Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Category: photographs

Postcards from the Last Six Months

I spent most of this afternoon sorting through the gigantic pile of postcards that I had accumulated for the past six months. I have a system for sorting–first I sort by size. This makes it easier for me to put protective plastic sleeves on them without switching between different sizes with every other one. Then I sort them again by country and file them accordingly in boxes. Below, I’ve documented some of my progress. (This is also in a Twitter thread.)

The stack:

Austria:

Australia:

Belgium:

Belarus:

Brazil:

Canada:

China:

Czech Republic:

Estonia:

Finland:

France:

Germany:

Great Britain:

Hong Kong:

Hungary:

Indonesia:

Ireland:

Israel:

Italy:

Japan:

Lithuania:

Luxembourg:

Macau:

Netherlands:

Norway:

Poland:

Portugal:

Russia:

Spain:

Switzerland:

Taiwan:

Ukraine:

USA:

Postcard Set Review #4: Cats by Browntrout Publishers

Before all you cat lovers frantically search on your favorite bookseller’s website for this title, I want to let you know that this one is currently out of print. Cats is a book of 30 postcards taken by a variety of photographers and collected into this set by Browntrout Publishers back in 1995 (over a quarter of a century ago!) which I obtained from one of my favorite used bookstores in the Mission District for $3. I’ll also save you the trouble of looking for the publisher’s website because Browntrout has apparently transitioned to mostly making calendars and planners. The only postcards that will be available from them will feature Billie Eilish so if you’re a fan of hers, yay for you?

Anyways, back to Cats. It’s a really great photographic collection of cats in various states of repose. Similar to other postcard books by other publishers, the card stock is slick so you have to be careful writing with pens. Let the ink dry before moving it around too much or it will smear. I  usually send these to people who like cats but don’t have any other interests that I can match with any other postcards I have on hand.

Tape Obsession

I don’t have a tape obsession. I just like buying washi tape on sale, even when I think I won’t need it right away. That’s how I ended up with 767 rolls of it (I counted yesterday). I’m definitely not hoarding anything because I use washi tape on stationary fairly liberally and I actually finish rolls with some regularity. I just happen to obtain them faster than I can use them, I guess.

My inadvertent washi tape collection is more of a result of my postcard hobby more than anything else. I know you don’t need washi tape on postcards. All you need is the postcard itself, a writing utensil to write your message and the address you’re sending it to, and stamps. (One might argue that stamps aren’t even necessary. Technically, you could just go to the post office and have your neighborhood postal worker slap a metered sticker on it.) But  somewhere along the way, I discovered you could put washi tape on a postcard and make the message side of it seem a bit more lively.

There are some people who are obviously very old school when it comes to postcards. It must be a certain size. It has to be a tourist card made in your location. It must be handwritten (cursive, of course). And the stamps must be “beautiful” (whatever that means) and be stuck on there with the old style gum adhesive that a lot of countries have already abandoned in favor of the sticker. Washi tape, stickers, stamp art, colored pens other than blue or black, postcards made of anything but paper or just a centimeter too wide or long–which old school postcard enthusiasts consider absolutely verboten. So if I’m sending a postcard to one of these people, I do stick to the bare minimum. Except for the stamps. I use the most recent I have available and if they gnash their teeth and scream to the heavens that it’s yet another sticker stamp, well, too bad. The other ones aren’t easily obtained any more.

As for everyone else, I decorate. I am no artist or designer, but there’s a certain satisfaction with turning the blank white side of a postcard into a pop of color. It’s my chance to put my own imprint onto the postcard in a visual message, rather than a verbal one. And washi tape helps achieve that in a fun and easy way. Taping things can be relaxing, too.  But I view this more as a postcard adjacent activity rather than something that I would just do for its own sake. If washi tape didn’t exist, I would be busy doing some other type of decoration and I don’t think my enjoyment of writing a postcard would be any less.

Unlike some washi tape fans, I do not have a favorite brand. I am barely aware of brands, to be honest. Mostly when I see washi tape in a store, I first look at the price and then the length of each roll. And then I calculate whether or not it’s worth it. This is why I typically buy washi tapes in sets rather than in individual rolls. And I’m sure I’ll find a use for whatever designs happen to be in those sets.

Anyways, to end this long rambling post about stationary, I’m including a picture of some washi tape with cute designs below. If you have ever bought washi tape, how did you choose the ones that you purchased? What do you do with your washi tape? Has your washi tape stash turned into a collection hoard rather than a working stock? Or are you totally new to the world of washi tape?

