Left Bank Books

Today, I went to a really cool indie bookstore in St. Louis called Left Bank Books. I knew about the store because it hosted an event that I ended up not being able to go to – a conversation and signing with Rainbow Rowell and David Levithan. Luckily, the friend I planned to go with got my book signed for me, but I still really wanted to check out the bookstore.

That same friend and I went to STL today and decided to go to the shop. It has both new and used books, and it’s got all the charm of an indie store. A bust of T.S. Eliot sits out front, and they have a resident bookstore cat. A nice surprise was the amount of signed copies they have. I ended up being very pleasantly surprised to find Fun Home and Are You My Mother? SIGNED BY ALISON BECHDEL, which I promptly purchased.

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I highly recommend paying a visit if you find yourself in St. Louis; the surrounding neighborhood is full of cute shops and restaurants, and Left Bank Books hosts lots of author events, too. It’s great!

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Bookstore bucket list

I’ve mentioned this before, and now I’ve actually written it! Here it is, my bookstore bucket list! I’ve also included famous bookstores I have already visited (it always feels better when you write a to-do list and include some things you’ve already done just to cross them off – we all do it). The criterion for bookstores I included on my “visited” list was whether or not the bookstore was ever featured on any sort of “Bookstores you need to see” lists (which I read often). Also, I made sure that the stores on the to-visit list are attainable – because let’s face it, I probably won’t make it to too many foreign countries in my lifetime. Without further ado:

To-visit:

  • Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France
  • Basically the entire town of Hay-on-Wye, Wales
  • The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles, California
  • Bart’s Books, Ojai, California
  • Powell’s City of Books, Portland, Oregon
  • Strand, New York City, New York
  • John K. King Used and Rare Books, Detroit, Michigan

Visited (links are to posts I wrote about the store):

There’s probably a lot of gems out there I don’t know about, so let me know what I should add!

Wild Rumpus Books for Children

I’ve been to a lot of impressive bookstores. But this one. This one. This one is my new favorite. Located in Minneapolis, Wild Rumpus Books for Children is one of a kind and an absolute must-visit for everyone who finds themselves in the area.

I visited Wild Rumpus because I was in Minneapolis for NerdCon: Stories last month. I have a good friend who used to live in Minneapolis, so I asked her what the good bookstores were to hit up while I was there. She immediately recommended this place, told me it was a children’s bookstore, and did not go into further detail. I’m glad she didn’t.

If she would have told me any more, the delight and surprise I felt would not have been nearly as great. At first when I entered the store, it didn’t look like a particularly special place…but then I saw the chicken. A little, black, fluffy chicken was wandering around the store, and children were coming up to it to pet it and play with it! I was absolutely delighted. “Some bookstores have cats,” I thought, “but this one has a chicken! How awesome is that?” It gets better.

Then there was another chicken. Just, you know, wandering around the shelves of the bookstore, doing its chicken thing. I laughed and smiled and petted it and took a picture and moved on with life. But as I moved toward the back of the store, I realized: this place doesn’t just have chickens. This place is a menagerie. Among the shelves of books there are also shelves of cages. Pigeons, colorful birds, hamsters, mice, rats, ferrets, and curled up on a couch with a couple of children, the obligatory satisfied bookstore cat. I could not stop smiling and giggling and had absolutely no shame running around like the little kids looking at all the animals.

The décor of the store also holds true to its Maurice-Sendak-inspired name: it took me a while to look up and notice that on the ceiling was the boat that takes Max away to the land of the Wild Things, sailing as if the ceiling were an ocean and the bookstore were an upside-down world under the surface. There’s a little hut of books all overgrown with fake vegetation and littered with gnomes and other creatures. Not to mention it’s a really well-stocked children’s bookstore (from picture books to YA to a small adult section) and the staff is super nice and helpful. I bought a Moomin book and a YA book called The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet which I am excited to read.

It’s an incredible place and should be included on every booklover’s bookstore bucket list.IMG_20151011_135620

Amazon’s new REAL bookstore

Today Amazon opened its first ever brick-and-mortar bookstore. The store is in Seattle (home of Amazon.com) and has a unique set-up that makes it the very first of its kind.

The books are displayed face-out on the shelves to display their covers (much like browsing an online store), and each book also has a card with ratings and reviews from Amazon.com on display underneath. The ratings and reviews from Amazon’s online store will determine which books they stock in the physical store. So it’s literally like an online bookstore made physical. You can see pictures of what this all looks like right here.

