Book Alley – Pasadena, CA

I Have Never Seen This in a Bookstore

When we walked into Book Alley, a group of about 15 people were solemnly saying goodbye to one another and leaving, each with a red carnation in their hand.  Talk about being involved with the community, a memorial service was just breaking up.  That is a full service bookstore.  I have heard of speed dating in a bookstore, birthday parties in a bookstore (I may try that), I even have a faint memory of reading about a wedding in a bookstore, but a memorial service?  A first for me, but for a person who loves books, having your friends and loved ones surrounded by them while they remember you isn’t such a bad idea.

New, Used and Rare Books & Other  Works on Paper

And these are lovely books to be surrounded by.  Book Alley is the classic used bookstore I love to meander around.  Books on shelves, stacked on the ground, sale tables bursting, all call out the sleuth in me.  The huge art section drew me in.  Just what I was hoping for, I found gems I didn’t know I wanted until I opened them.  For me, some books are more interesting used than new.  The Harold Letters:  The Making of an American Intellectual by Clement Greenberg is just such a book.  Clement Greenberg was the great American art critic who influenced the course of post-WWII American art.  I’ve read about him, but never his writings, nor do I have a sense of him.  The Harold Letters are a collection of letters written from 1928 to 1943 to Harold Lazarus, a college friend.  The letters start the summer of their sophomore year and comprise a sort of epistolary bildungsroman autobiography.  The Harold Letters reminded me of the books Helene Hanff would request in 84, Charing Cross Road. I haven’t been disappointed, the letters reflect Greenberg’s striving to lead an intellectual life.  They include what he’s reading, what books he purchased, and a variety intellectual observations, all in nugget bite-sized pieces that I can read while I’m waiting for my printer or sitting on hold.

Keith spent his time looking at the extensive collection of rare Los Angeles books.  He found several he loved, alas, the recession.  The bookseller was willing to be flexible with the price (love that) and Father’s Day isn’t that far away, hmmm.  The website highlights a variety of rare books, right now they are selling a collectible edition of The Hound of Baskervilles and a unique bootleg Russian version (in English) of Salinger’s works.  It’s worth perusing.

Book Alley

1252 E. Colorado Blvd.

Pasadena, CA 91106

T:  626.683.8083

Vroman’s Bookstore – Southern California’s Oldest and Largest Independent Bookstore

Every fan of independent bookstores talks about their importance in creating community.  Sometimes it’s hard to know what that means.  There is certainly interaction between the customers and the booksellers, and between readers and authors at events.  Those are “wheels and spokes” models of interaction, all directed toward a center.  How does an independent bookstore create an opportunity for the spokes to interact?  Visit Vroman’s.  It’s not unusual for me to chat up complete strangers looking at books in a bookstore.  Just pick up The Elegance of the Hedgehog and get ready to hear my thoughts despite the fact you’ve never met me.  At Vroman’s, customers were clustered in groups and talking all over the store.  And not all of them knew each other, I know because I was eavesdropping.  I wasn’t in the store for 10 minutes when a customer walked up to me, pointed at The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig and told me it was a beautifully written story.  Wanting to exchange the favor in the D section of fiction, I recommended The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.  We both walked away with a new book.

Just when I was going to ask a bookseller for a recommendation, I heard one of the employees recommend Louis de Bernieres for a “sophisticated, educated woman” who was in the hospital.  Well, I’m not bedridden, but I flattered myself that the rest of the description may apply so I discretely followed along (stalked them).  I didn’t connect de Bernieres with Corelli’s Mandolin, probably because I’ve only seen the movie, but the bookseller raved about it.  I bought his A Partisan’s Daughter to give it a try.

