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Tag: books

Library Goals

I had heard that Umberto Eco had a fantastic library and I remembered thinking–when I first read about it–that it was probably just one large room filled with books. And for some reason, I pictured it as blue. It’s quite possible I conflated that with a picture of Eco sitting in a blue room. But then I recently saw a video of Eco walking through his library to find a book. And wow. It’s definitely more impressive than what I originally had in my mind.

One of my great sadnesses was that I had to severely downsize on my physical library the last time I moved. To give you a sense of how much I had to downsize, I probably had enough books to fill 30 average sized moving boxes and I reduced that to two. I hope those books that used to be mine are now with people who will appreciate them.

My physical library is still growing despite that severe trim, but it’s growing in a different and slower way than it was before since I have limited room and I’ve made the decision to only buy hard copies for reference and non-fiction books. My electronic book library, on the other hand, grows even faster because it’s so easy to obtain books that way. It’s definitely larger than what my physical library ever was although trying to search for a book is a whole set of different problems. But on the whole, I really do like having an electronic library, especially on the cloud, because if I have at least my phone with me, I also have a large part of my library with me, too.

But if we’re talking about physical personal libraries, Eco’s library is library goals. If I had a library like that, I’d probably never venture to any other part of the house except out of necessity.

Book Facade

After reading about why people would use a book by the foot service to fill their empty shelves, I wondered what books I would have on my shelves if I were vain enough to use a personal bookshelf as a backdrop for Zoom calls. (Right now, I just have a blank wall.) I’m afraid my answer would be depressingly simple. I would just have science books on the shelves. Obviously I would have actually read them all, but I think my choice of subject pretty much reveals that I have no confidence in other people taking me seriously if I don’t show books that are socially and professionally acceptable.

I think we all erect some sort of facade by what we decide to reveal about our reading tastes to others, even if we’ve read the books in question and are not just using them as decorations. It can even be skewed further these days as many people read library books rather than buy them or have transitioned towards ebooks. After getting rid of most of my physical library from my last move, I’m one of those people who have mostly transitioned to ebooks. So just looking at the physical books remaining won’t tell you the whole story.

Anyways, back to the “book by the foot” thing. I think if I were to utilize such a service to fill an entire library and not just a shelf in the background, I would be a pretty obnoxious customer because I wouldn’t want it just to be random or done by color. I would specify subjects–like the sciences, heavy on biology. History of science, maybe some biographies of scientists and engineers as well. Art and architecture, the weirder the better. Mythology and folklore. If there’s religion, it must be academic. Atlases and travel (both guide books and travel memoirs are fine). Cooking books–but only ones with a strong academic bent either towards science or ethnography. Archaeology and anthropology. History–but it would have to be all sorts of places and not just “classical Western civilization”. As for fiction, I’m rather neutral on the majority of genres, but I would like an emphasis on speculative fiction (i.e. science fiction/fantasy/horror) and modern literature in translation if we’re talking about hard copies and not ebooks.

Well, now that I’ve listed only a subset of what I would find acceptable, what would I not want on my shelves? I have no patience for new age woo and self help books. Politics and biographies of current celebrities–blech. Business books written by quacks. And bestsellers that were probably ghost written. I guess, in general, I like books that are interesting and reveal that the writer has an interest in the world. Books that are only self-serving turn me off real quick.

A Current Thought on Ebooks

There are still people around who will still insist that ebooks are rubbish and that reading should be done with physical books. I get the sense that they’re afraid that the physical book will go the way of the dodo and they’ll be forced to only read ebooks all the time. To some people, having the book as a physical object is something that they find comfort in. Personally, I think there’s room for both physical books and ebooks. And having people from either side trying to advocate for their way of reading as correct is a pointless exercise. There are multiple purposes to reading and physical books and ebooks may be better suited for one purpose or another.

So it was with interest that I read the essay “Confessions of a Kindle Convert.” I would say that I agree with the points made in it. Having an ebook is so convenient. I can literally access my entire Kindle library from my phone and read wherever I find myself, whether it’s waiting in line at a store or traveling somewhere. And if there’s a book that I want to read that’s not currently in my library, well, I can buy it right then and there. Instant gratification. As for making me a more adventurous reader, I think that’s true, too. I’ve been able to read some really crazy stuff that I’m pretty sure wouldn’t be found on most bookstore or library shelves.

There are some people who will insist that they cannot read on screens and so will never buy ebooks. To that, I just shrug. That’s fine. If you only want to read physical books and ignore ebooks altogether, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t tell me that I need to change my reading habits to match yours. I got used to reading on a screen in grad school after I decided that printing out reams of paper just for journal articles was a waste. (I definitely did not want to end up like another grad student whose desk turned into a towering fortress of dead trees and printer ink.) For me, having a library of ebooks is practical as I don’t have very much physical space in my home in the first place.