This is a very interesting development for Amazon and bookselling in general. There has been much talk about the future of publishing and Amazon’s effect on the industry, which is NOT what this post will be about. With the Hatchett debacle last year, I think many people are kind-of tired of hearing about that topic. If you want to read a fantastic article about Amazon’s history and relationship to the publishing industry, read this article from Vanity Fair. It’s lengthy, but very comprehensive and well-written. Naturally with the opening of this new store, people are talking about the topic again. (Wired’s headline was “Amazon Killed the Bookstore So It’s Opening a Bookstore.”) But instead of going on a rant about that, I’d rather just quickly post some thoughts about the new store.

First of all, let me say that I never buy books from Amazon. I do not have a Kindle; I have a Nook, and all of my online book purchases are through Barnes & Noble. The only time I purchased books on Amazon was during college, because textbooks tend to be cheaper there, and you can especially find cheap used textbooks from the secondary sellers who use Amazon. (Also, students got free Prime subscription, so that helped.) I am all in favor of the fact that Amazon has brought book availability to places that didn’t have brick-and-mortar bookstores available and for the wonderful things they have done for self-published authors. But when it comes to average book buying, I am loyal to independent sellers as well as Barnes & Noble. Why? I will admit that I am troubled by the way Amazon has been treating publishing companies, but it’s also because physical bookstores are just so much better and so darn important. The human interaction with booksellers, the browsing/finding-something-new factor, handling the books, not waiting for shipping, the smell…you can’t argue that physical bookstores are the best.

But anyway, back to the new Amazon bookstore. For one, I’d love to go see it. I find the way the store is set up to be very intriguing, and as someone who appreciates a unique bookstore, I think the experience would be unlike any other bookstore experience I’ve had (and I’ve been in bookstores with chickens that run around). So for that reason I’d love to visit it just to see how it would feel to essentially walk around inside a digital bookstore. Would I be drawn to the same areas I usually am? Would I be disappointed in the selection? Would the setup have any sort of influence on what I purchase? The answers to all these questions would most likely be “yes,” but I’m still very interested to see it.

Ultimately I don’t think this new bookstore is going to make any sort of change in the way we buy books – even if Amazon bookstores pop up in major cities all over the country (which has not been confirmed or denied as of yet). Because the Amazon bookstore is basically a physical version of their digital store, I don’t see the point in actually shopping at one. They will only be stocking bestsellers, they will feature the same books in the store as on their website…the only reasons to physically go there rather than buy from the website would be the lack of shipping and the Kindle section, where you will be able to test the Kindles before you buy them. The more I think about it, the more silly the idea of a physical Amazon bookstore sounds, especially with the set-up they have.

Am I interested? Yes. Do I think it’s a good idea? I don’t think it’s a bad idea, I think it’s a pointless one. What the Amazon bookstore is doing is creating an in-between type of bookstore that isn’t your traditional brick-and-mortar store, but also isn’t digital. And I really don’t see the value in a store like that.

…but I’ll definitely check it out if I’m ever in Seattle.

City Lights Books

This past April, I checked off a bookstore from my “bookstore buck list” (a list I haven’t actually written down, but hey, there’s another post idea!). This was City Lights Books in San Fransisco, California.

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This bookstore is known for being the hub of the beatniks of the 1950s, most famously Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. In honor of my trip, I began reading On the Road because this was an era of literature I had never studied before. I’m sad to say that I never finished On the Road. I got about halfway through, came back from California, and promptly started picking up other books to read. The flights (and the waiting time in-between flights) were honestly the only reason I even got as far as I did. To me it got really old, really fast. I get that it’s an important book for literary reasons, and I did enjoy some of Kerouac’s prose, but nothing about the characters redeemed the fact that so little was happening in the plot. I got bored.

I guess that’s the bad news. The good news is that City Lights Books lived up to the expectation. It has 3 floors filled with books, the top floor dedicated just to poetry and the beatniks. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to peruse the top floor because there was an event going on – some author who knew and wrote about Ginsberg was doing a talk, and it happened to be the anniversary of Ginsberg’s death. Neat, right? So I popped my head in for a few minutes. The top floor was packed with people; there literally wasn’t room for anyone else, so people started to jam up the stairway. I think I stayed until just after the speaker took out an ancient, accordion-like instrument and played a single, sustained note for a solid 2 minutes as he asked the crowd to chant “ah” as a tribal send-off for Ginsberg. I am not making this up. It was weird. I left.