A Visit to the Beat Museum

Today, on a whim, I went to the Beat Museum which is located in North Beach. I admit, I didn’t know anything about the Beat Generation. I had this stereotypical view that they were a bunch of artists who dressed all in black in the 1950s and recited depressing poetry in dimly lit smokey jazz clubs. I probably should read more of their work to get a better sense of the era. But in any case, I came away with the feeling that these artists had a lot more crazy drama in their lives than the normal person.

Which brings up these questions: Why do so many famous artists have so much drama in their lives? Is experiencing drama necessary for producing art? Are well-adjusted people doomed to never produce good art? Or is that the nature of art itself–as a window to the artist’s angst in which we the viewers are just voyeristic rubberneckers?

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Bookshop Hunting #5

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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Paulist Center Bookstore (614 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This Catholic gift shop is located on the edge of Chinatown and to me, seems rather out of place. There’s religious knick knacks and gifts here, of course, but there are also books. Most of it is of a Christian bent so of no interest to me. However, they also do sell a few used books and I was somewhat surprised to find several Danielle Steel novels on sale. I’ve never read a Steel novel, but I didn’t think they were particularly religious…

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Louie Brothers Book Store (754 Washington St, San Francisco, CA) 
I had been here before to buy a few postcards. The store itself is narrow, but neat. The selection here is mostly Chinese literature (in Chinese, of course), but you can also find greeting cards in the front (I bought a Chinese New Year card for my parents here). There are also Asian skin mags near the front counter, which seems somewhat unusual.

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Sino-American Books & Arts (751 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA)
I had been visiting the fortune cookie factory and I turned a corner and there this store was, squeezed in between some other food stores. When I visited, there was a blaring television and the whole store seemed to channel a paper factory explosion. They do have a lot of manga/graphic novels and books in the same series were tied together into bundles with twine and stacked like abandoned cords of firewood. The aisles are extremely narrow with barely enough room for one normal sized person. Again, it’s mostly literature in Chinese. There might be some great stuff in this store, but the general disorganization makes the neat freak in me cringe.

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City Lights Booksellers & Publishers (261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This is the iconic bookstore in San Francisco, located on the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy. Every time I come here, there’s always something new to see. The first time I came to the store, the booksellers were very helpful with finding a book I had been trying to locate forever. The front door to the store is narrow and when it’s crowded with tourists, it’s impossible to navigate (I had gone there once when it was bursting with tourists, but I gave up quickly after one step into the store and found that I could not move anywhere—this would be frustrating for other tourists, but at least I had the luxury of living in the Bay Area and coming at a different time). The second floor is devoted to poetry, the first floor is fiction, and the bottom floor is non-fiction. I spend most of my time on the bottom floor, wishing I had enough money to buy their entire mythology and folklore section. When I visited this place last Sunday, there were a moderate number of patrons, which was great. I really don’t like crashing into other people every time I want to browse books.

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Eastwind Books & Arts, Inc. (1435 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
I mentioned this store in a previous post on this store’s Berkeley branch. This particular store is located next to a bank down some stairs on the lower level. Right outside the door of the store are carts of sale DVDs, CDs, books, and magazines. Most of the store’s inventory is Chinese media and literature (the stuff in English is tucked away all in the back). It’s a large, well organized store with books available in many subjects. When I last visited there, they had Chinese New Year cards on sale (without the envelope) and I discovered they had a large cook book section. If my parents visit me again, this would be a place I’d recommend they check out.

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Coit Tower Gift Shop (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd, San Francisco, CA) | Website
I walked to the Coit Tower from Chinatown, but if you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to scale Telegraph Hill, you can take bus 39 or drive (warning: extremely limited parking). Getting up the tower itself will set you back $8, but if you’re just there for the gift shop, you’ll find a lot of Coit Tower knick knacks, overpriced postcards, prints, and vintage books for $10 each. Personally, I’d say go for the views from Coit Tower and avoid the gift shop. You can get better deals of the postcards and books elsewhere. You won’t be missing much.

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Bookshop Hunting #4

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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Warm Springs Book Company (46513 Mission Blvd, Fremont, CA) | Website
I was in the area and Google Maps said that this was here so I figured, why not drive past this place and see if there’s anything? But there’s nothing here, just housing and a busy road. After further Googling, I discovered that this bookstore exists solely online and the address they prefer you to reach them at is a post office box. Anyways, even if there had been a bookstore at this location, it’s probably one of the worst locations to be in. It’s right at Exit 12 on I-680 where cars are exiting the highway and merging straight into Mission Blvd. Trying to get to this place by taking the back roads would be a miracle because there are no back roads.

