Kathryn shares that “I’ve never met a library or bookstore I didn’t like.
That said, I always enjoy visiting Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary and Garden Arts in Berkeley. One of the co-owners, writer Ann Lehye, worked with me on our kids’ school’s fundraiser—a large garden tour—for years. One day in the early 2000s we went for a museum outing in San Francisco and I remember her sharing plans to open an independent bookstore in a vacated storefront near her Berkeley home. She wanted it to be aesthetically pleasing and manned by booksellers who really knew their stuff. “I’m going to call it ‘Mrs. Dalloway’s after the Virginia Woolf novel,” she said. Sixteen years after it opened in 2004, Mrs. Dalloway’s is still going strong. It’s a beautiful space and manned by friendly booksellers with excellent literary taste—a place the fictional Mrs. Dalloway would surely have frequented on the way to buy her flowers.”
C.V. says, “One of the things I miss about the previous town I lived in was the fabulous library with lots of books, desks to work at, and comfortable chairs for reading.
I really do love shopping for books through Amazon just because they have almost everything, whereas a brick and mortar store must limit inventory.. However, a trip to B&N is always nice because I get exposed to books I might not have considered. I don’t know when I last lived near a small local bookstore. Wish there were more of them.”
Ana adds “The Holmes Book Company on 14th Street in Oakland was one of my favorite book stores.
It was in business for over 100 years and I swear that they never threw away or returned a book to a publisher. Their stacks had stacks. I’d sit on the floor and search through the cabinets and shelves for hours. I got some real treasures there, primarily non-fiction. And I never knew until it was closed that the store was haunted!
And libraries! I’ve almost lived at libraries since I was a child. I love them for the stacks and stacks of books—I feel so comfortable and safe surrounded by tall stacks of books—and also for the big library tables. The best libraries have big windows that absolutely drench the tables with sunlight. That is my happy spot, friends: sitting at a humongous, sun-drenched oak library table covered with my books and papers and scribbles.
I’ve researched at a couple of large libraries, but I have very fond memories of Strozier Library at Florida State University. It was the first really big library I’d had exposure to, and it was filled with special collections. And “back then”, all of the stacks were open. Heaven!”
The store was the size of a Wal-Mart, and a major community anchor. We sold new and used books, and we had quizzes every Saturday that we were required to pass in order to keep up on customer favorites and new releases. There was a coffeeshop attached next door, and even on my days off I would come in and wander the store with a cup of extra-spicy chai to get the opportunity to find a corner and look at all the books I’d seen come in over the previous days.
The other store I worked in was Eagle Eye Books in Decatur, GA. It is much smaller than Title Wave, and still going strong! Because it is a smaller store, the staff was smaller, and I got to know the owner, Doug Robinson, and his family. I had the best dog, Yuba, a very mellow and sweet black lab mix who came to work with me. He would follow me around when I shelved books, but otherwise parked himself on the rug in front of the hardback new release shelf. He wouldn’t move for anyone, but would give a lazy tail wag and a helpful lick to anyone who petted him. These two stores are far and away my favorite bookstores, but I couldn’t choose which one was better. Both had nooks to nestle into, both had warm, wonderful and knowledgeable people to help recommend a new-to-you title. And, of course, both were integral to my identity at the time. I was a bookseller!”
Finally, Linda answers a question with another question. “Can I pick two?
I love Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe, Hawaii. They call themselves the westernmost bookstore in the U.S., and you don’t get much farther west than Kauai. It’s run by a couple from the mainland who retired to Hawaii, and the store is an eclectic mix of old and new. All of it is overseen by Celeste, the boss cat and Instagram sensation.
On the mainland, so far, the best bookstore is Powell’s in Portland. Thank God my son decided to go to school there or I might have never discovered this fantastic rabbit warren of book-filled rooms. It’s absolutely overwhelming. I never know where to start browsing. As an author, it’s rewarding to see how busy Powell’s is, how many people still read and still love bookstores.”
Ana Brazil writes historical crime fiction celebrating bodacious American heroines. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the Historical Novel Society, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers.
Ana’s award-winning historical mystery FANNY NEWCOMB & THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is set in Gilded Age New Orleans. Her upcoming October 17 2023 release is THE RED-HOT BLUES CHANTEUSE, a Viola Vermillion Vaudeville mystery set in 1919 San Francisco.