Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Bookstore

I woke up this morning with a craving to explore a book store. There aren’t any good bookstores in Big Bear, and it’s certainly not worth the traffic of LA just to rummage through some books.
Years ago, a friend and I had a laugh when I mentally went to my ‘happy place’ to find that I was imaginging being a fungus on a tree. I have discovered so much about myself since then and my need to be around trees, to feel the pulse of the earth around me, and to get and give equal nourishment from others…but my happy places have since evolved. 
Right now, I feel that sitting in a bookstore is one of my happy places—and I’m happy to say that I have had many incredible book stores to explore.
To me, what makes a perfect bookstore, is one made up predominately of used books. As soon as you walk in, it seems as if your nose is stuck in between the pages of a supple yellowed book. In my ideal bookstore there are no walls without shelves, and navigating through the inner shelves is like working  through a maze, although everything is organized by some sort of category. There should be some sort of seating in little corners along the way, whether it’s pillows, old leather recliners that are scratched up and worn, or little wooden kitchen chairs with straw seats. And it’s a bonus if there’s a little local coffee shop attached where you can get a warm Chai tea and sit down with a pile of books to scan.
I have had the luck of exploring many such bookstores around the country, and after consulting (remembering from) Amil, I have organized them into my top 5.
Honerable mentions are some smaller store’s we have come across. In Baltimore, Red Emma’s, an anarchist bookstore, had a really good selection of political, gender studies, and natural history books at reasonable prices, along with anarchist-themed merchandise and a cute little coffee shop with some really good pastries. Another is a small, quaint bookstore in Brooklyn had nice white shelves inside, well organized literature and really good selections, and a dollar cart outside. They sold beer as well as coffee and had some tables inside to encourage sitting down with a brew and a book. And finally, the Shakespeare bookstore in Manhattan seemed like a good find. They had some great categories, a sliding ladder to reach the top of their bookshelves, and a basement that I didn’t get a chance to explore. When I return to NYC, I will definitely go there and maybe even skip the Strand. There was also a bookstore in Santa Cruz that I really appreciated for their magazine selection, but I don’t remember what it was called, and it seemed a little too sterile for me (reminding me a bit of a hastings).
5 – Powells (Portland)  They had some of my top requirements, like a coffee bar, and some little nicknacks,  but despite going to two different locations, I didn’t fall in love. I did like their new age selection, and a found the hard back of a book I had been searching for The Secret Life of Plants.  If Powells was my neighborhood bookstore, I probably wouldn’t complain, but they can’t compare to the other 4 on the list. 
4- The Strand (NYC) One thing that turned me onto the Strand was how much people who didn’t live in NY new about it. It’s a pretty famous, if not one of the most famous local bookstores. A great appeal about the strand is it’s extensiveness. You have to consult the maps on the walls to see what floor to go on, and from there, which bookshelves to navigate through. They have a large variety of used, as well and new, and older, rare books. They don’t have a foolproof system of what they have or don’t have, but it’s better than Half Price Books in Austin.  It also has a very New York vibe in that you can’t just stand in an aisle and gawk, because there are people trying to squeeze around you. They certainly have the space filled with books, but there aren’t many, if any, places to just sit and read. I have had two experiences there that put it on the top 5, despite the unwelcomeness, concrete floors and high metal ceilings. They have a decent budget book section- that inspired Amil and I, separetly but in the same trip to purchase The Time Machine, for only $4.95. When he finally came out of the store to meet me, we showed each other our purchases, laughing that we didn’t consult before we checked out. Another time I was on the hunt for a book about paganism. I thought to myself before asking anyone that what I really wanted is an Idiots Guide for Paganism. I took a step toward the help desk, looked down to find the Idiots Guide shelves, and found it, right in front of me.
3) The kind of store that I’m craving right now is a Used Bookstore that we went too in Brattleboro. The smell when you entered the store was right on par with what I would expect, and the shopkeeper is in my mind as an old man with a wirey gray and white beard. The shelves ran from floor to ceiling, some of them leaning a little, and books poured off the shelves onto stacks from the floor. Despite the surrounding of books, there were plenty of different size and shaped shared in almost every little corner. We spent well over an hour there by going our separate ways, then finding something we wanted to share and trying to navigate the maze to our friend sitting in a corner. We would join them and then get up and repeat the scenario.
2) Tattered Cover (Denver) I have been to two (both?) of the Tattered Cover locations, and I have to say that this store mixes large, local chain store, with clean and cozy. Their audiobook selection was impressive, along with their budget books, and Amil probably spent as much time before she clearance book shelf as I did wandering the whole store. We had to run outside and feed the meter 4 times because originally thought we would just run in and check it out, but kept getting moved to stay. They have a good balance of used and new books, a helpful resource desk, some reading-related gadgets and a little coffee shop.
1) Recycled Books (Denton) –The star on my list and in my heart is in my College town of Denton, Texas. This big purple building used to be an old Opera house, but has been transformed into probably the biggest bookstore I’ve ever been in. It would be a tough contest to compare the Strand, but once you have wondered the main floor, the side wing, the back room, the floor adjacent to the main floor, and the literature loft…you discover there is a basement with a floor plan just as big as above. The literature is in a nice warm, carpeted loft that people don’t often meander to, so it can be an intimate space for you and the books. The theatre section is right by lots of windows, and constantly growing, shifting and improving, but to get to either of these, you have to pass through a huge corner of photography and art books, which you can’t help but stop and browse for a while. The natural history section is its own little wooden-floored room with very consise labels, and the hippy-dippy-environmental section, where I spend the most time, is tucked in a closet, with a chair. I usually stop at The Candy Store on the way and buy one or two huckleberry bonbons, then duck into this closet with a fascinating book about how our environment is doomed, and nibble on my chocolate.
I would love to hear what other stores meet my criteria so I can put them on my list. As you can see, I don’t favor one place more than others for their bookstores. I think it’s central to most towns and cities to have a bookstore with a big variety. I’m most pleased when that variety is of used books, and I’m happy to see that they don’t seem to be hurting despite all the electronic books available. What’s your favorite book store?

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