Half Price Books (39152 Fremont Hub, Fremont, CA) | Website
I arrived at this bookstore approximately one hour before it closed. The arrangement of this store is similar to other Half Price Book stores, so there’s no surprise there. When I was visiting, there weren’t many other customers, so it was rather nice wandering around, browsing the shelves without worrying about bumping into other people. If I lived near here, this would definitely be one of my frequent haunts, but since this takes me about one hour to get here, this will probably end up as an occasional visit depending on my schedule. The easiest way to get here is on I-880, Exit 17 at Mowry Ave.

Flash Sale – Friends of the Pleasant Hill Library (1750 Oak Park Blvd, Pleasant Hill, CA) | Website
The Pleasant Hill Library hosts a couple book sales during the year, the times which are publicized on their website and the town’s monthly newsletter. I didn’t realize this was a small sale until later so I was a bit disappointed with the selection. Last Saturday, they had a couple tables out in front of the library with adult fiction and history on display. There were more books on sale inside the library, but it was primarily literature geared towards kids and young adults. I was trying to look for travel books and dictionaries, but I didn’t find any. I think the larger book sales occur during the summer—at least the one I went to last summer took up most of the parking lot next to the library—and is probably a better bet if you’re looking for a variety of subjects. The library is about one mile west of the Pleasant Hill BART station. If you’re driving, take Exit 48 on I-680.

The Interval at Long Now (Landmark Building A, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This is a coffee shop and bar, but I decided to include this because there are definitely books here. As Google describes it, it has “a librarylike vibe”. Right at the entrance is a large model orrey and a slim spiral staircase leading up to the second floor. Although you can’t go upstairs, the second floor is open to view from below and it’s just shelves of books. The first floor is the coffee bar, but it also has a very modern feel. I like the look, but I also felt very out of place among all the yuppies and I hastily exited after briefly looking around. There are a number of buses that can get you to the vicinity of Fort Mason: 19, 28, 30, 43, 47, 49.

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Readers Bookstore (Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This is located in the same area as The Interval, just a building over. The bookstore is another division of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, so it’s all used books. However, I’d say the quality of these used books are better than the stuff you’d find at the warehouse, so expect the prices to be accordingly higher. It’s a very cozy bookstore with an entire section on local history. A cafe is next to the bookstore. I’m not sure I’d try their chai again, but their sandwiches are certainly delicious.

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Chronicle Books (1846 Union St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
Since I happened to be in the area, I walked from Fort Mason to this location. This turned out to be a fail. I had been looking at a list of bookstores collected by Chronicle Books and since this was on it, I decided to find it. I did, but it’s permanently closed, soon to be taken over by some upscale clothing boutique. I was a bit pissed, to be honest. The neighborhood is upscale, but seriously, how many clothes do rich ladies need anyway? There are already so many other clothing stores on that street but no other bookstores. Anyways, Chronicle Books still has a store on 4th Street. I hope some silly clothing boutique store doesn’t take over that one as well.

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Bookshop Hunting #3

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Bookshop Hunting #2

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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Readers Bookstore at the Main (30 Grove St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
I really enjoy going to the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library (and anyone with a California address can get a library card, not just in San Francisco!) and one of the perks of this particular library is that they also have a small bookstore here selling some interesting used books. It’s located just inside the Grove Street entrance to the library (and also just a few steps away from the Civic Center BART station), with several shelves and carts of books on all kinds of subjects. These used books are in very good condition, so the prices for them are a little higher, accordingly. If you want to get really cheap books, go to the Donation Book Center sale which occurs monthly.

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Zen Center Bookstore (300 Page St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
The San Francisco Zen Center is located in the Fillmore district, a few blocks north of the bus station at the intersection of Gough Street and Market Street. There is extremely limited street parking, but you’ll have to brave it if you are physically unable to walk up a hill—although it goes without saying that if you’re in San Francisco at all, walking and hills are pretty much non-negotiable. The center has a tiny bookstore which mainly consists of an entrance hallway where a few books and greeting cards are displayed near the cashier and then a small alcove-like room decorated with a number of zen and Buddhist knick-knacks. The books on sale are centered on the practice of zen and Buddhism. When I went there, I only took a brief look because it felt extremely crowded and the lady working the register was telling one of the customers that she was going to close early due to the Women’s March and that normally they are only open on Saturdays. That was an interesting bit of news because according to Google, the bookstore is open every day. It could be that the internet got it wrong and conflated the hours of the zen center with the bookstore. At any rate, I felt lucky that I managed to catch it when it was open so I could take a peek.