Back in the safety of the literary fiction section, it was clear that I didn’t belong on the third floor – the beatniks are apparently not my style; they are way too cool for me. At least I gave it a chance.

One of my favorite things about this bookstore are the posters and graffiti art around the place. It made me feel really hip and cool shopping for books there, even if I wasn’t cool enough for the beatnik section. Not only that, but the whole block where the store is located has literary touches: quotes on the sidewalks, murals, a flying book art installation. I ultimately picked up two books: The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph (one of the Staff Picks, with such an awesome title I couldn’t resist), and What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund (which I hope will be as mind-blowing as it appears).

All in all, what I learned from the experience is you really can’t force yourself to like something just because it’s “classic,” “significant,” or cool-sounding from the outside. I tried to like On The Road, and just couldn’t do it, just like I tried to sit stand through that crazy guy’s talk. But just because I’m not cool enough to be a fan of the beatniks doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a cool bookstore. It was a very cool bookstore.

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Friendship and bookstores, from Prairie Lights to City Lights

Iowa City, Iowa. The location of the infamous Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Also the location of Prairie Lights Bookstore, a charming, 3-story bookstore (with coffee shop) where I reunited with a friend I hadn’t seen in over a year. Both being book lovers, and Iowa City being (kinda, sorta, actually not at all) equidistant from our respective homes, what better place for a long-anticipated reunion than a bookstore!? It was magical.

I don’t have much to report on Prairie Lights itself, other than it was a wonderful bookstore, really well-stocked with new books, along with a small used section. It was in that used section where I found a signed copy of Jasper Fforde’s Shades of Grey (an unfortunate title, I know), which I snatched up right away, being a big fan of a couple of his other books.

A wonderful find in a wonderful bookstore, but seeing my friend was even more wonderful. I didn’t take any photos of the store, probably because I was too busy basking in the joy of being surrounded by the things I love, with someone I love. Usually when I visit unique bookstores, I am more engrossed in the store, but this time I was just plain happy to be with my friend. Walking around Iowa City, we even found a giant book, in front of which, of course, we had to take selfies.

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And little did I know that in April I would reunite with another dear friend and book lover near San Fransisco, and we would of course take a trip to the famous City Lights Books. That particular bookstore merits a blog post all of its own (forthcoming). But scanning the shelves with a friend is a great feeling, especially when you haven’t seen them in a while. Good friendships often have a basis in common interest, and when a common interest is books, you have endless things to talk about. I think book lovers are more empathetic people in general, which is why we get along so well and will never stop being such good friends, despite the distance that separates us. People will always come together through books, and from Prairie Lights to City Lights, my friends have proven that.

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The Tattered Cover

Now that it’s summer, I’m hoping to do a lot of blogging and catching up on old blogs I’d meant to write but didn’t. This is one of them.

A year ago I visited Colorado, where my college roommate grew up, and asked her to take me to The Tattered Cover – a bookstore she had always described as one of her favorites. She actually took me to two of their locations in the Denver area: one located in Littleton (my roommate’s hometown), and the other in Denver on Colfax Ave. Already, the experience was was exciting, because as we drove up to the Littleton location, we spotted this:

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Being a fan of Junie B. Jones as a kid, I was quite excited to see that the Stupid Smelly Bus actually exists! Turns out, the store was having a Junie B. Jones book event that week. Pretty cool timing. The store inside was very spacious, complete with plenty of cushy armchairs for reading, a cafe, and even a section of book-ish gifts (that aren’t actual books), like library card-themed pencil cases, author card games, etc. I can see why my roommate loved the store so much. Even the bathrooms walls were literary:

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Their Denver location on Colfax street is probably one of the coolest bookstores I’ve ever been in simply because of its location: it is housed in an old theater. A place that combines my two life passions into one!? The Tattered Cover celebrates the fact that the bookstore is an old theater by having “The Stage” area marked with a sign, and some of theater seats left in the audience for you to sit and read. It’s a terrible picture, but here’s a look:

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The other thing I really like about The Tattered Cover is that not only is it is extremely well-stocked, but they also sell both new and used books. So really, the options are endless. Being a fresh-out-of-college student, my haul only included one book (Introducing Critical Theory: A Graphic Guide), and a mug. But the experience was enough to have this particular store on my list of unique bookshops I’ll remember visiting.