• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Even in a perfect world where everyone was equal I’d still own the film rights and be working on the sequel

Dear Readers: I apologize in advance. And if you can’t take it, then skip today’s post. But here’s one where I can’t find anything negative to say. I just can’t. Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida is mecca to book lovers. And following that line of thought, its proprietor, Mitch Kaplan, is a god. Do not go to south Florida and fail to stop in (and spend serious time) at this store. Your aching body will straighten itself, your exhausted brain will oxygenate, your bunions will dissolve. Why? Because this is one of the country’s great independent bookstores and from the moment you set foot inside, you become part of a working intelligence that cares about everything you care about.

When I saw Mitch the other day, I went away feeling encouraged in ten different ways. I realized ours was the only publishing conversation I’d had in months that wasn’t about Kindles and e-tailing and the end of the world. He is a person of tremendous capacity and generosity. He is a co-founder of the Miami International Book Fair, and is also a film producer. The entire plane ride home I kept thinking about ways in which I could grow my business, create opportunities, produce new work. I have to say one of the things that I find most enviable/inspirational is the way Mitch appears to have time. (Mitch, if you do yoga — and especially if you do yoga on the beach — please keep it and your blue mat to yourself.)

Would love to hear about your favorite bookstore, past or present.

37 Responses

  1. Birdsong Used Books in Albuquerque. As a student in the 80s, it was a lifesaver for me- an addict of literary fiction. As I discovered writer after writer and explored each ones body of work, they would have a copy of each book that person had written, at possible prices . Haven’t been there in years, but I just checked: they’re still around!

  2. Powell’s books. There are times where I would drive around Portland because I knew if I took the I-5, I would make a detour, see all the money in my wallet go, and waste the entire day there.

    That and my kissy first girlfriend introduced me to the store. The first time she took me there we made out in a dark corner, and she bought me THE PLATYPUS OF DOOM. How perfect was that?

  3. Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona owned by Gayle Shanks. The minute I walk in I know I’ve arrived at a place where books are treasured.

    I also love Bookmans, especially the ones in Tucson and Flagstaff. I can spend days and days in them. Aggravating for my family but fun for me.

  4. My favorite all time has to be the Earthing Bookstore in Santa Barbara, Ca. It is where I gained a true passion for reading and writing. Sad that it is gone thanks to the big box mass market all you want plus cafe joint down the street. But its not the that big box’ fault it is us because we just had to have the cheapest books to buy. The big boxes don’t kill the great bookstores we do because we insist on buying at the cheapest rate (well and a big box gets books cheaper thus the cheaper price.) Wow I feel like a a big box whore.

  5. City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco. Hope it’s still there.

    • It was still there in 2003 when I visited it. Seems like the kind of place that will always be there but I suppose you never know.

  6. Newtonville Books in Newton Ma has it all: tremendous kids section, writer’s reading, (and readers writing) supportive and warm staff AND a great selection of books. BookCourt in Brooklyn–just met that store, and it’s already a reason to return to NYC.

  7. Oh, and when you’re in the Hudson Valley, run to Oblong Books in Rhinebeck!

  8. Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, WI. The Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa. (Very cool. Used to be a bank.) Saturn Books in Gaylord, MI. And there’s this little one in Ojai, CA and The Book Cellar in Chicago. I could go on and on. I’m a glutton for Indies.

  9. The Bookstall in Winnetka, Illinois hosts several author events each week.

  10. My favorite bookstore was the one my mother was part owner of on Long Island when I was growing up–like the bookstore in You’ve Got Mail. I spent afternoons after school there. I love the independent bookstores on the West Coast from San Francisco up to Washington State–can’t remember names. They’re magical places—not pretentious and intellectual, just lovely places to browse for a good book. I loved my local B&N but it’s closing in a week–so no bookstores anymore in my city (except a used one).

  11. We had a Louie’s Bookstore and Café. It did all the work for us—every single book you wanted to read was in the store. It catered to writers and art students and academia and intelligent people because it was smack dab in the center of MICA, UofB, Hopkins, and Mt. Vernon. And the Sunday brunch was the best place to take your mom, with live classical music, too.

    And props to the Back of Beyond in Moab for being where it is.

  12. My favorite current bookstore is Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks, Alaska. It’s been sitting on the same corner for at least twenty years, has new and used books and an owner who is visible and funny. There is a cafe on the second story in the used book section. They also do book signings and readings. It’s not just a bookstore, it’s a gathering place.

  13. Porter Square Books in Cambridge,MA. Great books, great service, a wonderful in-store coffee shop (Cafe Zing), and a reading or author appearance just about every single day. And now that half the great indie bookstores in Cambridge have closed down, it’s especially comforting to see one that’s thriving.

    Shout outs to Newtownville Books, too, in Newton, MA, Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, MA, and, of course, Curious George Goes to Wordsworth, in Harvard Square. If you’re visiting the area, make sure you go to all of them.