What else did I find?  Looking at the WALL of employee recommendations I found Continue reading

NEVER Would Have Read This Book if a Bookseller Hadn’t Recommended It

A few weeks ago, Leslie and I and our respective husbands went to hear a friend sing Vitello’s in Studio City.  Knowing Portrait of a Bookstore was right across the street, we left the club with 30 minutes to spare before the store closed (love the late night hours at the store!).  How much damage could we do in 30 minutes?  Well, a lot.  Keith bought most of my birthday present, plus books for himself.  After a very convincing pitch from the bookseller, Leslie bought Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman, a book that generally would not have attracted either of us.  So much for what we know, here are Leslie’s thoughts on the book:

One of the things I like most about independent bookstores is that the employees (many of whom are owners or invested in the business) are truly big readers. Since I’m assuming none of them are getting rich working there, they must really love books.

When I walk into an independent bookstore, I typically ask “What can you recommend?” This may either be for me or for my two pre-teen daughters. In many cases, my question has been rewarded with wonderful surprises.

Recently, Kim and I, along with our husbands, went to Portrait of a Bookstore, one of my favorite independents, is just across the street from a jazz club we visited. Needless to say, we walked out with books in our arms. Well, actually, the guys carried them.

As usual, the woman that was working that evening was just chock full of recommendations. One of the books that she mentioned was Hypocrite in a Pouffy Dress, a memoir, by Susan Jane Gilman. This is a book, had I simply seen on a shelf, I would never have picked up. I’m really fussy about the non-fiction I Continue reading

It’s a Library. No, It’s a Bookstore. No, It’s Both!

Finding some (extra) bliss in Laguna Niguel

Things weren’t going so badly.  My extended family had decided to have a reunion over the holidays and the east coasters readily agreed to come west for the sunny weather.  (Remember sunny weather?  As I write this, it’s been raining nonstop for the last five days.  But normally we DO have sun here in L.A.)  My sister, the master negotiater, had managed to get us a group rate discount on club floor rooms at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, and we were, as the saying goes, sitting pretty: the Club Room offered us five food “presentations” a day–not meals, presentations–although they hadn’t realized who they were dealing with and we certainly showed THEM, managing to make three to four full meals a day out of itsy-bitsy sandwiches and teeny-weeny canapes.

After a few days of sitting and eating our way through the morning, afternoon and evening, we needed a break.  It was time to leave the hotel and tear ourselves away from the chairs in the Club Room which were beginning to take on the curves of our butts.  Someone in our group suggested we walk to town, do a little shopping, work off a little of breakfast (Food Presentation #1) before we committed ourselves to moving on to lunch (Food Presentation #2 although it did occasionally bleed into Food Presentation #3.).  So off we set to go to “town”, like the intrepid explorers we were.

Only problem was: we had no idea where town was or how far.   Or even what it was called: were we going to Laguna Niguel, Laguna Beach, or Dana Point?  Were they all towns?  And which direction were we supposed to go, anyway?  After wandering around aimlessly for a few minutes, we spotted a local library branch and I said, “Oh, I wanted to see if I could check out some books for a day or two.”  So we crossed the street and as we neared the library we saw a sign that said “Book Sale.”

Now, I love library book sales.  Our local Palisades branch does one every couple of months or so and I’ve both donated to it and bought from it (which illustrates the property of either equilibrium or status quo, I’m not sure which).  So my pace quickened with the thrill of the hunt.

As we came toward the entrance of the library, I faltered, a little disappointed: there seemed to be nothing special about this book sale: a few shelving units spread near the entrance of the library with the usual assortment of junky vacation novels for 25 cents a pop, all turning a faded color from being out in the sun.

And then my sister said, “Hey, look.  There’s a real bookstore here.”

And sure enough, there was.  It even had its own entrance, off to the left.  I’d almost missed it.  We went inside and there we found a really really good used bookstore, well stocked and well-priced, run by the Friends of the Dana Point Library, with the proceeds going to the library. Continue reading

Traveler’s Bookcase

A bookstore for those who like to hit the road

Clearly this one should have been Kim’s.   Don’t get me wrong: I like to take the occasional trip with my family.  But Kim is a true adventurer, the one who’s always either on a trip, coming back from a trip, or planning a trip.   So this bookstore, which offers pretty much everything a traveler needs–short of a change of clothes and an airplane ticket–should have been on her list, not mine.