That said, I would say the existence of ebooks and physical space limitations has an enormous influence on what sorts of books I purchase. I am far more experimental and impulsive when it comes to ebooks. I have so many ebooks that, well, we should probably not talk about how many ebooks I have in my library. Just know that it’s a ridiculous number and that I should make a concentrated effort to get some of them read. I still buy physical books, but I am far more picky about what I end up taking home with me. It’s not only about the author or subject. It’s also about the publisher, the condition, and even sometimes the edition.

While there are certainly some downsides about ebooks–most which I feel stem from far deeper systemic inequalities which aren’t inherently the fault of the technology itself–I think ebooks has just made the reading experience so much easier. People shouldn’t be ashamed of reading an ebook instead of a physical book. Being a snob about physical books in particular  just paints one as a materialistic rather than cerebral. Because in either case, you’ve read the same words and the author has gotten their ideas across to you.

Books as Gifts

I’m going to just come out and say it: giving books as gifts is a bad idea. The only exceptions are when someone explicitly has a wishlist of specific books and says, “I want to get X, Y, Z” or when you know someone so intimately well that you are absolutely certain that what you pick will be well received. If you want to give books as gifts but still have a fuzzy-wuzzy  feeling for what the recipient will like, get a gift card to a bookstore and they can pick whatever book they want.

The reason I say this is that I’m kind of annoyed by people who insist that everyone needs to read so-and-so book. And the so-and-so book is almost never an academic textbook that at least has a veneer of objectivity. It’s always some pop culture fiction or memoir or self-help book or the Bible. But even if they were suggesting an academic textbook, I don’t think it’s going to change my life. Because I’m one of those weirdos who don’t think that a single book has changed my life. And if I’m on my deathbed, one of the things I’m not going to regret is not reading a particular book. There are things in life that are way more important than getting obsessed with one book.

Even so, I still think reading is very important–I just don’t believe in getting hung up on one book or even a set of particular books. I’m more interested in the process–in digesting the words, engaging critical thinking skills, and using the imagination. Certain subjects do intrigue me more than others and that’s where my reading tastes come in. And to be honest, I don’t really think anyone really knows my reading taste truly. While I do sometimes mention what books I’m reading or do an occasional review here or there, I do not meticulously record all  the books I’ve obtained for all to see.

(One might argue that my LibraryThing account is a document of my reading tastes, but I would say it’s only partly my reading tastes since I haven’t updated that in years and even when it was “current” it was only a list of books I’ve reviewed at one time or other–not the entirety of my actual reading diet or the entirety of my actual library.)

Well, that was a long-winded way to say that I would rather people not gift me books even though I’m a reader. It’s been a rare thing that I actually enjoy a book that someone has deliberately given me. Recommendations for me have also generally fallen flat. Most of my favorite books have been found through serendipity more than anything else. And perhaps  that’s part of the journey–that I discover these books myself rather than having them handed to me without any effort, wrapped in a bow.

The TBR of “Shame”

A recent YouTube video that popped up for me as a recommendation was “Pile of Shame Reading Vlog || Books with Emily Fox.  It’s not so much the books that are depicted in the video but the idea that everyone has books lying around that they’ve started but not finished that had piqued my interest. I have a lot of books which I’ve started and not finished, but I thought I’d list some of them here. For the sake of not boring everyone to tears, I’ve limited this list to non-fiction, plus one fiction book that is masquerading as non-fiction.

  • Jewels: A Secret History by Victoria Finlay – I’m actively reading this one right now. Each section of the book is divided up by gem by increasing hardness on the Mohs scale. It’s a mix of history, science, folklore, and personal anecdotes all rolled into a mix that somehow works. It’s all very interesting and easy reading.
  • Shinto: A History by Helen Hardacre – I bought this book before going on my trip to Japan last year because I knew I would be visiting a lot of temples and shrines. Unfortunately, I’m not even halfway through it yet. The writing is very academic, but I’m still interested. I’m reading this in parallel with Jewels, but this one is quite a bit more slow going.
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen – This book is so relevant with COVID-19 right now, but I actually started this book much earlier. I really do like Quammen’s writing, but at the moment, between reading papers for work on infectious disease and this book–I’d prioritize the papers. And while I find the subject fascinating, reading this just feels like more work at the moment. If you find this interesting too but don’t have time to read this, I recommend watching Joe Scott’s interview with David Quammen.
  • Feeding a Thousand Souls: Women, Ritual, and Ecology in India – An Exploration of the Kolam by Vijaya Nagarajan – I bought this book right after hearing the author speak about her experience with the ritual of kolam in India. It bears a striking resemblance to other magical customs around the world using signs to invoke protection and luck. I’ve never heard about kolam before this but I’m always up for learning about superstition and folklore and how it relates to the societies that come up with them.
  • The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair – This book is divided up by different colors with lots of trivia about those particular colors. I got halfway through and then got distracted by other things. It’s supposed to be a quick read, so I need to get on this.
  • Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova – This is a mix of memoir and travelogue, reporting and essay. The author travels back to where she spent her childhood, in the confluence of Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece. There’s some absolutely wonderful writing in here and I can’t wait to get back to this one once I’ve finished the books I’m actively reading.
  • Cyclonopedia: Complicity by Anonymous Materials by Reza Negarestani – This is a horror novel masquerading as someone’s lost thesis. It’s weird and bonkers at the same time and definitely not something you can breeze through in one sitting. There’s something really compelling about it too, so I’ll be slowly inching towards the end no matter how long it takes.
  • Magic and Mystery in Tibet by Alexandra David-Neel – I am very much aware that this is viewed through the eyes of a French woman in the 1920s, but considering her scholarly achievements in Asia and Buddhism, she’s possibly a better narrator than, say, a random white dude barging into a culture they have no experience with. This has apparently served as inspiration for a number of writers in the Beat Generation so it would be good background reading.