  14. The Strand (NYC) was the first place I saw God, circa 1990.

    Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon was the seocnd (circa 2000), where you can sit all day in their elementary-school-like cafeteria, drink strong No. western brewed beans, and read books.

    Strand&Powells&Caffeine= Heaven on Earth.

  15. Again, the shout out to Newtonville Books–a wonderful little store and one of the main reasons I’m glad to live here. In the Boston area we have an embarrassment of riches, indie-wise. We are so lucky.

    And I have to be sentimental and mention my dad’s store, Oxford Books in Atlanta. It closed in 1997–RIP. But it was beloved in its day and was an oasis for booklovers in a pretty arid town.

    • I loved Oxford books. Atlanta’s my hometown, and whenever I visited, Oxford was a vital stop. I collected enough books on each visit to last the year.

  16. Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma refused to stock or sell Sara Palin’s book: I am IN LOVE with the people there. Also, they displayed my book next to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: I am IN LOVE with the people there.

    Cannon Beach Books in Cannon Beach, Oregon. It’s run by lovely, cultured, old-world 21st-century ladies. If they like your odd little illustrated memoir they will hand-sell it to everyone who walks in.

    Wide World Books and Maps, Seattle Washington: Julie Hunt heroically rescued the place last year when the owners wanted to retire after 33 years and preserved a traveler’s institution. And if your little sister moseys in there looking for a road map of Namibia and she happens to see your book propped up on their front table she might start thinking that you’re almost half-way cool, for once, maybe.

    R J Julia Books in that little town in Connecticut. She (R J Julia) built it, and they all came — a great story of how one book store revitalized a community. Plus: the walls of the selling floor has all those black and white autographed photos of famous authors who have done a book event there — it’s like a literature-geek version of Toots Shor’s in the ’50s.

    A life-enhancing independent book store in Coral Gables?? This I gotta see.

  17. Ducky Waddles Emporium (art, books and more) in Encinitas, CA. where out of print and hard to find books, most with worn pages, discolored covers and creased spines are sold alongside Shepard Fairley prints, Mexican folk art and counter culture magazines. Proprietor told me he gets referrals from the local library for important works no longer so easily found.

  18. Though I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting Books & Books, I sent many an author there in the day and they always felt the love. My favorites are McNally Jackson and The Strand in NYC, Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

    • Oh and I have to show some love to Diane’s Books (not to mention the lovely Diane herself) in CT.

  19. I’m going to raise a quivering little hand and defend a…Barnes and Noble.
    Here’s the deal–when I loved to my small New England college town it had, shockingly, only one dying bookstore (and a great little second-hand shop, but sometimes you need something new). Dying, as in, every day, less stock. They were turning books to face outwards on the shelves to fill in, because they couldn’t afford anything but the most minimal new stuff. It was awful…and there was nothing to read. I was hating life, which had hauled me kicking and screaming out of Manhattan and deposited me here, and now there was NO BOOKSTORE.
    Don’t ask me why the store was failing–but Barnes and Noble saved it. It’s now some kind of Barnes and Noble college hybrid, with the same great employees, a coffee shop, and its same old name–the Dartmouth College Bookstore. I love a good independent (so here’s a shout out to the Norwich Bookstore one town over) but if I’m going to live in a town with one Main Street, it had better be anchored by a good bookstore, and now it is.

  20. Loganberry Books in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ve only managed to get a few hours there while visiting the city, but I could spend days perusing its shelves. Friendly proprietor and resident kitty too.

  21. The Toadstool in Peterborough, NH–huge children’s section, small but carefully curated new fiction section, and they always have all the books by the recent MacDowell residents, plus a good-sized used book section and a little cafe with delicious house baked treats served by slow-moving, affable young town girls.

    Brentano’s in L.A. (Brentwood branch). RIP.

    The Regulator in Durham, NC.

    And I LOATHE my only local independent bookseller, won’t name them here because they’re still an independent, for God’s sake, but seriously. A fair selection of books and a huge selection of overpriced, badly edited knick-knackery, and a sales staff that vascillates between apathy and superciliousness. Sigh. I never thought I’d say this (ever) but I miss L.A. Vroman’s, Book Soup, Equator, I never appreciated you when I had you.

  22. My favorite bookshop is the one where I work now, WHSmith in Paris. Yes we’re part of a big chain, but a bit more independent than the ones in the UK, and we still sell books rather than just junk!!

    Mainly I’ve been so grateful that they’ve employed me for the past couple of years, which has enabled me to read when I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford it. My job is worth much more for its benefits (discounts on books, ability to borrow books for free, read magazines during my break and HEALTH INSURANCE, not to mention being surrounded by books all day long and being able to talk about books with interesting people — and a few jerks) than it is for the paltry 9 euros an hour . . . If I worked the same 12 hours a week in a grocery store or clothing emporium I wouldn’t be able to read one-millionth as much (yes I also check out books from the library, but it’s not very near my house and not so convenient).