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Isotope – The Comic Book Lounge (326 Fell St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This comic book store is located in the same neighborhood as the Zen Center, four blocks north. It has a very trendy vibe with a diverse stock of titles ranging from the well-known DC and Marvel to more independent publishers. The store itself felt more like a display room compared to other comic stores I’ve been to which emphasize their inventory more than their curation. However, there is a children’s section in the back (I entered the store at the same time as a hipster dad and his kid did and they made an immediate bee-line to it. They also seemed on good terms with the store proprietor who appeared very trendy himself) and although the upstairs portion of the store was off-limits, I could see that they had superhero decorations on display. Near the front counter was a wall of toilet seat covers illustrated with black Sharpie. I think this place would be great for window shopping (similar to the Amazon store I visited last week in Walnut Creek), but if I had a specific title in mind and wanted instant gratification, I’d look elsewhere.

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The Green Arcade (1680 Market St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
If you’re still in the Fillmore neighborhood and got off at the bus stop on Gough and Market, you would have seen that The Green Arcade is right there at the intersection. However, on Saturday when I went there, it was open later at noon so I ended up visiting the other stores above before I made my way back here. Inside the store, there is an enormous vintage sign overhead indicating that the space that the shop now occupies was once a Chinese tailor shop in the early 20th century. It’s an independent with new books, but the inventory is obviously curated—I don’t think the owner is trying to please everyone. The front of the store contains California and San Francisco travel books as well as local history. There are no travel books for any other part of the world that I could find. The rest of the store is dedicated to a seemingly eclectic selection of non-fiction (although there’s a subtle theme going on), a tiny shelf of children’s books in the back, and a back alcove of fiction. I definitely think that if you have a certain reading taste that jives with what’s on offer here (off the beaten path histories, tattoos, beat poetry, noir mysteries, paper mache octopuses), this could easily become your favorite store.

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Books Inc. (601 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This particular bookstore is part of several under the same company which bills itself as the oldest independent bookseller in the west. I don’t know when this one was opened since it was not listed on their official timeline on their website, but it is one of several in the Bay Area and the design is modern despite the 1851 start date prominently displayed on the signage. If I had not been actively trying to find this place, however, I could have easily missed it if I were walking by. There’s a lot of construction on the road happening in front of the bookstore and a lot of the foot traffic is also going to the Peet’s Coffee next door. The front of the store mostly displays the new and recent titles as well as stationary and gifts. There is an extensive bargain book section in the back of the store—this was where I also found some Vanity Fair postcards (100 for $10, i.e. 10 cents per card). It’s a good place to go if you want to find a hard copy of a new book or just want to browse. It’s located on the edge of the Fillmore, Laguna Heights, and Civic Center neighborhoods, three blocks north of the Civic Center BART station.

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Arkipelago Books (1010 Mission St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This Filipino bookstore is located South of Market, right between the Civic Center and Powell Street BART stations. Unfortunately, my visit to this bookstore was a fail despite double checking with the hours online AND seeing the list of hours on the door of the Bayanihan Center where the store is located. It was supposed to be open, but despite pressing the button numerous times in an attempt to open the door, the door did not open. Peeking in through the windows, the place appeared dark and closed.

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Alexander Book Company (50 2nd St, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This bookstore is located in the Financial District, between the Powell Street and Embarcadero BART stations. This was also a failed visit—but this was not my only failed visit. I’ve tried going to this place several times last year, but it was always closed for some reason or another. This time, they were closed for “inventory” even though their store hours clearly indicated that they were supposed to be open on Saturday. They even had signs recommending other bookstores to visit since they were closed. I may try visiting this place one or two more times before I give up for good.

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Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff (2980 Treat Blvd, Concord, CA) | Website
Visiting this place on the same day as the other comic book store (Isotope) is like night and day. I will admit that I like this one a lot more compared to the one I saw earlier in the city. There’s no pretension in being trendy—it’s located in a shopping center next to Trader Joe’s—but there’s plenty of inventory to browse. Along the walls, there are graphic novels organized by well-known authors and the classics. The back wall also includes manga. The shelves on the main floor has graphic novels and comics from a variety of publishers, organized alphabetically by title. The store also sells some collectibles. There’s a lot of variety—I think anyone can find something they like here. Since this store is located in the suburbs of East Bay, I would recommend driving instead of public transportation if you are pressed for time. From I-680, take Exit 48 and drive east for about two miles to the Oak Grove Plaza at the corner of Treat and Oak Grove. If you must take public transportation, get off at the Pleasant Hill BART station and take bus 311 or 15.

