By: Nate Pentz
Nate is an intern with the William Way Center and also wants to explore the Gayborhood and Center City more. We asked Nate to write about some things he is doing while he roams around the city in search for really cool queer stuff. Giovanni’s room stands out as a place to visit because it not only has a huge selection of queer reading, it stands as the oldest queer bookstore (also now doubling as a thriftstore) in the country.
For me, I’ve always searched to read on whatever topics I enjoy, and being queer means that I want to read on a whole range of things related to my identity and other queer identities. The existence of Giovanni’s room and spaces where one can find books that speak to their identity and experience is incredibly important. There is a lack of these spaces where you can find books made for you and the queer community, and reading these works can open up one’s mind further or connect them to someone who experiences queer identity in a similar way. It is also common knowledge that reading is FUNDAMENTAL (I couldn’t resist). So here is my experience on my first trip to Giovanni’s Room!
Barnes&Noble doesn’t really provide you with a comprehensive queer reading section. Sure I can find my endless aisles of cookie-cutter straight romance novels (which do have many, many finely toned, muscly men on the cover) but finding gay romance, non-fiction, literature? Nah. Giovanni’s Room had floor-to-ceiling shelves of queer writing though. Walking in the blue door to the building, one can immediately see the stacks of queer works on the first floor of the building. What’s even better is that they are also very affordable as they have been donated to the store. With sections like classic ol’ literature, mystery, romance, sci-fi (yes!), non-fiction, philosophy, health and wellness, and on-and-on, Giovanni’s Room is one of the largest collections of queer books I’ve ever seen. Definitely the largest when I count out the few libraries I’ve been in--Penn State’s LGBTQA Student Resource Center library and the Center’s own library--which, unfortunately, do not sell their books (and boy do I love buying books).
When you walk up either flight of stairs--one right in the middle of the store under a wonderful skylight and one winding red staircase decked out with art and lights hiding in the back of the store--you find a selection of books that haven’t been donated and constitute the more conventional, bookstore priced section. The collection was even larger than I initially thought! It’s great to have a space where one can find writing on any aspect of queer life because, as I mentioned, Barnes&Noble usually doesn’t cut it. And browsing through selections of books is much more entertaining than browsing through the lists on Amazon. I like to pick up what I’m looking at and see what it is and rifle through shelves of titles to see what catches my eye. To have such a collection in the heart of Philadelphia is truly amazing. I won’t be able to stay away for too long before I head back to take a look again.
If you are not a reader at all, there is also some quality thrifting to be done. There are rooms and rooms of unique items that you can look at, and a large selection of art that’s also for sale. This combination of thrift and book store makes the space unique in its own right and similar to Philly AIDS Thrift’s main store further south (another must-see in Philly). Instead of rooms and rooms of various thrifting gold, as one sees in PAT near South Street, Giovanni’s Room directs its focus more towards books and provides a lot of punch in a smaller space. It wasn’t long before I had been in there for an hour looking through everything in the store, but there’s still much more for me to see. Whether you are looking for classic queer literature, a campy gay romance novel, some steamy erotica, beautiful art to decorate your place, or a random doll, toy, CD player, anything, Giovanni’s is the place to go.