Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: bookstores

Postcard Set Review #3: World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein

World’s Greatest Bookstores is a 100 postcard set with duplicates of 50 designs. This may flummox some postcard collectors who might want 100 postcards with completely different designs, but as a person who prefers sending out postcards rather than hoarding them, I am perfectly happy with this arrangement. I bought two of these postcard sets and I’ve sent out about 1.5 sets already. While bookstores depicted on the postcards are a bit US-centric, I typically send the ones with a US bookstore to those overseas and send postcards with foreign bookstores to people within the US, so it all evens out.

The cardstock is good–it’s sturdy enough so I don’t have to worry that they would be torn in transit and the texture is absorbent enough for most pens so I don’t have to worry about smearing. I find the artwork to have a dream-like quality which feels like a stark contrast to Bob Eckstein’s cartoons in, say, The New Yorker. I think it’s because brick-and-mortar bookstores are a bit of a dream, especially in these pandemic times when we can only order online. I just hope that when we do get out of this pandemic, we don’t find that all the independent bookstores really have vanished like dreams.

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.

* * *

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…

IMG_3663.JPG

IMG_3665.JPG

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.

IMG_3680.JPG

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.

IMG_3688.JPG

IMG_3690.JPG

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.

IMG_3722.JPG

IMG_3721.JPG

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.

IMG_3723.JPG

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.

IMG_3734.JPG

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.

* * *

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.

IMG_3605.JPG

IMG_3606.JPG

IMG_3607.JPG

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.

IMG_3627.JPG

IMG_3628.JPG

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.

IMG_3654.JPG

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.

* * *

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.

IMG_3416.JPG

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.

IMG_3422.JPG

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.

IMG_3428.JPG

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.

IMG_3419.JPG

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.

IMG_3557.JPG

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.

IMG_3573.JPG

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.

IMG_3576

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.

IMG_3577.JPG

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.

* * *

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.

IMG_3401.JPG

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.

IMG_3405.JPG

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.

IMG_3407.JPG

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.

IMG_3409.JPG

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.

IMG_3411.JPG

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.

IMG_3412.JPG

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.

This Bookworm Won’t Be Munching That Leaf

As an unrepentant bookworm, it’s rather difficult for me to come out of a bookstore without purchasing a book. For a bookstore, they should be happy I’m dropping by because I’m almost guaranteed to be a customer. And a repeat customer at that. Other kinds of businesses (with the exception of grocery stores) can’t count on that from me.

However, note that I added the word “almost.” There are some reasons why I would not go to a physical bookstore for a book I want. Most of these reasons are practical in nature. For one, a bookstore may not have a particular book I’m looking for. Sure, I can order the book from the bookstore and get it later–and I have done this before–but I’m also the rather impatient type. If I get the yen for a particular book, that means I want to read it now, not a week from now. So it’s often faster to order it online myself. Physical bookstores (and libraries to some extent) are more for browsing, impulse buys, and finding those books that I’ve been meaning to get eventually but weren’t at the top of my mind.

The second reason why I might not go into a bookstore is that it’s a specialized bookstore. And not just any specialized bookstore. A specialized bookstore that concentrates on subjects that I have very little (if any) interest in–like self-help and religion. If there was a bookstore that specialized in nothing but fishing, I’d probably avoid that, too, unless I got advance warning that my fishing-obsessed co-workers were going to forcibly drag me to one of their weekend fishing trips. Life is short and despite being an unrepentant bookworm, I’m not indiscriminate. Because what’s the point of cluttering up my personal library with books that I don’t want or need?

And then sometimes I don’t go to a bookstore because it simply doesn’t feel right. Or to put it more bluntly, it’s the staff that attempts to make me feel ashamed for buying books that they don’t approve of. Actually, this can be generalized for all businesses. If you’re going to make a customer ashamed for buying something, then why the hell are you selling it in the first place?

The first two reasons why I don’t go to a bookstore are just mere inconveniences. The third reason annoys me. I’m noting this now because yesterday, I wandered into a bookstore in Missoula that really rubbed me the wrong way even though I did not have any direct interaction with anyone working there. While this bookstore has, as far as I’ve seen, done the best job at showcasing local authors compared to every other bookstore I’ve been to in the city, the atmosphere reeked of elitism.

The entire time I was there, I overheard the person working at the front desk talking to a customer who had asked a question. There’s a line between helpful recommendations and outright telling someone what they should read because everything else is dreck. I thought the person working there yesterday crossed that line. Another thing I noticed was a comic strip lambasting the bestseller* next to it, basically shaming anyone who wanted to read it. While I have no intention of reading this particular bestseller regardless of the comic strip’s presence, I thought it was a rather passive-aggressive attitude for the store to take towards the people who did want to read that book.

I walked out of that bookstore without buying anything. Because frankly, there was another independent bookstore literally across the street that was friendlier even if it was somewhat less organized and had a mysterious schedule for business hours. I’d rather interact with clerks who place no judgement on what readers wanted to buy.

Bookstores can run their business in whatever way they want. I’m just one potential customer, after all. Maybe I’m not that particular bookstore’s target. Perhaps I should think of it more as a specialized bookstore–one that caters to literary snobs. I’m sort of the opposite of that as I often enjoy reading genre fiction, including stuff that critics would call “trashy.” Yet despite that, I’m still bothered. I know bookstores need to carry bestsellers and genre books in order to stay afloat but I’m not sure why that particular bookstore wants to stomp on its cash cow. If you’re going to shame people away from buying a book they want, it’s going to be less likely for them to look at any of the other books you want them to buy.

*Aside: In some ways, I do agree with the comic strip’s assessment of the bestseller’s lack of literary merit, but not in the most obvious ways. It’s not that I think that most readers are stupid enough to buy into the bestseller’s philosophy–in fact, I think they’re smart enough to tell fact from fiction. The problem is in other people’s assessment of the readers, that they think that all the readers actually do buy into the book’s destructive philosophy. What is insidious is that it makes them feel they have the license to treat these readers (and others like these readers) accordingly.