This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Some Bookstores I Have Known

            Bookshop Santa Cruz is celebrating its 46th birthday this weekend. I’ll be out of town and not present for the ceremonies, but since they’re asking people to reflect on independent bookstores , I can make a modest contribution.
            The first bookstore I really remember was Vroman’s on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena. We lived in nearby Altadena the first 12 years of my life, and my memory of Vroman’s is mostly of going there a couple of times a month, always on a Saturday afternoon, to spend part of my allowance on Hardy Boys books. Years later, after I had moved a few hundred miles away, I’d still make a pilgrimage to Vroman’s when I was in Los Angeles to visit my parents. The parents are gone now, but Vroman’s remains.
            In my high school years, I took to going to the Pickwick bookstore in Hollywood. It was bigger than Vroman’s and more chaotic, plus Hollywood in the sixties was a pretty dodgy place, which added a bit of a frisson to the expedition. The Pickwick, alas, is no more.

Surveying the Local Scene

            Our county now has four major bookstores and several smaller ones. Bookshop Santa Cruz is the leader, active in independent bookseller circles and industry change. They recently invested in a book-printing machine that has gained considerable community attention and use.
            Crossroads in Watsonville, where I had the first book-signing for my mystery, The McHenry Inheritance, is a gem of a small bookstore, providing a vital service for a community where people would otherwise have to make a 25-30 mile round trip to buy a book.
            Capitola Book Café is another good general bookstore, serving the area between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. Logos, in downtown Santa Cruz, is a behemoth of a used-book store.
            In all the stores I’ve mentioned, there’s a wonderful sense of serendipity, a feeling that you could stumble across something new and wonderful that you never knew about before you walked through the doors. To me, that’s the single most important thing a real bookstore offers.
            Browsing and chance discovery are somehow easier when the actual books are in front of you, rather than up on the computer screen as you scan Amazon. Amazon has its virtues, but it’s best when you know what you’re looking for going in. It rarely surprises you.

Bookstores Encountered by Chance

            Over the years there have been a number of bookstores I came across on trips, often completely by chance. I’ve been racking my brains, with no success, to come up with the name of the bookstore in London where I scored some incredible British mysteries and thrillers by authors I’d never heard of. That score included my first Dornford Yates book.
            Then there was Murder Ink in New York City, where the scenario was the opposite. It had quite a reputation and was one of the things on my to-see list when we made our first trip to Gotham in 1988. Murder Ink lived up to its reputation.
            And finally there are some small-town bookstores in getaway areas. Three I particularly recall. There was The Book Keeper in West Yellowstone; I still have one of their bookmarks, but the store vanished some time after our last visit more than 20 years ago, and a Google search today turns up nothing. Toyon Books on the Plaza in Healdsburg in the California Wine Country had a great cat and amazing selection for its size. It’s now Copperfield Books. And finally, one that’s still around, and from which I bought a couple of volumes in March, Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino on the California coast. Long may it thrive.