After I created a new page (not post) for this site, wherein I mentioned in passing my passion for independent booksellers, I realized that I haven’t (until now) blogged about that particular passion of mine. So here goes:
It was my 21st birthday. My father came to Providence so that I would have one family member with me on that day. At dinner with him and a few close friends, he related that he had three things that, from the time I was born, he wanted to instill in me:
- Be Kind – I like to think I am
- Be a Rebel – Only somewhat successful, but that’s another post!
- Learn to Read Fast – Wildly successful!
I realized then that one of my favorite childhood activities was directed at #2 and #3 – primarily #3 – Browsing Bookstores!
Dad dragged both my sister and I to many a bookstore. Mostly to one of the (then) many independent bookstores in Berkeley. At first, Mary and I resisted, so Dad sweetened the pot: Anytime he dragged us into a bookstore, he would buy us any 2 books of our choosing!
That worked wonders! At first, we would linger, but Dad sneakily started shortening the visits, forcing us to make FAST decisions on which books we wanted. As he was wont to quiz us some time later about the books we bought – and by then should have read – he also started his quizzing sooner! Combined, this caused me – and to a lesser extent my sister – to teach ourselves to read FAST and without sacrificing comprehension.
Through the decades, I’ve never lost my love of bookstores, but it certainly was challenged by the invasion of the superstore. First WaldenBooks, then Borders and Barnes & Noble. Slowly, the superstore edged the small guys out of the market. In the last decade, online sellers – particularly amazon.com – have made such inroads that they knocked out one of the superstores (Borders)!
But the independents persist. To this day, IMHO there is no more productive way to spend a rainy afternoon than browsing a small bookstore. It’s even better at a specialty store where the owner and employees (if any) are passionate about the focus of the store!
But you also need to BUY books there! Not just browse! These booksellers simply cannot survive if you treat them as places to choose what you’ll buy online later! Yes, they charge full cover price, but I feel that it’s a price worth paying to keep them from vanishing.
One recent anecdote:
Often when I travel, I seek out an independent or two at my destination. And remaining true to my convictions, I always find SOMETHING to buy. Well, maybe not always. I do remember leaving a couple without purchasing because I found the focus of the store antithetical to my personal outlook: I don’t give my money to Christian, Occult or other spiritually focused bookstores.
Just last month, I was in St. Louis for a conference. I arrived a day early to do a bit of exploration, and on my way back to the hotel from a fabulous brunch, I came across the downtown store (1 of 2) of Left-Bank Books
. I actually didn’t have much time, as I had scheduled a meetup with a professional e-correspondent who I had not previously met in person, so I didn’t have time to linger. But I did find a book in a scifi/fantasy series I’ve been following that I hadn’t yet read. It was newly out in paperback, and I whooped and hollered when I found it – and bought it!
Here’s what makes this worthy as an anecdote: I started reading it immediately, and was about halfway through it by the time my plane landed on my return. I THOUGHT I’d tucked it away in my day pack, but when I went to look for it the next day, it wasn’t there! I must of left it on the plane. Frankly, I was so enthralled with the story that I didn’t want to take the time to find it again at a local bookseller, so I bought it again – as an ebook – at EXACTLY the same price! I trust you will appreciate that I’m NOT ranting about the insane pricing structure of e-books, I’ll save that for another post!
Finally, here’s the list of independent booksellers I regularly patronize:
- Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco’s Noe Valley
What can I say? Cookbooks, cookbooks, COOKBOOKS. Did I mention cookbooks? Rare ones, signed ones, the old standbys and everything else. Food Coffee Table books. Food Politics. Chef Biographies and Autobiographies. Celia has done wonders with this former butcher shop. (At least I think it was a butcher shop! I can’t think of any other reason for the rails on the ceiling, including a scale, to have ever existed in such a residential neighborhood!)
And Celia Tweets! You can follow her @OmnivoreBooks. And she’s using Twitter well as a sales tool! I’ve bought at least 3 books from her entirely through Tweets (AFTER I gave her permission to keep my credit card information on file!). She has an incredibly full event calendar for such a small store, and she promotes her events both on her website and through Twitter.
Side note: I usually go to Omnivore on transit (AC Transit to BART to Muni Metro J Church line), 2-3 times a year I drive so I can also patronize Avedano’s in Bernal Heights. They’re an artisan butcher shop and I drive so I can bring home and refrigerate the meat I buy before it goes bad. It just takes too long on transit, and I buy too much when I go to schlep a large enough ice chest! Avedano’s is also @Avedano on Twitter.
- Dark Carnival in Berkeley
Dark Carnival specializes in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Mystery. And I lived one block away for 10 years! I miss being that close, but I still patronize them regularly – they’re a short detour from the quickest route I use to visit my Mom. Around the time I moved away, the owner – somewhat regretfully – added action/adventure. It’s a small section, but that genre sells FAR better than his primary interests, and he needed that income to remain in business!
Unfortunately, that’s it. I used to frequent Cody’s books in Berkeley for political, current events and computer books, but they closed down! I also used to patronize a bookstore on Market Street in San Francisco who specialized in computer books, but I can’t remember their name! And the last time I was nearby, I looked for them, but it looks like they have also closed! Finally, Black Oak Books in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto – which was another wonderful source for politics and current events, has also closed. They survive, mostly in name only, as Black Oak Holdings
– mostly selling the remaining Black Oak stock out of an indescript building in West Berkeley with little else to offer in the surrounding neighborhood. With no foot traffic, and drab interior, with an unpredictable stock, I find it a pale shadow of the original Black Oak.
Folks, I don’t want Omnivore or Dark Carnival to suffer the fate of Cody’s, Black Oak, or the Market Street computer bookstore. So please patronize them – and any other independent booksellers that are special to you!
Please leave your recommendations for independent booksellers in the comments. And don’t think that I want only San Francisco Bay Area bookstores! I want to promote them ALL!
Thanks in advance!