It Happened in Monterey

I miss chatting with bookstore owners who are avid readers. With only one independent bookstore on the island (BookEnds in Kailua) and a perfunctory Barnes and Noble at the mall, the pickings are slim in Hawaii. On a recent trip to the Monterey Peninsula, I found four independent bookstores within a five mile radius, and with booksellers happy to share their favorites. Of course, I could not get out of a store without buying a book or two.  img_4298

At Bookworks in Pacific Grove, I found two books: an older (2012) Donna Leon mystery I had not read, with my favorite sleuth, Commissario Guido Brunetti – “Beastly Things,” and Joanna Trollope’s “Sense and Sensibility” (2013), her modernized version of the Jane Austen classic.

At Old Capitol Books in Monterey, I found myself scanning the stacks of old used books, some rare editions, checking off those I had read. Looking for favorite authors, I found an Amy Bloom book I had not read (at least I don’t remember reading it) – “Lucky Us.”

In Pilgrim’s Way, the charming bookstore connected to a garden in Carmel, I decided on “The Green Thoreau” and Scottish author Beatrice Colin’s “To Capture What We Cannot Keep.”

Chatting with the proprietor led me to another independent bookstore not far away – River House Books. There I found the first of Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache books – “Still Life” – recommended by a good friend, and Amy Bloom’s new book – “White Houses.” The bookseller commisserated about “Manhattan Beach” – like me, she had not been able to finish it – but I plan to try again. And her recommendation for the best page-turner she had read recently – “The Dry” – went to the top of my to-read list.

With this stack, Laura Lippman’s “Sunburn” on my iPhone and Navin’s “Only Child” on audible, I am ready for a long flight – unless, of course, the movie selection has an Oscar nominee to distract me.

The Last Bookstore

The Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles could be the model for Zafon’s “cemetery of forgotten books – a repository for books from the classics to science fiction to literary criticism and more – except this place is no secret and everything is for sale. The bookstore is housed in a converted old bank building (the guard still stands at the door), and stocks used as well as new books, and an extensive collection of vinyl records – single 45s and long-playing 78s – in a huge hall crisscrossed with books in old wooden bookcases.

I could have wandered through the stacks on the first floor forever, until I discovered the back stairs to the second floor and happily got lost in the maze of more books and art. I felt like Alice in Wonderland as I walked through a tunnel of books, peeked through a window frame of books, and zigzagged through passageways that led to even more books. Soft chairs beckoned and I found it hard to leave.

Of course, I found books to buy – a few children’s books: Dahl’s “The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me”; a boardbook for a small friend – “Ten Little Monkey”; Terry Pratchett’s sci-fi thriller, “Only You Can Save Mankind”; a Man Booker finalist from 2008 – Mohsin Hamid’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”; and an old DVD of “Monsoon Wedding.” They all fit nicely in my carry-on for my flight home.

Like the Cemetery of Lost Books, the Last Bookstore has an aura of mystery and reverence, and the caretakers are happy to help or just let newcomers wander in wonder. If you are a visitor in LA, look for this place where readers feel at home.



Books: The Common Denominator

While recently traveling back to civilization, I was heartened to find that books survived the flood in New York City. The Reading Room at the main branch of the New York City Library was full, and Rizolli’s Inde Book Store on 57th had shelves of old favorites, as well as Ian McEwan’s new “Sweet Tooth,” which I purchased – my ongoing support for the independent bookstores.

The room at the top surrounding the statue of Columbus had its own collection of books – the artist’s idea of eclectic reading material. Among them – Zeitoun, Leaves of Grass, American Lion, Gulliver’s Travels, and Patterson’s Restless Giant.

Books – familiar faces when traveling.





The Bookstore’s Last Stand

Bookstores are closing; e-books are gaining popularity; Amazon is positioned to publish without paper; would-be authors can self-publish – reading books is not what it used to be.  In her article for Sunday Business in the New York Times – The Bookstore’s Last Stand  – Julie Bosman  targets Barnes and Noble as the last bastion for brick and mortar publishers.  Ironically, the megastore now in jeopardy was one of two (Borders now gone) that threatened the demise of independent bookstores (just like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan: Fox Books vs. The Little Shop Around the Corner).

Banking on the Nook to save their storefront operation, Barnes and Noble may have to follow Amazon, expanding into toys and games to attract customers.  Evidently, books may not be enough to tempt buyers.

Independent book stores are hanging on, supported by their faithful customers, using the social media like Facebook and Twitter to connect with the electronically bent.  Book Soup, conveniently positioned near the stars in West Hollywood, regularly offers book signings and discussions with those rich and famous, who also wrote books.  Others, Like Politics and Prose, in Washington, D.C., maintain a following with newsletters, events,  and posts that reach beyond the Beltway.  Some small bookstores offer a flavor of comfort and exclusivity, and readers seek them out – like the Annapolis Bookstore on Maryland Avenue.

Do you have a favorite independent bookstore that you frequent?  Have you bought a book there recently?

Related Article:  Don’t I Know You From the Dust Jacket

Of Bugs and Books and Bookstore Doors

Just like fashion that recycles back if given enough time – you didn’t throw away those bellbottoms, did you? – small bookstores are making a comeback.  Author Ann Patchett suggests that bookstores may go in cycles – like the cicadas, that buggy scourge that returns very 13 or 17 years, with their shrill sound, falling out of trees onto unsuspecting children’s backpacks as they walk home – adding more shrill screaming. Patchett’s reassuring essay confirms that those small independent bookstores are still here – and maybe better for the departure of their larger competitors.  In her essay for the New York Times, Of Bugs and Books, Patchett recalls her recent book tour for her new novel, The State of Wonder.

Patchett visited some familiar names: Powell’s in Portland and Prose and Politics in Washington, D.C., and more – all doing well.  As a mark of her faith, she is opening her own bookstore – Parnasus Books – in her hometown of Nashville.

Maybe Patchett will ask her visitors to follow the habit of patrons at Frank Shay’s bookstore in Greenwich Village, open for business from 1920 – 1925, and have users sign her door.  Shay’s bookstore door just resurfaced in an exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center in Texas, displaying famous signatures on both sides of the door: Theodore Dreiser, John Dos Passos, and Sherwood Anderson, among other authors who liked to browse there.  Jennifer Schuessler’s essay  for the New York Times Sunday Book Review noted that Christopher Morley wrote about the small bookstore’s closing…

“It was too personal, too enchanting… to survive indefinitely.”

But, maybe the time for small enchanting bookstores is back.

  • Read my review of State of Wonder – here 
  • More information on the Greenwich Village Door – here
  • Interact with the Greenwich Village Door Exhibit – here