Finding Books in Berkeley

On a recent trip to the library, I picked up Berkeley, A Literary Tribute, published in 1997 by Heyday Books. I am usually not a big fan of literary anthologies, but I had an interest in seeing what was included in the collection. Overall, I enjoyed the book more than I expected — it was a bit uneven in sections, but still included fiction and nonfiction set in different parts of town and a mix of writers that included Allen Ginsberg, Philip K. Dick, Thomas Pynchon, and Bobby Seale. In Malcolm Margolin’s introdution to the book, he notes that Berkeley has over 50 bookstores. I wonder how many bookstores are here now, ten years after this was written? I have seen quite a few bookstores, but I just can’t believe that there are over 50 out there now.

But what about the bookstores that I have noted on walks? Well, there are some general bookstores that sell new books, and even a chain bookstore (Barnes & Noble), and also quite a few stores selling used and antiquarian books. But some of the most interesting bookstores I have stumbled across have been specialty stores. Some of these include University Press Books (selling, of course, all sorts of books from university presses), Builders Booksource (architecture and building), Comic Relief (comics and graphic novels), Dark Carnival (sci-fi, fantasy, mystery), Eastwind (Asian), Ecology Center (environmental), Revolution (radical politics), and Mrs. Dalloway’s (gardening).

Berkeley also has a large number of small publishers and presses, a number of which have small bookstores, such as Nolo Press (legal), Dharma Publishing (Buddhist), and North Atlantic Books (martial arts and metaphysics). The Friends of the Berkeley Public Library operates a bookstore just off of Telegraph, as well as one in the main library and mini-booksales at the branches. Although I am an avid reader, I am also somewhat of a minimalist, otherwise I might have to restrict my walks to the hours when most bookstores are closed! Literally (no pun intended) there is a bookstore or a place to buy books around every corner. But as if that were not enough, there are books on the streets. It’s not quite like New York, but there is a tradition in Berkeley of leaving unwanted items on the street for others to pick up for free (or, from another point of view, to junk up the streets and contribute to urban blight). On most walks I pass at least one box of books set out at the curbside, and have also seen a couple of what seem to be more permanent structures for sharing books and other items. But I also pass many recycling bins filled with cardboard boxes with the distinctive logo. Not a strange sight anywhere, but it does cause me to wonder whether there will really be 50 bookstores in Berkeley in another 10 years.


1 Comment »

  1. Spike said

    Could easily be 50 in Berkeley. There’s 3 on the Woy Woy Peninsula plus the bookstall that comes to the shopping centre every couple of months and two libraries and we’ve only got 40,000 inhabitants.

    Ah, Amazon, so good with the range, so hard on the local bookshops. I like a quirky independent real-world bookshop best. You can order a book they don’t have and they ring you up when it comes in. I like the way they often start out in one small shop then expand into the shop next door after a few years then the one on the other side and you get different floor levels and signs saying “Architecture up the stairs and across to the other side”. Amazon’s not the same. Doesn’t smell like books.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: