Note: These are only my opinions and impressions of bookstores, book fairs, book sales, and/or other book-related events I’ve visited. I am not reviewing or ranking them because I’m sure other people will visit these places and have diverging opinions. Everyone has their own ideas and preferences of what a great bookstore should be. If you have a suggestion, feel free to comment on this post and take a look at my bookstore list in progress to make sure your suggestion doesn’t overlap with a place I already know about.
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Pegasus Books Downtown (2349 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
My visit to this new and used bookstore in downtown Berkeley this weekend was actually my second visit ever to this place. I do like it because it’s quite distinctive (a bright blue facade) and it has a nice variety to browse through. On my first visit some time close to the end of last year, I was able to find some beautiful tropical underwater postcards for sale which I have since sent to other postcard enthusiasts who loved them. The lower level of the bookstore consists of new/recent books near the front along with the gifts and stationary near the front counter. To the right of the front door, there is a large sale section along with the art and architecture books. Towards the back left of the store are a section of used records and cassettes and genre fiction. The upper floor contains literature. On this second visit, I was a bit pressed for time because I was running late to a write-in so I wasn’t able to browse as much as I wanted, but there was giant calendar sale going on with a huge selection of art calendars. Nowadays, I no longer get paper calendars since all my scheduling is done electronically, but my teenaged self would have had a field day. This is extremely easy to get to—it’s only four blocks south of the Downtown Berkeley BART station.
Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
A fellow NaNoWriMo writer recommended this bookstore to me a couple days ago, and I’m really glad I took her advice to check this place out. The front of the store isn’t much to look at, but the inside of this place is enormous—four floors of a booklover’s paradise. There’s a mix of new and used books, with most of the new books are on the first and second levels. There are concrete stairwells at the front and back of the store with maps for easy navigation. The first floor consists of newer genre fiction, children’s books, new fiction, and stationary. The second floor contains new and used non-fiction, mainly art and travel. The third floor has used books about language arts, culture, and science. The fourth floor has used books on history, but about half of the floor, too, is taken up by a separated section with rare and antique books. I was really happy I was able to find a cheap Portuguese dictionary for my Dad (he’s trying to learn the language but for some reason hasn’t been able to find a copy in all the bookstores he’s looked in where he lives), and a book discussing the culture and superstition behind “the evil eye”. I am definitely coming back here again if I can. It’s four blocks east of Pegasus Books or three blocks south of the UC Berkeley campus.
Mad Monk Center for Anacronistic Media (2454 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
This is just a few doors down from Moe’s. Initially, I had not planned on visiting this place because according to Google, this is not a bookstore. But in reality, it kind of is. What caught my eye was that they had wheeled out carts of sale books onto the sidewalk. Unfortunately, if you go into the bookstore, they make you check all your bags in behind the counter—so if you plan to visit, visit this place first before you shop at other places and do not bring your backpack/purse. If you can get away with it, only take a wallet, your ID, and your phone. The first floor of this place is mostly filled with music records. Along the walls are genre fiction and some other non-fiction (I was able to find some travel books I wanted to collect for only a couple dollars). There is also an upper level filled with books, but I did not have time to explore it. I will probably visit this place again once or twice to check out the sections I haven’t seen, but I personally don’t like the policy about checking in bags. I understand why they have it, but I hate the assumption that I’m a thief first and a possible customer second.
Doe Memorial Library Book Sale (University of California, Berkeley, CA) | Website
Normally, this isn’t open to the public, but I was able to take a look at this because I was at a write-in here and I know one of the librarians. The sale itself is located on the third floor of the library in a beautifully designed reading room and the inventory consists of books that the library no longer needs in its collection. As far as I know, the next time this will open will be at the next month’s write-in (check our regional NaNoWriMo calendar for dates and times) as well as Cal Day on April 21. A word of warning for anyone planning on coming to the book sale on Cal Day–I’ve heard in past years it’s a melee. Apparently by 9 AM, the lines are extremely long and people bring carts with them in anticipation of grabbing as many books as they can. So go early and bring equipment to haul your bookish treasures away.
Half Price Books (2036 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
There are several Half Price Books stores in the Bay Area and this is one of them. I actually knew about this chain of bookstores before because of their online presence (it was a great resource in helping me collect the different volumes of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies). So when I moved up to the Bay Area, I was really happy to find out that they also had a physical presence. The store in Berkeley is on the corner of Addison and Shattuck, just one block north of the Berkeley BART station. I’ve been to this one several times last year and it was great for finding deals on postcard books and other stationary. This particular store has placed all the stationary, music, and comic books near the front. When I visited this past weekend, the front section was also taken up with a calendar sale. Subject signs are helpfully hung from the ceiling. The non-fiction books are shelved around the perimeter and the fiction in the center. The children’s books and young adult fiction are in the northwest corner of the store while the enormous station where you can bring your books to sell is in the southwest corner. The middle back of the store has a shelf of clearance books. It’s both a new and used bookstore, but the new books are also discounted. For some reason, I am never able to leave this store without buying anything.
Fantastic Comics (2026 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
This comic bookstore is next to Half Price Books and I find it to be a hybrid inventory-oriented and display sort of store. The structure of the store is very open concept—to the point that I feel like they have too much space and not enough shelves (or reading chairs if one is so inclined). There’s one major bank of shelves along one wall with the graphic novels shelved spine out, but the rest of the shelves on the floor have them shelved cover in front. I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere or what, but I feel really out of place here.
Eastwind Books of Berkeley (2066 University Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
If you walk further on from Half Price Books and Fantastic Comics and round the corner to your left on University Ave, you’ll find Eastwind Books. There’s another Eastwind Books in San Francisco’s Chinatown which I had been to before—that bookstore mainly has books in Chinese, Chinese CVDs (the poor cousin to DVDs), and art supplies for calligraphy. So before I stepped inside the store in Berkeley, I was expecting the same thing. But no, it was totally different. Despite being small, most of the books in this store are in English and there are a diversity of books spanning all Asian cultures (as well as some small sections for African-, Latino-, and Native American cultures). I really liked the curation on the titles which included many Asian American authors. In some ways, it’s the complete opposite of the other Eastwind store which is monolithic in its subject matter. However, I also completely understand why this particular store decided on a more diverse inventory. It is, after all, located next to UC Berkeley where there is a diverse student population.
Goodwill (2058 University Ave, Berkeley, CA) | Website
Located next to Eastwind, this Goodwill store isn’t particularly unique among all the other Goodwill stores I’ve visited so far in the Bay Area. Most of the store is taken up by clothes and there’s a shelf of books at the back. Again, they had mostly popular books and I didn’t find any interesting volumes there this time.