I need more bookshelf space in my house. Despite having well-used Kindles, the TG and I seem to be acquiring actual, physical books and at such a rate that "squeezing a few more in" is no longer a tenable solution. I have piles of books all around my office that I'm "temporarily" consulting. It looks like I'm going to have to call a carpenter for another built-in bookcase.
The situation made me think of all the bookstores I've been in and shopped in over the years. I admit that I buy from the Net: it's never closed, it's never out-of-stock, you don't have to drive anyplace, they deliver to the front door, it hardly takes any time to order – I know all that!
But there's nothing like a great bookstore for a book lover. Here are some of my favorites from over the years. Some I shopped in regularly, some only a few times. But they were all real "shrines" to books and, presumably, great literature and art. Bookstores are more than just places to get good coffee.
Vroman's Bookstore – This is my "home" bookstore. It's in Pasadena, less than fifteen minutes from my house and a block away from the excellent, independent, third-generation Canterbury Records. So I've spent a lot of time – and cash -- in this neighborhood over the years.
Vroman's is 121 years old, which is ancient by California standards. It is the oldest and largest independent bookstore in southern California and was Publisher's Weekly's Bookseller of the Year in 2008. They have a good selection of books, though I see too much floor space going to calendars and tcotsckes. I love their California section, their local selections, their Staff Choice's (with long "reviews"), the huge Children's Department, and the general air of helpfulness about the store. I also like their GiveBack program which kicks back some money to a local charity of one's choice. Mine is Five Acres, a home for at-risk children where I used to mentor.
I would have had my LA reading of WHAT IT WAS LIKE here, but it was easier to draw an audience to Vroman's sister store BOOK SOUP in Hollywood, another of my favorite bookstores.
The Strand Bookstore – The Strand is legendary and with good reason. It's the last of the great "Fourth Avenue" bookstores and a major force for good in the world of books. My first job out of college was for a small but prestigious book publisher on Fourth Avenue and 10th Street, right in the middle of the antiquarian book district. On long "publisher's hours" lunches, I would go into the Strand ... and Biblo and Tannen ... and Pageant ... and the others to browse and occasionally buy.
But my deepest relationship was with the Strand. As part of my job as Editorial Assistant and Assistant to the Managing Editor, I would occasionally run into extra copies of books. So I wound up selling quite a few review copies to the legendary Burt Britton in the basement. I hated that job, even though it taught me a lot, like copyediting, proofreading, etc.
Your first job out of college is like you're being hazed to get into the Fraternity of Work.
Hodges Figgis – When I went to college in Dublin for a semester – a million years ago – I used to patronize Hodges Figgis on 56 Dawson Street, the largest and most famous bookstore in Ireland.
You want proof? It's mentioned in Chapter 1 of ULYSSES – "She, she, she. What she? The virgin at Hodges Figgis' window on Monday looking in for one of the alphabet books you were going to write."
If it was good enough for James Joyce, it was good enough for me. I still have my Collected Yeats from Hodges Figgis and a couple of other books. (Some Wittgensgtein, I think, to show you where my head was at the time. Ah, youth!)
Hennessey & Ingalls -- I'm an art book junkie. That first publisher I worked for was a major art book publisher and importer, so I developed a love for art books from my early 20s. Hennessy & Ingalls used to have two stores – one in Santa Monica, one in Hollywood – but the Hollywood store just closed. It was just a couple of blocks from Amoeba Records, and I'm sure they thought that they could draw from the same clientele. But it was hard to find, far off the street at the end of a long shopping alley. Now I'll have to go all the way to Santa Monica. It will be worth it, for their knowledgeable and outstanding selection. This store really tests my self-control.
So SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSELLER.
But if you haven't read my novel WHAT IT WAS LIKE yet, please buy it on Amazon and leave a good Customer Review there. Amazon is the only thing that matters; they sell half the books in the USA, and they don't even have a store!
(That's only partially a joke.)