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Protest Posters

I was in San Francisco earlier today doing some bookshop hunting, but I also saw the Women’s March. I was fascinated by the protest posters–it seemed like everyone was carrying one. Here are just a few.

Bookshop Hunting #1

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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One of my favorite things to do is to find bookshops. However, going to a bookshop is normally something tacked on to my list of chores and errands and I go to one if it happens to be on my way to another destination. So about a week ago, I thought, why not turn this into a project? The San Francisco Bay Area, compared to other places, is filled with bookstores and I wouldn’t find myself running out of places to visit any time soon. And on top of visiting new places, I could use this as a reason to post semi-regularly on my blog again.

Donation Center Book Sale – Friends of the San Francisco Public Library (1630 17th Street, San Francisco, CA) | Website
This happens once a month on every second Saturday, located in Potrero Hill across from a playground. It’s actually not as big as you’d think it might be considering the size of the city and the fact that the book sale takes place at their donation warehouse. When you enter, there’s some space cleared out where tables are set in a U-shape and books (in no particular order) are stacked with their spines facing up. Personally, I find it frustrating that there are boxes of books in the rest of the warehouse, but we’re not allowed to go through them. I guess they’re saving those for the giant book sale they hold once a year. It’s easy to get here. From the 16th St. Mission BART station, take bus 22 to De Haro.

Bolerium Books (2141 Mission St. #300, San Francisco, CA) | Website
I attempted to visit this bookstore but failed. I double checked on the website to make sure I had the hours right, but the doors were locked. Is there supposed to be another entrance to the bookstore that I did not notice? If so, it’s annoying that getting in is non-intuitive. I will try again on a different day when I happen to be in the Mission District. To get here, walk one block south from the 16th St. Mission BART station.

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Railroad Book Depot (650 Railroad Ave, Pittsburg, CA) | Website
This bookstore is located in the historic downtown of Pittsburg, a small suburb on the eastern side of SF East Bay. It’s a used bookstore, housed inside one of the brick buildings lining the street. Parking isn’t a problem, but there’s a two hour time limit. The style of the bookstore reminds me of a chain bookstore—perhaps it took over a Borders after it went out of business. The front of the store is where all the stationary and gifts are—it was nice to see that they had at least one rotating rack of greeting cards and postcards made by local artists. Once you walk in, to your right is the recent books and non-fiction as well as a large open area where I assume they have community meetings and author signings. All the way against the far wall is a table of free books, mostly fiction and textbooks the bookstore probably couldn’t sell. Fiction is located to the left of the store and they have a lot of genre fiction. They also segregated all the books with black/African-American characters and/or authors into a section that they called Urban Fiction, which I found annoying. Most of those were romances and erotica, not actual urban fiction, so I don’t know why they couldn’t have just shelved it in with the rest of the romances and erotica instead of separating it out. Aside from that, I did find an Umberto Eco book I didn’t already have in my personal collection. Getting here if you don’t have a car will be a pain because you’ll have to budget in an extra hour after getting off at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station to take the 392 bus. I recommend driving, take CA-4 East and Exit 23 for Railroad Ave.

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Barnes & Noble (5709 Lone Tree Way, Antioch, CA) | Website
What can I say? It’s a Barnes & Noble, and if you’ve been in one, you’ve pretty much been in all of them. When I came here last weekend, it was extremely busy. I was looking to get some stuff because someone had given me a gift card and I didn’t particularly want to use it online. The general layout of the store was the bestsellers and bargain books in front, the journals and gifts on the front left from the entrance, the cafe to the right, games a bit behind that, the rest of the books in the middle of the store, and the kids section in the back. I spent most of my time digging around in the bargain bins located between the major sections of the bookstore, but I didn’t find much. Sometimes there are treasures in there, but not this time. If you’re trying to get here, this is far on the edge of East Bay. Take CA-4 East to Exit 33. If you get bored, there’s the rest of the area which is basically just a giant shopping center.

