I mentioned just the other post that I read a 1926 edition of Growth of the Soil recently, a 1917 novel that garnered the Nobel Prize for its author, Knut Hamsun. I picked up the book at Berkeley's Shakespeare & Co. Books, on Telegraph Avenue, an across-the-street neighbor of Moe's Books. Moe's -- which I've patronized since I was a university student -- is the source of, conservatively guesstimating, half the books I own.
I hope publishing-industry professionals will cover their eyes as I type this: I still buy a lot of books used.
people don't especially like the used book market, for reasons that are
pretty obvious once you stop to think about it. The profit in the used
book trade doesn't go to publishers, editors, agents, or even authors.
It goes to readers who recycle their libraries, and to workers at and
owners of used book stores. Used bookstores do leave customers with a
bit of disposable income that may or may not find it's way into the
coffers of a major publishing house. Probably not. Maybe a little.
have no objection to buying new books, mind you. And I've bought a fair
few, nearly every one from an independently-owned store.
from an independent bookseller used to be a whole lot easier in my part
of the world, when Cody's was still going strong. Cody's was a legendary
bookstore that once did business in the same block of Telegraph Ave. as
Moe's and Shakespeare & Co., three blocks south of the UC Berkeley
campus. We're serious readers here in Berkeley, no surprise there. Thank
heaven for Mrs. Dalloway's and Diesel and University Press Books and Books Inc.
leaving aside a magazine section of international scope and dazzling
depth and obscurity; the shelves of literary magazines; the shelf-yards
of poetry; a technical and technology section unmatched by any bookstore
I ever saw anywhere; an enormous selection of travel books; more
dictionaries than even a dictionary-fetishist like yours truly could
possibly take home and consult; deep benches in history, sociology, and
philosophy; cookbooks for every cuisine you'd never heard of; a
spectacular spread of kids' books; and on, and on, and on ... leaving
aside all that, there was the legendary second floor.
where Cody's hosted readings, many each week. There was a big room with
bookshelves-on-wheels that were pushed to the walls when authors read.
Hung high on the walls of this room were photos, a gallery above the
bookshelves, all the way around. The photographs were portraits of
well-known authors. Not random portraits of well-known authors. These
were portraits of well-known authors who had given readings at Cody's.
Tom Robbins, Norman Mailer, Bill Clinton, Ken Kesey, Jimmy Carter,
Maurice Sendak, Allen Ginsberg, Alice Walker, Joseph Heller. Salman
Rushdie dropped by once. You'd look around at the portraits and the hair
would stand up on the back of your neck ... the ghosts of all those
minds in that one place.
Muhammed Ali, the legend himself.
The last reading I attended at Cody's was Leslie Larson's, when she signed copies of her first novel, Slipstream.
Leslie is a neighbor, she lives down the street. Andy Ross, the fellow
who owned and ran Cody's from 1977 until 2006, is an agent now. I
pitched my own novel manuscript to him at the SF Writers Conference last year, after thanking him for all the books he sold me. Nice guy. He passed on the chance to represent Consequence.
When Cody's closed, The New York Times reported it.
Is it obvious by now that I have a very very soft spot for bookstores?
Feeling as I do, what was I supposed to make of a colleague's bombastic comment earlier this month that he hates bookstores? Or, to be fair, he hates what bookstores have become.
This colleague went so far as to say he hopes they all
close. All they are now is coffee shops, he said. And he's not even a
tiny bit interested in buying a "new" book over which somebody else has
already spilled coffee. This colleague is an avid reader, sharp as a
razor. He reads technology books because he's a top-notch software
engineer and reading technology books is what it takes to keep up one's
game in that space. He reads history and economics because he's
voraciously curious. So what does he do for books if he so loathes
Two vowels: the A-word and an i-Thing. Yep. Amazon and an iPad.
O brave new world, that has such readers in't.
Do you like bookstores? Did you ever? Do you like them still? Do you still like them well enough to buy books there?
Thanks to Galaxy fm for the photo of Muhammad Ali signing an autograph for Pope John Paul II, shared via Flickr.