Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Tag: photographs

Month of Letters: Day 17

The first postcard today is going to a retirement home in Germany–the person requesting this had specified that any postcards sent should be about the location, thus the vintage postcard with a cable car. The second is actually a birthday postcard going to Canada even though it’s a photograph of the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, because the birthday person in question likes historical facts. The last postcard is heading to Italy and it is for a map tag–I have a bunch of Civil War map postcards and this is pretty much the only way I can give them away to people who would actually like them.

Postcard Set Review #8: Grandma’s Dead by Amanda McCall & Ben Schwartz

I found this book of postcards on the bargain shelf of a bookstore in Washington state for $4. It was a book of postcards with cute baby animals in it and it was cheap so of course I bought it. Unfortunately, a closer reading of the captions revealed that some of these “jokes” were more mean than funny, too adult, and on occasion outright offensive. This was published back in 2008, so you can see that in just ten years, the humor has already become somewhat dated.

As physical postcards, these were annoying. There was a printed dotted line for each postcard showing where they should be detached, but there was no perforation–I had to actually cut them out. The paper these were printed on was too glossy. Regular ball point pens could not write on them–the paper only made indentations where I tried to write because the ink couldn’t stick to it. Ink from gel pens beaded up and smeared. The only type of pen that even remotely worked was a sharpie.

I think this postcard book should just have been retitled as “Postcards from Hell”.

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?

ENjf_G1UwAAtjAe.jpeg

ENjf_G4UcAApQMA.jpeg

ENjf_HNUYAAipX3.jpeg

ENjf_HOVAAAPOc3.jpeg

ENjll_1UEAIPMya.jpeg

ENjll_7U4AETgJj.jpeg

ENjlmA9UUAAPONB.jpeg

ENjlmADUcAAAeBq.jpeg

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

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.

* * *

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.

Moo

IMG_0518

Other than a couple postcard posts, I admit I haven’t been as on the ball on the blog as I’d like to be. Sometimes you have grand plans to get things done, but then…distractions!

I’m not the sort of person to sit around and do nothing–especially when I’m in a new place that I want to explore the heck out of–but part of the blame can also be put at the paws of my newest roommate, Moo. She follows me around and talks more than I do. The gift of gab is strong with this one.

I got Moo over the Memorial Day Weekend at the local shelter which was overflowing with cats (it was kitten season). There were also lots of potential adopters there, too, but they were only interested in the kittens. I was the only one specifically wanting an adult cat. Moo seemed rather chill and for me, it was quick and painless to bring her home since I didn’t join in the fray to fight over the cute kittens.

The last time I had a pet, I was seven, and it was just a bunch of goldfish. But don’t worry, I’ve been thinking quite a while about getting a cat and I’m well aware of all the responsibility, time, and money it requires for being a pet owner. It’s a long term thing, and I know I’ll have to be there for Moo when she’s old and sick and not just when she’s younger and active.

Anyways, don’t worry about being spammed with a kazillion cat pics from yet another source on the internet. I’m not very good at taking pictures of moving targets and even I know blurry cat photos don’t make for good blog posts.

IMG_0517

Notes from Los Angeles

After the whole move and everything, I totally forgot about my pitstops in Los Angeles. The photos below include works from LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), The Broad, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and Little Saigon in Westminster.