Adventist Book Center (401 Taylor Blvd, Pleasant Hill, CA) | Website
This is a Christian bookstore. I am not religious nor am I interested in any kind of theology (which is kind of hilarious considering the meaning of my name) but for the sake of this project, it wouldn’t be fair to leave any bookstore out simply because I’m not interested in the types of books that they sell. This bookstore is located on a hill. When you enter the driveway as indicated in the address, turn right, otherwise you’d end up at a church instead of the bookstore. There’s all sorts of religious themed books here—from children’s books and Christian fiction to self-help and actual bibles. There’s even handy dandy stationary and dividers and folders for the hardcore bible study organizers. The unusual part of the store is that half of it is devoted to vegan/vegetarian food (warning: I noticed that some of it was expired). The background music, predictably enough, was contemporary Christian music. To get here from BART, get off at the Pleasant Hill station and take bus 18 north. If you’re driving, take Exit 51 on I-680.

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Amazon Books (1259 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, CA) | Website
Finally! I was able to see what a brick and mortar version of Amazon looked like. Unfortunately, I moved away from San Diego before the one down there opened, but after simply Googling for bookstores in the Walnut Creek area, I discovered that this one opened up just two months ago. It’s located in the center of all the high end shopping, which I’m not a fan of, but I can brave the yuppies if it means I get to see books. The Amazon bookstore is probably what you’d expect it to be—a showcase for things they sell online. Unlike a traditional bookstore, ALL of the books are shelved cover out (I don’t think I saw even one shelved spine out) and there was a section devoted just to Kindles. The tags for the books are interesting, too, in that they try to sell the books by saying stuff like “95% of reviewers gave this five stars!” or “If you like this, then try this!” Basically, Amazon recommendations in meatspace. If you don’t like books or Kindles, you can wait around for your shopping companions at the in-store Peet’s Coffee. I can see it appealing to people who like to window shop and buy at the spur of the moment instead of gleefully digging into towers of books, but I’m not sure I’d come back here unless they decide to radically redesign the place. To get here via BART, get off at the Walnut Creek station and walk south about one mile. Or, if you’re driving, take Exit 45A on I-680. Parking (and traffic!) is a pain in Walnut Creek, so I recommend public transportation. But if you must park, you can park in the structure next to Macy’s—it’s free up to three hours last I checked.

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The Mystic Dream (1437 N. Broadway, Walnut Creek, CA) | Website
This store is located three blocks north of Amazon. It’s a new age store with most of it devoted to rocks and incense, so if you’re sensitive to strong smells, I suggest you give this place a hard pass. The background music is some calming new age instrumental and I think there was a water fountain somewhere (or else that was in the background music, too). When I entered the store, one of the employees was busy explaining to a customer about some rocks that would bring them luck and wealth. There are a shelf of books against one wall—all of it new age and spiritual stuff—and next to that, an extensive collection of tarot cards. They also sell ouija boards. I’m definitely not into this stuff, but even so, I was disappointed in their book selection. I’ve seen other new age stores with a far more impressive inventory. But if you’re here for the magic rocks, well, you’d like this place.

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Swan’s Fine Books (1381 Locust St, Walnut Creek, CA) | Website
This store is located about four blocks northwest of Amazon. The outside of the store isn’t much to look at (and the bargain books are outside on carts), but the inside is cozy, organized, and well designed. It looks like someone’s personal library. Unfortunately, the books in this place are a bit out of my price range since it specializes in rare books and first editions. Some of the finer specimens are even displayed in glass cases. If the Edmund Dulac fairy tale book wasn’t a couple hundred dollars, I’d have definitely snapped it up. This would be a great place if you were a collector or a bibliophile with money.

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Goodwill | Website
(2536 N. Main St, Walnut Creek, CA)
(1699 Contra Costa Blvd, Pleasant Hill, CA)
(3495 Clayton Rd, Concord, CA)
(1659 Willow Pass Rd, Concord, CA)
Most people don’t realize this, but Goodwill also sells books. Some Goodwill stores have an extensive book inventory (like one I visited in Washington state over the Christmas break) or completely devoted to books (like one in San Diego). The four I visited over the weekend, however, were devoted to clothes. They each had a small shelf of books at the back of their stores, but it was mostly popular fiction. The only find I came across was a pristine copy of a DK Eyewitness travel guide to Turkey, newest edition for $1.50 at the Walnut Creek store. The original retail cost for the book was $25. I didn’t hesitate to buy it since I’ve started accumulating DK Eyewitness travel guides for my personal research library. I don’t recommend trying to find these stores via public transportation because they’re in some out-of-the-way places. In fact, getting to any of these places by car is a bit obnoxious since they’re located next to busy roads which are hard to get in and out of. And the parking at these places are limited.