There are two arenas of culture in which the Twin Cities bests New York without dispute: terrible performance art, and great used bookstores. Lien's, on Ninth Street off the Nicollet Mall, has for decades provided a clean, well-lighted place to look for nice and/or rare volumes in a kindly atmosphere. Down the block, James and Laurie Booksellers also boasts a terrific collection of first editions, vintage, and out-of-print books; expect New York prices, though, and New York attitude (which disappears once the clerks realize you know your ass from your elbow about books). In St. Paul, the Midway Bookstore continues to reign as the city's leading purveyor of old editions, ancient magazines, and assorted weirdness and ephemera. But there are many variables to factor in--among them, selection, book sell-back prices, a literature-loving and knowledgeable staff, affordability, and a collector's trove of ooh-aah first editions. For all that, plus their store's comfy chairs hidden in nooks so you can read half a book before deciding whether to buy, the clear winner must be the behemoth Magers & Quinn.


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