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?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Convening Captured Clues from Across the Country…18 (Finale)

California(Jason’s Deli)
We woke up in Zion to see more blue sky than we had before, though there was still plenty of cloud cover. We hiked the Emerald Pools trail, taking longer than we expected, then came back and packed up, and head out.
Finally, the last stretch of our grand trip lay before us. My bet that we wouldn’t see the sun until California was foiled by sunny Nevada. We stopped at Jason’s Deli not far from Vegas, to use up a gift card from my bro. As we crunched on endless salad bar food, bowtie pasta and zucchini Panini’s and talking about all the delicious food we were going to create when we had our own space, we debated about the pros and cons of taking one more day. Environmentally, it would be best to go slower, camp somewhere along the way, and hit up the farmers markets on the way up the mountain. Personally, though, we were done with camping, pulling things out of and throwing things into our sad, stinky car, Stella.
 So we decided to go for it, not knowing whether our trailer was ready or if anyone was around to let us in.
It was exciting turning on familiar roads as our car moved closer to the mountains. It had been almost 4 months since we left, and we had traveled thousands of miles since then, yet it all seemed so familiar. Although it was getting dark, the bends in the road were in our muscle memory, and our brains quietly traveled through the memories of this space.
We arrived at our trailer a little after dark, unloaded some necessities, and plopped down on our pleasantly hard bed, excited for what was to come.
Home sweet home? At last, I could unpack the car and organize many of the various items we’ve acquired. I could explore the ‘outdoor gym’ right outside our front step, and would soon meet all the new people moving in the cabins surrounding us.
This is the longest I have lived in one place since College, and at a year and a half, the longest job I have worked consistently…though even with the summer break, I find myself tiring of the monotony, or at maybe just the long, hard hours.

Habits are hard to break, but I’m thankful that my most prominent habit after spending 9 weeks in the desert uplands of New Mexico as a naturalist, is to observe.  I observed some amazing things over the summer- Elks grazing in the early morning light, mountain ranges in hazy blue shadows with a frame of pink clouds at sunrise. I observed children making connections about the necessary skills of early humans in the New Mexico area by hunting a mammoth made of crude Baker tent cut-outs and some artistic touches of tempura paint. I saw spots of flowers emerge from quaint leaves to blooming beauties, and I became familiar with the patterns of a seemingly random sky. I saw children transform from shy and dependent to confident and leading conversations. I saw the land suck up every drop of gently falling water for five weeks, only to be unable to take in the consecutive downpours in my final week. After weeks of stopping to watch every desert beetle cross my path, taking note of any Sagebrush Lizard that scurried by or seeing tracks in the sand or holes in the duff and identifying what creature put them there, I was not going to be able to just shut down that sense.
In our weeks of travel, I tried to simply observe, but the idea of having a home to move into next year pushed those observations into ideas.                                  
And now, here we are. I write this from my kitchen table in my 5th wheel trailer- home for 14 weeks. This may be our last time to live in a space for such a small amount of time. My family has lived in 3 different houses since I was born. I didn’t help with either moving process other than perhaps packing up some of my things. Since leaving my home for college, I have moved in and out of 16 different spaces.  This is the first space that Amil and I will share completely, not having other rooms to retreat to or other roommates. Next year we will likely move again, into a bigger space of our own, livening the space with what we have learned from our friends and families and ourselves. I don’t feel defined by the stuff I own, but I am expressed by it, it inspires me. It shows the world and reminds myself who I am, where I fit in. However the most important aspect of where I have moved, is the space available outside, to explore, or discover or just be.
Our home is a studio space where I can write, color, explore, classify, and most importantly, Be. These are all the things that are important to me.