Boston Globe.
The reasons for John’s success in this struggling field are twofold. Many of the customers come because they appreciate the personal attention and literary culture that surrounds a local bookstore. And the inventory is nothing to scoff at. The Cambridge location stocks roughly 16,000 books—many of them from university presses—ranging in subjects from philosophy to social theory and poetry. The stock at the Newbury Street location veers towards more general subjects such as fiction, American history, children’s books, and children's books about social theory. And with roughly 2,000 new books arriving weekly between the two locations, the shelves are always packed with reading material for general readers and scholars alike.