Greg: Bookstores I have loved

Back before books were matrices of quark traces arranged into story-shaped cluster patterns, they were physical objects sold in shops or “shoppes” where humans or “people” manifested their biological presences and engaged in activities referred to as “shopping” or “browsing” or “killing time at the bookstore.” And, perhaps like you, I have loved several of these bookstores in my “lifetime.”

The first bookstore I fell in love with was pretty much whatever bookstore my parents took me to.

When I was quite wee, even those places where they sold greeting cards and stationary in the front and had a small stock of books in back got me wiggly. I just loved the idea that I could pick out a book and take it home as long as I promised to feed it and clean up its poops. But one that stands out in my memory is Martindale’s (later Vroeman’s) on the not-yet trendy Third Street mall in Santa Monica. They were kind of snotty to me there, and when I was four and my dad left me in the store because he’d forgotten he’d taken me, the staff was no help at all to the sniffling, abandoned four-year-old me. But they had books and lots of of them, so I loved the place.

Change of Hobbit, Santa Monica

The first dedicated science fiction store I’d ever seen. They had a store boa constrictor and a staff who knew and loved science fiction. When I imagined having books that I’d written on the shelves of a bookstore, it was Change of Hobbit’s shelves that I was imagining.

Powell’s, Portland, Oregon

Powell’s is bigger than big, something like five floors and a city block of big, and they simply have all the books. Portland is a great town, but even if it were a dump, it’d still be worth a visit just to go to Powell’s.

Bookmans, Mesa, Arizona

This is a giant used bookstore with a handful of locations in Arizona. Yes, they have a lot of books, but my affection stems from the fact that, when I was desperate for cash, they were my go-to. There was one week when the $20 my girlfriend and I got in exchange for some books and CD’s meant we could eat. I love eating, so I love Bookman’s.

Small World Books, Venice, California

Almost hidden among the cafes and pot pipe shops of the Venice Beach boardwalk, Small World is a calm and civilized refuge with an outstanding science fiction section. I always know I can go there and walk away with something I haven’t seen in a superstore. I buy something almost every time I’m there to help ensure that they’ll still be there the next time I come back. They’ve also got a cute bookstore cat.

Mysterious Galaxy

Now that I live in San Diego, this is my local indie, specializing in sf and mystery. It’s what you want in an independent store: the strong selection, the friendly and knowledgeable staff, the commitment to putting books in your hands that you want to read.

Some other great bookstores I’ve at least crushed on: Tattered Cover in Denver, Elliot Bay Books in Seattle, Book People in Austin, and Borderland Books in San Francisco (though I’m freaked out by their hairless cat).

What are your favorites?


5 Responses to “Greg: Bookstores I have loved”

  1. 1 Tim Pratt
    March 2, 2009 at 5:35 pm

    There wasn’t much to speak of in my home town. We had a Waldenbooks at the mall, and this was before the days of big box chains, so that was it. Eventually I found a little secondhand shop out by the air force base with an anemic horror section.

    In college, it was better — it was a small town, but a college town, so there were four or five bookstores within walking distance, if you counted the SF/fantasy used book shelves at the back of the comic/gaming store. In a way, that was the first specialist bookshop I ever saw!

    Then I moved to Santa Cruz CA, where I had both Bookshop Santa Cruz and Logos within blocks of one another, and walking distance from my house. Oh, heaven.

    Now, in Oakland, there’s an embarrassment of riches. My neighborhood bookstore, Walden Pond, skews very literary and has only a small SF section, but it’s a good store overall. Besides, if I want science fiction, I can drive a few minutes to Dark Carnival (my favorite store on this side of the bay) or Other Change of Hobbit. In San Francisco, there are zillions of indie bookstores (though fewer every day, and over here in the East Bay we lost Cody’s entirely, which is sad). My favorite of the San Francisco stores is Borderlands.

    Then there are the comic shops — Dr. Comics in Oakland and Comic Relief in Berkeley both more than suffice for me.

  2. March 2, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    For comics shops, I miss Atomic Comics in Phoenix. A good percentage of their staff is young, female, and charmingly geeky. A real nice contrast to the vaguely creepy comics shops I frequented (and worked at) in LA.

  3. March 3, 2009 at 11:58 pm

    I second Greg’s Small World Books recommendation. I spent many an afternoon there when I lived in Marina Del Rey. Right now my 2 favorite shops are pretty much chosen because of location. The used bookstore Gene De Chene on Santa Monica Blvd, in West Los Angeles is on my evening route to the freeway. Golden Apple Comics on Reseda in Northridge is a few blocks from my apartment. I love living so close to a comics shop.

    My chosen route home from work takes me past a decent Barnes and Noble that I stop in on occasion.

    I also have a very special place in my heart for the used bookstore in Tacoma near the Tacoma Dome. It’s gigantic and a delightful maze of a shop. And some of my earliest memories of my fiancee involve that store.

  4. March 5, 2009 at 12:52 am

    In Minneapolis – I just visited it again. Mystery and SF – Uncle Hugos – http://www.unclehugo.com/prod/ (the mystery side is called Uncle Edgar, I never knew that until I looked for their website. I don’t go to Edgar’s side that often 🙂

  5. 5 Thomas Parker
    December 12, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    I too loved The Change of Hobbit, though I was most familiar with it when it was at its first location, in Westwood. It was there that I met ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Fritz Leiber, and many others. I was there the weekend in 1976 when Harlan Ellison sat at a small table that had been set up in the window and wrote stories (most of which found their way into his book, Strange Wine). Everyone present when he finished a story got a autographed copy. After all there years, I still have my copies of “Mom” and “From A to Z in the Chocolate Alphabet.” Ah, youth…

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