Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.
Today’s topic is favorite bookstores or bookstores I’d most like to visit. I’m going to stick with places I’ve been to because I think that will make for a shorter, more reasonable list. I’m on a not-so-secret quest to discover every bookstore in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco and pick favorites. So those posts will eventually be coming. I associate books and bookstores with different times in my life, so I thought it would be fun to look at bookstores that I have found meaningful in my life. Come on a journey through my reading past with me:
Childhood: Paperback Exchanges and Barnes and Noble
I remember as a kid a trip from our mountain cabin down to the local town with the cousins. I’m not sure if this was two trips or one, but they occurred in the same little shopping mall in Twain Harte. We stopped at Baskin Robbins, and I remember the way my cousin said “praline” like pray-lean and how beautiful it sounded. At the time she was active in local community theater and her diction was, and still is, gorgeous. And then with my aunt (so it may indeed have been two trips) we wandered to the local paperback exchange (sadly no longer there) and I chose a not-quite children’s book that was a (so-so) adaptation of Romeo & Juliet for teens. I remember what a privilege it felt like to get to choose a new book for myself that would be something my great aunt treated me to.
There was also a paperback exchange in Oregon City, where we moved when I was in 4th grade. My Nana and aunt liked going there (before e-readers and audiobooks were so ubiquitous) to pick up mystery sacks of $1.00 romance novels separated into subgenre. There was a decent children’s section (that’s gotten better over the years) and trade in program, but it always felt like…an older store. Not a lot of young clientele. And they specialized in genre fiction, which wasn’t my scene. But the last time I was there I scooped up some wonderful poetry books out of the small section, so I still think it’s worth a visit. Now they also sell new books and gifts.
Laurie’s Books: 358 Warner Milne Rd # G106, Oregon City, Oregon
When we weren’t buying used books (which was frequently–at garage sales and thrift stores), we bought a lot of books at Barnes & Noble. In the early 2000s, the independent bookstore was struggling. I remember a lot of books I loved were ones that I found on the curated tables between shelves. Stocks of an entire series, a huge children’s section, and places to sit and look at the treasures. The stores were calm and smelled like fresh paper. I still love them–I’d always rather buy from an independent but if I need something shipped to someone, I’ll have it sent from Barnes & Noble. Although the service isn’t as good since the rise of Amazon and the fall of Borders, it’s still my favorite place in any mall. It anchored my childhood that way and felt like a familiar place even when we were moving a lot. I attended midnight releases, readings, and found so, so many books I love.
Barnes & Noble (any store, of course)
Besides the mall days at B&N (obviously) there was only one important bookstore in Portland during my youth. I don’t even think I have to say the name, but of course I will: Powell’s books. Powell’s (aka the world’s largest independent bookstore) is so fantastic. Every time I go up to visit I manufacture reasons for us to go. It’s usually not that hard to convince my mom. She’s always up for a bookish adventure–making a beeline for the picture books (since she’s a first grade teacher). Books for herself are usually an afterthought, often she listens to audiobooks from the library on her way to work.
If you have not been (or if you have) and you need to go into downtown Portland for any reason…you shouldn’t miss it. I can (and have) spent hours here. The rooms meander into each other. You know how a museum will send you through a maze of galleries? It’s kind of like that but with more signs. There are multiple floors of books, a mix of old and used, and so, so much to discover. The staff is super knowledgeable, with great staff pick selections. And there’s a café. So the question really is, why would you ever leave? It’s like a real world wonderland. A place where there’s magic in the form of stories on high wooden shelves.
Powell’s City of Books: 1005 W Burnside St, Portland, Oregon
College in Corvallis
I did my undergrad in English at Oregon State in Corvallis. Corvallis is a small town, but it still boasted a lovely public library, two used bookstores, and a great independent. There was also a bookstore on campus, but before we graduated, they ruined it. Although the old location was a little pokey and two floors, it featured actual books in addition to supplies and a selection of Beaver-themed gear. But before we left, they took the books that were not textbooks away (in theory because exclusively selling textbooks gave them a better deal?) and built a monstrous warehouse closer to the stadium (so you know, better for football fans, less convenient for everyone else) with terrible lighting, no atmosphere, and no inviting display of fiction and nonfiction from our professors. Oh well. At least they didn’t ruin the library while I was there.
Anyway, I did not frequent the independent bookstore very often because while delightful it was, in a word, more than my college budget could afford. There was another used bookstore that was darker, open fewer hours–the kind of place with books that overflowed. And while it had finds (like a first edition of Julia Child’s first cookbook), it was a bit dusty and always gave me an allergy attack.
So the bookstore I associate most with college is The Book Bin. Larger than its name suggests and with big windows, it was an ugly building with a so-so layout, but a great mix of new and used books and wonderful deals. I always found something wonderful there and it was a great place to wait out the rain or duck inside for a few minutes.
The Book Bin 215 SW 4th St Corvallis, Oregon
After college, we moved to Idaho for Paul’s work. Honestly I was more interested in divesting myself of books than getting new ones, although I did scour every used bookstore and garage sale for books that we used as favors at our wedding (one chosen for each guest). I usually found more than enough to keep me occupied at the library, but I could not resist a library sale. These happened both with the Boise Friends of the Library warehouse sales and at the Garden City Public Library where I volunteered. They always had a wonderful selection of things and I often found treasures.
