8 days. 1 rental car. 14 bookstores. And the will to do it.
Rule #1 of Vacation: If you see an indie bookstore, you must go inside.
Rule #2 of Vacation: If you go inside an indie bookstore, you must buy a book.
L O S A N G E L E S, CA
The Last Bookstore – Walking in here felt like walking into the bookshop in The Never Ending Story. Magic, mysterious and quite possibly the Most Photographed Bookstore in America (as one of the booksellers said, “Shots of our store make up about 15% of everything on Flickr.”) I was sure I’d pull a book off a shelf and open up a secret passageway. Purchased: Used copies of cooking & house decorating books from the ’60s and ’70s.
I visited both the Skylight Books annex and the store proper. The Annex reminded me of Austin’s former Domy books. They had a great big local zine collection. Purchased: Two itty bitty comics drawn by a local artist, one of which features cats behaving very, very badly.
I heard Book Soup was where the stars shop, so I went looking for Johnny Depp. No luck. But I did see some pretty hilarious shelftalkers and then all of a sudden Mary Maclane was haunting the front window and I was like, This place is all right. Afterwards, without even trying, I drove through Beverley Hills and Bel Air. Like you do. Purchased at Book Soup: A map of Malibu. (Not a book but hey, these are Vacation Rules, not Fight Club Rules, so chill out.)
M A L I B U, CA
Bank of Books – I went looking for a cup of coffee, turned into this shopping center and BAM! Bookstore. With coffee. Serving primarily the beach clientele, this place was big on romance novels, thrillers and children’s vintage books….? Purchased: An old copy of poetry written by poets I’d never heard of which I then went ahead and read out loud to the Pacific Ocean. You wish you were brave enough to be such a hippie.
Speaking of hippies – the night before I checked into The Malibu Riviera. While she pulled down the sheets and towels to get my room ready, the woman at the desk mentioned Room 10 (my room) was her favorite. It was where Dylan wrote Blood On the Tracks. Rule #3 of Vacation: You believe what you want to believe. The next morning I played Idiot Wind at top volume while I brushed my teeth. I’m sure somewhere, Bob Dylan felt a breeze through the buttons of his coat.
S A N L U I S O B I S P O, CA
Phoenix Books – I only had twenty minutes at the parking meter (note to self: travel with quarters!) so didn’t have the time to investigate the stacks and stacks and stacks and STACKS of used books in this store. I know you feel my pain. Purchased: The Idiot’s Guide to Meditation. Holy crap, I really am a hippie.
S A N T A C R U Z, CA
Bookshop Santa Cruz – I was so busy meditating I missed an exit and wound up in Santa Cruz. Story of some lives, right? I read Dissident Gardens on the beach and took pictures of the sea lions and then hit up Bookshop Santa Cruz where I finally met my celebrity – Mr. Walt Whitman. This store has a great vibe. Friendly and welcoming, it’s tuned into its local community. Purchased: A used copy of John Barth’s Welcome to the Funhouse.
S A N F R A N C I S C O, CA
City Lights – I hit San Francisco on a windy mid-afternoon and headed immediately for City Lights. Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, City Lights is both a bookstore and publisher, boasting such authors as Frank O’Hara and Allen Ginsberg in its catalog. Go for the photos of Kerouac and Cassady, stay for the poetry room. I sat at a small table in front of a window reading Louise Gluck while across from me a young guy about nineteen or so moved through a stack of Ginsberg, possibly reading Howl for the first time. A quiet, contemplative, serene hour in a bustling city. Purchased: The Seven Ages by Louise Gluck and Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara.
Green Apple Books – I’ve long admired/envied Green Apple’s bookseller videos. They had hands down the best bookstore schwag of the trip (I bought a tote bag AND a t-shirt AND a button AND a notebook). Funky, personal, with section signs written on cardboard and the best Kobo display I’ve seen, Green Apple is the bookstore I’d call home if I lived in San Francisco. Purchased: A copy of Lucy Grealey’s essays As Seen on TV and a fat volume of Michelle Tea poetry.
S E B A S T O P O L, CA
Copperfield’s Books – Many moons ago I lived in Sebastopol. Rumor has it that Tom Waits lives somewhere in the vicinity of this northern California town, as well. So after a trip to Bodega Head (or what I call The Most Beautiful Spot on Planet Earth), I spun through Sebastopol looking for the elusive Mr. Waits. And more books. Copperfield’s is a Northern California chain. Sebastopol is the original store.
S A N T A R O S A, CA
Treehorn Books – I swear on all things holy I was only looking for a glass of wine when I turned down Santa Rosa’s main drag. It just so happened that when I parked, it was in front of a bookstore. So, following Vacation Rule #1, I went in (after Happy Hour – which if there’s anything more dangerous than a buzzed bookseller in a used bookshop…there just isn’t). Purchased: First edition of Vonnegut’s Bluebeard and a really adorable mini copy of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
C O R V A L L I S, OR
Too many to remember – I’d been driving for hours. Portland was still a ways ahead. My friend said there were bookstores here. There were and I moved through them in a daze of license plates and double yellow lines and Neko Case songs stuck on repeat. Purchased: Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard.
P O R T L A N D, OR
Powell’s – What can I say. It’s big. REALLY big. I made two trips just to see it all. Love the used books shelved right alongside the new stuff. A bargain hunter’s paradise. I probably logged a total of eight hours in this store over two days. It was my anchor in the city; all roads led from Powell’s. Purchased: The Stud Book by Monica Drake.
In Other Words – Yes, this is the bookstore in Portlandia. But it’s way cooler than just that bookstore on TV. In Other Words is a Feminist Community Center. In addition to books for sale, they maintain a community lending library well stocked with a diverse selection of titles. They also maintain a “Feminist Archive” of journals, newsletters, articles and all kinds of printed materials covering the history of the feminist movement. This place is about educating, empowering and inviting its community. If I lived in Portland, I would volunteer here. As it was, I sat in a comfy chair and read a book for a long while and was grateful a place like this exists. Purchased and read in fewer than 24 hours: First Comes Love by Marion Winik (I finished First Comes Love on the plane back to Austin, crying into my hoodie in a middle seat between a teenager watching skateboarding videos and a man holding fast to his Bloody Marys during the turbulence. A solid end to the trip.)
Now tell me all the bookstores I should hit up the next time I drive up the west coast.