Independent Bookstores: Piedmont Avenue

It’s been a while since I reviewed any independent bookstores, but boy, do I have some good ones for you today.

The motivation behind my birthday adventures to Oakland several weeks ago was largely the concentration of independent bookstores on Piedmont Avenue. There are at least four. Mere blocks from each other. It was perfect.

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First up: Owl and Company Bookshop. The shop is owned by Michael Calvello, who has another shop in San Francisco and specializes in antiquarian books. Owl and Company is the quintessential independent bookstore. This is why.

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Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining both walls. Ladders (even if they’re not sliding ones).

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And all the old books even my heart could desire. Well–at least for a while.

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There was even a vinyl record of Viennese Waltzes providing ambience.

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And a wooden owl keeping watch.

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Next up: Book Zoo and Issues, next-door neighbors. Much smaller than Owl and Company, Book Zoo has an eclectic, slightly outdated collection of books on adult topics, politics, and environmental issues. Their website has a very intriguing compilation of other independent bookstores in the area.

Issues is more of an independent magazine shop, although there were a few books as well as eclectic print materials (including a large variety of greeting cards).

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Their outdoor sign was also unique and charming. Perhaps I ought to advertise this way?

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Finally, Spectator Books. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, and the display in the front room is all new books, which I don’t find quite as interesting as used ones. But what’s special about this shop is that it’s bigger on the inside.

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In this veritable labyrinth of books, hallways lead to rooms, which lead to more rooms, which lead to nooks and crannies, all lined floor to ceiling (and then some) with books. Note to self: I should never face the temptation of Spectator Books (or any shop like it) alone. If my mom hadn’t diligently dragged me out when our parking meter expired, I might still be there. I bought a copy of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale as a souvenir.

I hear there’s also a fifth bookshop on the avenue called Black Swan. Sadly, I didn’t make it that far. Guess I now have an excuse to make a return trip.

Someday I Will Be The Library

I’m pleased to report that the old-books shelf in my personal library is now double stacked.
My mom has autumn cleaning fever, so I’ve inherited more books! It’s extra exciting, because these are old books. Rebecca belonged to my grandmother, and the other three were my great-grandfather’s in Mexico. 

I guess keeping a personal library has always been a byproduct of my obsession with books. Not to mention that my only motivation in interior decorating is finding more ways to store, display, and curl up with books.

Ok, maybe not the antlers.
photo credit: …love Maegan via photopin cc

But little did I think when I started collecting books that one day they might be a novelty. Before there were museums, people used to keep “curiosity cabinets” in their homes. I saw one in Prague, containing things like model ships, coats of chain mail, and petrified sharks.

Except that mine will be full of books. 
This week I read a blog post (thanks for forwarding, Michael) by Seth Godin predicting 7 things that will be lost as our society transitions from paper to electronic books. Godin doesn’t predict that paper books will disappear entirely, but that the infrastructure surrounding them will, including bookshelves, bookstores, and libraries. 

Or at least, libraries as we know them. Have you heard about the nation’s first “bookless library,” set to open in San Antonio, TX, in the fall (thanks Hannah!)? No books. Just desktops, laptops, and e-readers for checkout, as well as remote-access materials.

Sad.

I mean, don’t get me wrong. The really important things are that people keep reading, that one idea keeps leading to another, and that stories keep teaching us how to live. Those things can happen just as well on electronic devices as on paper. I have a Kindle, and I like that it allows me to keep one-glance track of all my highlights and notes and even share those with others on the Internet.

But…but…libraries.

To think that someday I might have to tell my kids a fictional story about a magical place where endless shelves of paper books sat waiting to be thumbed through, perused, checked out, brought home with you for a glorious three weeks. Not just to read. To admire, carry around, smell. They have histories. They start conversations. Sometimes they even start relationships. As you’re putting one back, another catches your eye. And you realize you’ll be spending the rest of your life reading. So many books, so little time.

Well, here’s one library that’s not going anywhere.

Someday, I can imagine giving tours of my curiosity cabinet like a museum docent. When bookshelves, bookstores, and libraries have gone out of fashion, I’ll take down my old books and let people smell them, sneeze on the dust. This one was my great-grandfather’s.