When I’m away from home, I like to see the sights. For me, that means bookstores.
Not to imply that bookstores are the only sights I see. Not at all. It’s important to be well-rounded.
I also see record stores.
I’m partly kidding — but only partly. When I visited Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco for a few days last month, bookstores and record stores were high on my list.
In five days, I hit three record stores and eight bookstores. That might be a record, but you shouldn’t make book on it.
Of course I did other things while up there: wander around SF MOMA, stroll San Francisco’s Salesforce Park (the city’s answer to NYC’s High Line), see Beethoven’s “Fidelio” at the War Memorial Opera House and eat well, including hand-cut noodles at Oakland’s Shan Dong, a pastrami sandwich at San Francisco’s Wise Sons and Burmese food at Burma Superstar.
But bookstores and record stores were a big part of my visit.
When I moved to Santa Rosa a few weeks out of college 35 years ago, I immediately gravitated toward Berkeley. The shops and cheap eats on Telegraph Avenue were a comforting, if scruffy, replica of my Illinois college town experience.
I miss Cody’s Books, Shakespeare & Co., and Comics and Comix, all long gone. But all these years later, Moe’s Books is still around, with four floors of hardbacks and paperbacks.
Rasputin Music is hanging in there as well, as is Amoeba Music, which opened a couple of years after my arrival. I’m a CD guy, and I love trolling the racks at record shops for used and out-of-print discs.
I bought “The Essential Hank Snow” and Duke Ellington’s famous Newport 1956 concert, both used. “You saved a total of $2.98,” my Rasputin receipt says, somewhat mystifyingly. Did I? Whatever, I’ll take it.
I’d started the day at Half Price Books in Berkeley’s downtown, then met up with a journalist friend, Frances Dinkelspiel. We strolled the UC campus while gabbing about our line of work. She wrote the exceptional California wine history book “Tangled Vines,” which pays special attention to the Inland Empire, and co-founded the online news site Berkeleyside.
The next day my Oakland pal David Ewers, formerly from Pomona, took me to Gertrude Stein’s old neighborhood at 13th Avenue and E. 25th St., where the writer lived from 1880-91 in a farmhouse. Her famous comment about Oakland, “there’s no there there,” is actually about how, when she returned for a visit in 1935, her childhood neighborhood was unrecognizable.
Where were we? Oh yes, bookstores.
I visited Bibliomania, a used bookstore a few blocks from my Oakland hotel. I carry a want list on paper, but a few titles and authors reside in my head. One of the latter is Robert M. Coates, a midcentury New Yorker writer whose books can occasionally be found at the right kind of store.
Bibliomania, with its tall bookcases lined with hardcovers, had potential. In the fiction section, I immediately went to the letter C and scanned the spines for Coates. And by golly, there was “All the Year Round,” his 1943 collection of short stories for which I’d been looking (all the year round!) for maybe six years.
Sure, I could have looked online for the book, but it wasn’t as though I needed it immediately or anything. It was just something to look for in used bookstores. The delight of actually finding a copy, taking it down and holding it in my hands made it all worthwhile.
And it was only six bucks. Sold.
(Out of curiosity, I looked the book up online Friday and found five copies at $35-$40 each. Hah!)
I had to limit my purchases because I didn’t have much room in my suitcase. I had brought only a carry-on bag, and because this was the Bay Area in mid-October, in which every type of weather was likely, I brought a wide variety of clothing — plus three books to read.
After crossing the Bay to San Francisco, I ate a Mission burrito, then hit up two bookstores only a block or so apart.
Dog-Eared has a smart mix of new and used. Borderlands, which concentrates on science fiction, fantasy and mysteries, had a 1970s paperback for which I’d been looking: “The Best of John W. Campbell.” It was three bucks. Sold.
The next afternoon after the opera, I took a bus to Haight-Ashbury, where I browsed at Booksmith and then a few blocks away at Amoeba Music, buying used blues CDs by Big Boy Crudup and Lonnie Johnson.
From there I took another bus to Green Apple Books, an old favorite with a labyrinth of a layout and delightfully creaky wooden floors. I carried a book or two around before regretfully putting them back.
It’s worth explaining that it’s not always about buying the books or the CDs. These stores are just spaces I like, the way some people get a lift from going to a mall or a racetrack. I like to wander, to browse, to pick up books or CDs, to investigate authors and bands. If there’s something I want to take home, that’s a bonus.
To me, any time spent in a record or book store is time well spent.
My last day, I took a bus to the Ferry Building to visit Book Passage. “I’m carrying a book,” I told a clerk upon entering, not wishing to be charged for one I’d brought with me to read.
“You’re ready to check out?” she asked, having misunderstood me through my mask. I tried again and she got it.
Later that day, I walked to what would have been my eighth bookstore. Kayo Books is a vintage paperback shop that Google said was open but which is really only open by appointment. I peered through the window, wondering if they had anything I’d want, envisioning myself inside.
Oh well. It may have been for the best.
I don’t actually believe that, but it seemed like something I should believe.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the Corona-Norco Unified school board, trustee Jose Lalas was served with a notice of intent to recall. Said parent Cleveland Carter, who brought the paperwork to the lectern: “When parents don’t get a voice in their kids’ education, they have to take it to the next level.” He cited masking, vaccines and critical race theory as the issues and got cheers.
As you’ll recall, David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Email [email protected], phone 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.
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