KonMari-ing the Library and Other Blasphemous Things

When I first read about the controversy on Marie Kondo’s advice to throw out all your books that don’t bring you joy, my first thought was a cynical one–that this was promoted to generate buzz on her new show on Netflix. One must admit, the timing of the controversy and its availability on the streaming service was a little suspect.

I had heard of Kondo’s book when it first came out a couple years ago, but I paid it little mind, assuming that it was just one of many offshoots of the current minimalist trend. I didn’t need to read about something that I already quasi-practiced. I’m more on the pro-minimalist side of things, but this is about half due to necessity–I’ve moved around a lot and discovered that having too much stuff to move around is just a pain in the ass. Philosophically, I don’t attach too much of myself to things. I’m more of an idea person. So basically moving everything online–communications, writing, reading, research, entertainment–wasn’t a difficult transition for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people have an emotional attachment to things. There’s history behind those objects–and I think for some people it’s easier to keep those things around than to try to capture those feelings into words, photos, and three dimensional schematics and upload those documents into the cloud. If people don’t want to throw X, Y, and Z out even though they take up quite a bit of room, I wouldn’t really care as long as they don’t try to store X, Y, and Z at my place.

Anyways, after thinking about this some more, I find it hard to get worked up about this. I don’t really agree with Kondo’s methods (Why throw something out because it doesn’t bring joy? Why not use utility or some other quantifiable method as a criteria for throwing things out?), but I don’t see why I should use up so much emotional energy getting worked up about her notions on throwing books away when she’s not physically coming into my home to toss stuff out. (Although judging from some parody tweets on Twitter, maybe she is.) I think what’s really happening is that marketing a certain aspirational lifestyle that has its origins in one culture is clashing directly with the lifestyle philosophy of a different culture.

So why am I framing it as a clash of cultures? Well, take Kondo, for instance. Her methods are very much rooted in Japanese style and the way she advocates throwing things out harks back to the animist beliefs that still pervade the country. From her Wikipedia page, she made a statement to the effect that she sort of had a religious experience that set her on the path of becoming an organizational guru. In light of that, I think she’s fashioned herself into an organizational Joan of Arc, saving people from being besieged by their own stuff. Only instead of being burned at the stake for her heretical notions about books, she’s being pilloried on Twitter.

I also want to note that it’s individual books that are considered and then tossed if they don’t bring joy. For people who are outraged at this notion, it’s not so much that the books are individual, but they are part of a greater whole–the personal library. If you subscribe to the personal library as an entire entity, tossing books out is akin to, say, chopping a tail off a pet cat because you reason that the tail is not essential in keeping the cat alive and why not amputate because that would save space. But we all instinctively know that that is inhumane.

Books are also not just about joy. They bring all sorts of emotions because writers try to capture the totality of the human experience in words. So if you are throwing out everything except the joyful books, aren’t you metaphorically cutting off all your emotions except the happy ones? (It does not escape my notice that Japanese society is also a lot more conformist than others. Many emotions are hidden–to the detriment to mental health–in order to avoid conflict and to keep everything in harmony.)

For some strange reason, this whole thing reminded me of one of the books in Jayne Castle’s St. Helens trilogy which were futuristic romances written in the late 1990s before the whole paranormal romance thing blew up and took over bookstores. The conceit of these books is that human colonists landed on some weird planets (that somehow bear an uncanny resemblance to the late 20th century Pacific Northwest) and over time, developed psychic abilities or talents. In one of the books, the villain turned out to be this lady who had the talent to organize everything. Her downfall was that she was too obsessively organized. Anyways, the point of that digression is that it’s probably okay not to be perfectly tidy. Do what works for you. And if people are pushing some method or another, well, just assume they’re trying to take over the world. Or at least make a cash grab.

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 #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.