Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Finding Two Great Bookstores
One of the pleasures of traveling is coming across a lovely little local bookstore where you’re staying. I have fond memories of several such places, some still around and some not.
In the latter category, I’d put the Pink Cadillac bookstore in Chester, CA by Lake Almanor in the mountains northeast of San Francisco and Sacramento. That one’s been gone for some time now (the town’s probably not a big enough market to support it), but I stopped there in the late 1980s and bought a couple of used mysteries. When a nasty, afternoon-long thunderstorm confined me to my motel room, I was glad I had them with me, even though I can’t remember the name of the book I read that day.
Still with us is the Gallery Bookstore in Mendocino, where I go to recharge my batteries for a few days every couple of years. The Gallery sells mostly new books, and I always make a point of browsing the store and buying a couple of titles when I’m up there.
The Outdoor Bookstore
On a recent visit to the Santa Barbara-Ojai area in Southern California, I made the acquaintance of two locally owned bookstores. The first was Chaucer’s, which is located in an unprepossessing strip mall on State Street in Santa Barbara. It’s primarily a store that sells new books, and it fits a lot of them into a space not all that large.
I can’t recall ever seeing a bookstore so densely packed with books as Chaucer’s. The aisles were tight, the shelves were high, and the available space was stuffed to the gills with books shelved sideways and up and down. They had a terrific selection of contemporary mystery authors who are in print but not always readily available because they don’t necessarily appeal to the airport crowd. I scored several books there, including three Dalziel/Pascoe mysteries by the late Reginald Hill.
Even more interesting was Bart’s Books in Ojai, which bills itself as the largest outdoor bookstore in the world. It doesn’t rain too much in Ojai, so it was possible to build the bookstore around a large, open-air courtyard, with overhangs protecting the inventory from the stray shower.
Phoebe and Father Knox
Rain was not an issue the day I was there. The high temperature that day was almost 100F, and by 10:30 in the morning, it was pretty oppressive in the store. The books at Bart’s are nearly all used, and the fiction section alone is probably as big as a lot of community bookstores. (Mysteries were included in the fiction section, so searching was a bit of a slog. I checked to see if anyone had turned in a copy of my book, The McHenry Inheritance, but no such luck.)
This is a place where a patient search of the shelves can turn up books you never heard of or despaired of finding. I was able to come away with several older, out-of-print books by authors in the classical era of the mystery (or closer to it than today).
Included in the haul, in order of publication, were Emile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq (1869), one of the first detective novels and an inspiration for Sherlock Holmes; The Footsteps at the Lock, a 1928 classic by Father Ronald A. Knox, a contemporary and friend of Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, et. al; Beginning With a Bash (1937), a New England mystery by Phoebe Atwood Taylor, writing as Alice Tilton; and Coffin Scarcely Used, a 1958 British mystery by Colin Watson, a master of mordant humor.
A good day’s shopping, and now, with winter on the way, I have some treats set aside for those long, cold nights.