    I have loved the last couple of years reading and reading like I haven’t read for years. I loved this bookstore when I was a sometime-client, working nearby in my former life as a diplomat, and I secretly hoped when I packed up to move to France that I’d get a job there at least for a while. Now I have the prospect of a full-time job as a secretary in an office, and I’ll take it for the salary and to give my husband a break, but oh how I will miss working in this bookstore!! But I’ll still be working nearby, so they’ll still get an irrational amount of my salary . . .

  23. I’ve worked in an independent bookstore for four years, and have seen our customer base dwindle appallingly. People love the idea of indy stores, but when it comes down to it, they’d rather just order from Amazon. An independent just CAN’T carry every book, but customers are dismayed if they can’t get the book right away. One of the more subtle effects of ebooks and Amazon and big boxes is the universal adoption of the idea that every book ever printed should be available immediately. It’s very hard for smaller stores to fulfill that idea. Though we try!

    And because of the internet, people these days pretty much know what they want to read when they walk into a store. One of the few things an indy can offer that big boxes can’t, or don’t, is a clerk who knows what’s on the shelf and who can recommend books. That’s a service few people want anymore, though.

    I do believe some independent bookstores will survive as destination boutiques, here and there. It helps if the owner is independently wealthy, though!

  24. I have a thing for second hand bookshops which specialize mostly in non-fiction or old textbooks (there’s something brash and low self-esteem about second hand fiction, their titles somehow always seem to have turned into huge, slutty pink-foil letters!) The good ones have the musty-sweet scent of old paper and have no cafe, and no music, just floor to ceiling books with conveniently placed ladders.

    My two favourite stores in Melbourne (Australia) were Dr. Syntax in Commercial Rd, South Yarra and what is now boringly called the Queenscliff branch of “Barwon Booksellers” in the old bluestone Wesleyan church in the main street of Queenscliff. I say “were’ because one lunchtime – god, a decade ago? – I headed down to Dr. Syntax to finally purchase the complete John Donne in pretty blue leather and the 1930s textbook on Australian Aboriginals and two other texts from the 50s, that I’d had my eye on for some time (I love old anthropology textbooks as a sometimes eye-opening, often hysterical history of the ignorance and arrogance of the ruling elite) to find it had gone out of business.
    I was devastated, and felt fairly guilty for not having just bought the books in the previous weeks (my $120 surely would have kept them going!)

    Some weeks later, on holiday in Queenscliff (a beach town around the bay from Melbourne) I wandered into the ex-church-bookshop and was browsing when I spotted a familiar little book with pretty blue leather binding. I snatched it up and, sure enough, it was my Donne – with the Dr. Syntax price still in pencil in the front flap!
    I raced to the counter and breathlessly asked if they’d purchased the Syntax stock – they had! I found all four books that day and left with the odd feeling that I’d discovered that some lost friends had found themselves a good home. 🙂

  25. I loved the Harry W. Schwartz bookstores in Milwaukee, Wis. Unfortunately, they are no more. Before they closed, there were three of them — one close to my friend’s house. When I wanted to go to that one, I would call her and say “I want to go to your Harry Schwartz,” which, for some reason, sounds perverted and still cracks me up. Immature, I guess.

  26. In the famous words of Tina Fey … I want to go to there.

  27. And my favorites are Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in NY, Tattered Cover in Denver, and Politics and Prose in D.C.

  28. The Corner Bookstore in NYC, Madison at 93rd, is an unsung hero — 33 years strong, Lenny and Ray live upstairs, it’s a kind of magical place, like going back in time. (Pascalou, across the street, is the store’s “companion bistro,” also magical.)

  29. Thanks for mentioning Tattered Cover, G Jackson. There are few things intellectual that Denver can lay claim to, but it has a fantastic bookstore–two different versions of TC, plus one in the suburbs.

    And I have second Betsy on Books & Books. That and the LA Times Book Fest were the two best stops on my official book tour last year (for very different reasons, obviously). I read at Books & Books two days after Manhattan, and got a bigger turnout, and twice the energy. That’s something.

    And the bookstore and cafe were refreshing, wonderful and THRIVING. And we had drinks with Mitch and he was everything Betsy described. (So was the events director, a woman whose name escapes me.) They are so freaking smart, and they are using it.

  30. oh, and i love that song. and that’s the line that makes me chuckle.

    it’s the least elvis costelloish of any of his good stuff, yet one of the best.

  31. […] In a post this week, Betsy Learner asked her readers to post a comment about their favourite local bookshops. It prompted from me a meander down Memory Lne, and, since I have been too busy settling into my fancy new Sydney life to write about said fancy new life (which I will do at some point soon), and also since I’d like for my latest post not to remain the one about my father, I thought I’d post what I wrote. If this prompts a similar memory in you, please do go to Betsy’s post and add it there (I’d hate to ninja comments lol!) […]

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