When we moved downtown, I was really close to a local independent called Rediscovered Books that I always enjoyed going into. In a very conservative area, I always felt at home with people who believed in intellectual freedom, worked against censorship, and supported people reading banned books.
Friends of the Library stores: Garden City Library has sales semi-annually as well as a little store within the library 6015 N Glenwood St, Garden City, Idaho; Tree City Books is the Boise Friends store in the main branch, they also hold larger sales periodically 715 S Capitol Blvd, Boise, Idaho
Rediscovered Books 180 N 8th St, Boise, Idaho
Moving to the Bay Area
When you live in or near a major city, you end up playing tour guide for people who come to visit you. Almost everyone who comes to visit me ends up in a bookstore at some point, and one of my favorite bookstores to take people is City Lights in San Francisco. Why is City Lights awesome? Three words: poetry room upstairs.
As publisher of some of the most famous poets like Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg, City Lights has a deep association with the Beat movement. They still publish a lot of interesting things–the selection is great and there’s multiple levels to explore. Especially in nonfiction, there’s a big emphasis on resistance, and social movements. Lots of local authors are on the shelves, and plenty of indie titles. The featured books in fiction are particularly diverse. I love the feel of history in here, but I will say it’s not a very accessible store because of the layout and stairs. Also, it can be hard to move around in their sometimes because the shelves are tightly packed, but it’s a wonderful space and I love spending time in here with whomever I’ve tricked…ahem…guided here.
City Lights 261 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, California
As I mentioned before, I always try to get a visit to Powell’s in when I go up to Oregon to visit family, but since I hate, loathe, and detest driving in large cities (even, or perhaps especially my own)–I have to con…I mean, bribe… I mean, put on my best Puss in Boots from Shrek—
Anyway, it’s usually easier to make it to the little Friends bookstore in downtown Oregon City, where I can tootle (did you know it wasn’t until writing this post that I realized this word was tootle and not toodle… huh I’ve been saying this incorrectly my whole life) by myself or reasonably ask someone to go with me. Books here are great because they’re cheap, they help the library, and one of our family friends is high up in the Friends org so it’s always wonderful to see her when she’s working. This is always where we bring our book donations. I usually completely decimate…er diminish their poetry section when I visit.
I also really like this new bookstore/coffee shop that opened up in the downtown near our old standby Chinese restaurant that we’ve been going to since I was 8. It’s also got a great selection of board games, giftable things, and the coffee is very good. It’s one of my favorite places to get a last minute gift when I’m in town, whether someone needs a pick me up or something fun for their birthday. Well worth a visit.
Friends of the Oregon City Public Library Bookstore 814 7th St Oregon City, Oregon
White Rabbit Books and Gifts 503 Main St Oregon City, Oregon
Now that we’ve made the Town our new home, I believe it is my solemn duty to visit and delight in every bookstore and pick my favorites to go to all the time–or rather a reasonable amount of the time. I definitely started collecting books again now that I’m building a poetry library. Whoops. So far I’ve found some good ones but to narrow it down for this post, I’ll just talk about two that I have membership/frequent buyer cards for. One is Bookmark, which is, (surprise! Are you sensing a theme?) a Friends of the Library store. It is very conveniently located near my local Friday Farmer’s Market. And did I mention that I get a discount on books for being a member? It’s awesome. Plus there’s some great finds in that store. And a lot of classical music vinyl. If that’s your gig.
Then there’s Cape and Cowl, which while not technically the closest bookstore to me is certainly a new favorite. As you might guess from the name, they specialize in comics and graphic novels. And while I’m not a huge fan of comic books generally, I love graphic novels. So I definitely went in–thinking I’d buy nothing–and walked out with three things. This place is in dangerous proximity! And there’s a buy 9 get number 10 free deal, which is, again dangerous.
But more than just the excellent bookstores, having these cards and being on these mailing lists makes me feel more at home–like I’m starting to put down roots in this wonderful place.
Bookmark Bookstore 721 Washington St (Downtown) Oakland, California
Cape and Cowl Comics 1601 Clay St (Downtown/Uptown) Oakland, California
I’d love to hear about some of the bookstores that have been meaningful in your life!
6 thoughts on “TTT: My Top 10 Most Memorable Bookstores”
What beautiful memories. Most of the towns I grew up in weren’t big enough to have their own bookstores, but I always loved visiting bookstores while shopping in cities or on vacation.
My post: https://lydiaschoch.com/top-ten-tuesday-fictional-bookstores-id-love-to-visit/
Visiting bookstores and libraries is one of my favorite things to do on vacation too. Were there any stand out stores for you?
I love the way you did this! So neat to include memories of bookstores. I don’t recall ever going to a bookstore as a kid, we just didn’t have money for it. I am trying to remember the first time I remember going into a bookstore and I can’t…. My post: https://cindysbookcorner.blogspot.com/2022/10/top-ten-tuesday-physical-books-i-own.html
We went to the library much more than the bookstore but my Mom always loved going to bookstores with me even to just window shop.
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I grew up in the Columbia River Gorge, so I’ve been to Powell’s several times. It’s a bookish dreamland, for sure!
It is one of my favorite places. We never have enough time there although my husband probably disagrees lol he likes the game section best but he finishes looking that over much more quickly