But my daughter was having a birthday party in the store next door (a wonderful arts and crafts studio called Hands on 3rd), and after spending over an hour and half being bombarded by the happy noise of a million little girls talking at the top of their lungs, I begged a few minutes respite from my husband and dragged our teenage son on a walk around the neighborhood with me. Continue reading

The Indiebound App led me to Coalesce Books

Morro_Bay_Sunset-01We stopped for lunch at Morro Bay last week and as we meandered up and down the boardwalk, it occurred to me that there may be a bookstore in the area.  Usually I search for bookstores before I leave, but this was an unscheduled stop and I was bookstore clueless.  Luckily, I remembered Leslie had the Indiebound App on her iPhone.  It’s so easy to use, her 11 year old daughter looked up Morro Bay and found Coalesce Books, just a short drive away.  (Side plea:  Is there a petition I could sign or someone I could beg for the iPhone to offer Verizon as a carrier?  How much did AT&T pay for that exclusive contract?  When does it end?  The Blackberry is no iPhone.)  I was so impressed with the App, it showed all of the bookstores within 50 miles!

We all piled into Leslie’s mini-van and stormed Coalesce Books.  This store is vintage coastal California.  The entire aura was a warm golden brown, there were books everywhere, the strong aroma of incense, colorful signs wherever my eye wandered, and a community bulletin board that advertised all types of events including the evening on sustainable living that the store hosted the night before.  Coalesce Books is a combination new and used bookstore.  The new books are on shelves in the front, but the strength is in the wide selection of used books.  It is one of the best organized used bookstores I’ve come across in a long time.  Often I enjoy wandering around a bookstore looking to see what I may stumble upon, but this time we were a party of six, too large for long term browsing.  At Coalesce, there was a sub-division for almost every genre making meandering easy, even a “pirate” literature shelf, which I guess is 1990s for “vampire” literature.  I asked one of the employees if the store kept any Twilight books in stock, she laughed, they can hardly get them in let alone keep them.  I know my daughter isn’t willing to part with her well worn set any time soon. Continue reading

Capitola Book Cafe – Where I Found a Guide for Applying to College!

capitola-1Capitola is a sleepy little town just south of Santa Cruz with a terrific bookstore.  We stopped in last week while spending a week in the area and immediately relaxed in the warm, quiet atmosphere.  What first caught my eye were the New York Times Book Reviews cut out and placed next to the appropriate books.  I can’t count how many times I’ve read a review, wanted the book, but then couldn’t remember its name when I was in the bookstore (the Kindle users don’t need to chime in that I could have had the book in moments, my Kindle sits in a drawer), why don’t more bookstores do this?  Plus, stacks of the Review sat by the cash register for customers to peruse.

Capitola Book Cafe sells both used and new books shelved together.  My daughter grabbed almost as many YA books as she could hold and given how fast she reads, the used book discount is nice.   For my son, I found a guide from a local author:  25 Month Until College:  The Don’t Panic, Step-by-Step, What-When-Why-How Guide for Students and Parents, by Judy McNeely.  It starts with December of sophomore year and has specific tasks for each month, some a little more hectic than others.  I appreciate the bullet-point layout including charts and deadlines.  If you have a sophomore or junior, buy it, while not all inclusive of everything you need, it provides the highlights and some organizational structure.  Needless to say, when I handed it to my son during vacation, he wasn’t thrilled.  I’ll be keeping the book until December to ensure that it doesn’t get “lost.”

Capitola Book Cafe has a fun recommendation bookshelf entitled “Our Community Reads” open to writers, readers and faithful supporters.  This month, Laurie King’s favorites were listed along with those of Doug Abrams Continue reading