Wednesday, June 10, 2015

San Francisco Book Shopping

A few weeks ago my husband and I took a week-and-a-half trip to the Bay Area; he had a conference there and we spent five days in Mountain View and an additional four in San Francisco.

Mountain View, home of Google and other tech companies, is a beautiful suburban town with manicured lawns, pretty public parks and a free public bus service (thanks to Google). Castro Street is one of the commercial centers; not to be confused with the Castro district of San Francisco, Castro Street includes a theater, offices, and bountiful dining and shopping. What I loved about Castro Street was that most if not all of the stores were independent boutiques and local chains; there was a CVS but it was tucked away on a corner like a dirty secret.

And bookstores. Castro Street has three bookstores! I can't remember the last time I visited a suburb that had more than one.

Books Inc. is a local chain billing itself as "The West's Oldest Independent Booksellers," whose selection reflects the neighborhoods in which it resides. The Mountain View outlet includes a current array of fiction and nonfiction, nice cards and a cute café. I bought a pocket travel guide here because I forgot the book I'd picked up in New York to prepare for this trip.

For what it's worth, I don't recommend this particular guide, but I do recommend Lonely Planet generally. Make My Day is a flip-book that offers suggestions for morning, afternoon and evening activities. It helped remind me what was available to do in San Francisco but it didn't help me plan beyond that. I did use the map though.

Next on my Mountain View Bookstore Tour was East West Bookshop, which has an interesting selection of books on Eastern religion, meditation, yoga, etc. It's basically across the street from Books Inc. and was fun to browse in but I didn't find anything to buy.

The real find in Mountain View was Book Buyers, a massive, sprawling, labyrinthine used bookstore that has just about everything. Seriously. I'm talking long shelves filled to overflowing. Fiction, science fiction, tech manuals, cooking, humor, movies, music, kids' stuff, parts of the store I never even got to.  I spent a lot of time in the crafts and hobbies sections, fiction, French literature and more.

They have old magazines and pamphlets, an impressive selection of Dungeons & Dragons materials and more coding and computer books than you can shake a joystick at. And they have couches where you can peruse your selections, and movies and music and signed first editions. Both my husband and myself shopped ourselves silly here. I got sewing books; Jeff got science fiction and a rare D&D manual.
I love this- Book Buyers has a shelf of "Blind Date w/a Book" picks- books wrapped in brown paper with descriptions on the outside. This book turned out to be a guide to the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Not exactly my thing but fun to learn about and I loved this as a sales tool.

I spent two of our Mountain View days exploring San Francisco; I made it to the iconic City Lights bookstore, where I'd been before, and on another day went to the Asian Art Museum and the San Francisco Public Library. The Friends shop at the library sells galleys for $2 apiece; I scored the galley of Amitav Ghosh's upcoming Flood of Fire, the third in the Ibis trilogy, due out in August. I made two trips to City Lights this trip, and bought several novels including The Good Life Elsewhere, by Vladimir Lorchenkov, The Second Book by Muharem Bazdulj, and The Other City by Michal Ajvaz.
City Lights is filled with chairs where you're invited to take a break and read the books. This one is in the poetry room, upstairs and away from the general book selection. I love City Lights for their international fiction, leftist politics, poetry and their own publishing house. They also have a neat section of San Francisco books, zines and mysteries.

Jean Patrick Manchette's The Gunman is a gritty French noir published by City Lights. And it's great!
My favorite new-to-me bookstore was Alexander Book Company, located off Market Street in the SOMA area. It's a multi-leveled indie store with a wonderful selection of fiction in translation, among other things. I'd be a regular here if I lived in SF!

Display at Alexander Book Company
I also visited Book Passage, a fun indie in the Ferry Building. I was just at the Ferry Building for lunch and wandered in to this delightful store.

There were two museums we visited that deserve mention as places to buy books. The first is the Beat Museum, located a stone's throw from City Lights in the North Beach district.

The Beat Museum itself features several displays of rare Beat books, and their shop also has a selection of rare books for sale, as well as lots of used books, especially fiction, and back issues of old magazines. It would be a fun place to browse in regularly.

Then there is the Cartoon Art Museum in the SOMA neighborhood. The day we visited, the museum featured an exhibit of animation art from the films The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea, as well as Marvel props and other fun stuff. The museum's store features lots of graphic novels and comics as well as artwork to take home.
That's Pangurban from The Secret of Kells. I can't resist a cute cat.

In SF's Japantown neighborhood we stopped into Forest Books, a lovely used bookstore with a very nice owner and some real treasures- including a signed copy of J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace. Now, I love that book, and if you know anything about Coetzee you know how rare a signed book of his is. I did not buy it, since the price tag reflected the scarcity of the signature, but oh my God I wanted to. I picked up a used copy of Kenzaburo Oe's book A Personal Matter. I've never read him but I'm curious to.

Finally, we visited Pegasus Books in Berkeley, a really nice used-and-new bookstore.
Berkeley is also home to Shakespeare & Co., a legendary used bookstore, and other things, but we were in a hurry and didn't have time to really explore it. I heard Shakespeare & Co. is moving; I look forward to visiting their new location some time in the future.

We also got the chance to have dinner with Matt of A Guy's Moleskine Notebook. It was so fun to meet him after being blogging pals for years. 

And that was my trip to SF in books!