Bookstore Hopping | Booksmith in San Francisco, CA

On my recent trip to SF, of course I wanted to visit a local indie bookstore. I had a couple in mind but didn’t get to visit either (they were too far north). Instead, I found one very serendipitously while I was exploring the Haight-Ashbury section of the city. It was called Booksmith and it was very, very cool.

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I always feel too conspicuous taking actual photos inside a busy store so I apologize for these rather blurry iPhone photos!
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What I loved about Booksmith was how quirky and also browser-friendly it was. Almost every single book on display came with a personalized, handwritten staff recommendation card, to the point where more little handwritten slips were visible hanging from the shelves than books! It’s not a bad thing, though. It’s a very good thing, because back covers, inside flaps and of course, the cover don’t always give you that in-depth why-you-should-actually-read-this kind of rec.

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I also loved the hand-drawn chalkboard titles for each section! They were so creative and beautifully rendered. For a bookstore in the heart of the Haight, it was also very kid-friendly. The Children’s Section was huge, but I only missed some good San Francisco/California/Haight-Ashbury history books. I would have loved to bring one home with me to learn more about this section of the city.

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I also loved the floors. They were a wreck, and beautiful.

IMG_1467 IMG_1468 IMG_1469 IMG_1470It was a beaut.

Deets:1644 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117. Go check it out 馃槈

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Bookstore Hopping | McNally Jackson Books in New York

It’s been a WHILE since I’ve done these fun little bookstore spotlights, and it’s because I’ve been so busy with all of my three thousand jobs. Recently I had a day off so I hopped a 6 to Manhattan and did some exploring. I’ve been wanting to visit this bookstore, McNally Jackson, for a while, and I took the opportunity. It’s nestled on the corner of Mulberry and Prince Street in Soho/Nolita. The space is quite large inside, decorated cleanly with wood floors, wooden bookcases, meandering aisles, a lower level, and a wide selection that’s very well stocked. Plus: it has a full cafe and seating area with a menu that boasts a variety of coffee drinks, teas, and a good lunch menu. Noise level is perfect. Decor? Excellent.聽I’d highly recommend this place for two reasons: you’ll find the book you want (and then some) and you’ll have a nice time reading it in the cafe. I know I did.

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Inside, the decor is rustic and features something that I absolutely adore: books on a stick. Skewered books hang from the ceiling above the cafe, something I officially disapprove of because books! but in reality it’s really awesome. The wallpaper in the cafe features images of book pages, just in case you forgot this is a real-deal bookstore. What’s also cool about the cafe is that they have banquettes set along the back wall with a retractable deskette that unfolds like a book, to hold your coffee of choice and perhaps a notebook. I went in here with some notes and set my coffee on this little wooden desk, and was at peace.

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I love the selection. They have art, design, architecture, photography, bargain books, an聽amazing聽Children’s Section (which too few bookstores have anymore, and which I love perusing), a huge History section, Mythology, and they do something really awesome with their literature: organize it by country. I love that, especially considering I was looking for Gogol and Dostoyevsky and found a neat little bookcase labeled RUSSIAN LITERATURE. Hey thanks, McJ.

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But the coolest bit of this bookstore is the Espresso Book Machine.聽Espresso. Book. Machine. They have their own freaking printing press, which they call the Espresso Book Machine because it prints books really fast. Get it? Eh? I love it. You can buy blank notebooks that have been freshly pressed and self-published works. Really cool.

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Address: 52 Prince St, New York, NY 10012

Go check it out.

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Bookstore Hopping // Sherman's Books in Portland, ME

Exploring Portland last week, I remarked to my friends that I hadn’t found a bookstore yet. And then I looked up and saw one. It was kind of insane. The bookstore was called Sherman’s Books & Stationery, and it was lovely. Half of the items inside were of the “nautical souvenir” persuasion, but as a tourist, I appreciated it just the same. But the thing I loved best about this indie were their methods of categorizing their books. Take a look:

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The extensive and well-stocked Fiction stacks are titled with phrases like “Not True,” “Don’t Believe A Word,” and “Still Not True.” A quote from Harry Potter comes to mind: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” 馃槈

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Excellent idea: book shopping carts! Take it from someone who is tired of stacking heavy books on one arm while balancing a coffee cup in the other during long hours at a bookstore: these are necessary and should be placed in every serious bookstore.

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Described as “Maine’s Oldest Bookstore,” Sherman’s Books & Stationery boasted a whole section of “Maine Fiction,” which I loved. The best thing about visiting and buying from indie bookstores is the local flavor you won’t get from a Barnes & Noble. The only trouble was the new-book prices! I have a preference for buying secondhand, cheap books 馃檪

Check out Sherman’s Books & Stationery’s website and Facebook page, and make sure to give them a visit if you’re ever passing through Portland, Maine!

Bookstore Hopping // The Golden Notebook in Woodstock, NY

I recently took a trip to upstate New York and found myself wandering around Woodstock with some friends. The iconic site of the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969 is now a bustling, flourishing town full of musicians, artists and writers. On Memorial Day Weekend here in the States, Woodstock the Town throbbed with energy from street fairs, drum circles, flea markets, music and tourists, myself included. I also had the chance to stumble upon a bookstore called The Golden Notebook.

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I spoke to the owner of this awesome place, and she told me they feature a lot of local writers and books about the history of New York and the history of the town. The Golden Notebook is a labor of love that has been open since 1977, at a time of an economic recession when opening any kind of business was an enormous risk. It has been open since then! The owner gave me personal attention and started pulling books off the shelf that she thought I’d like. That’s what I love about indies.

I picked two titles,聽Goodbye to All That, a book of short stories about “loving and leaving New York” and Abigail Thomas’s book of poetic writing prompts,聽Two Pages:

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The exterior of the bookstore oozed small-town charm while the interior was warm and聽very modern. I especially liked the emphasis on local writers and the fun Alice in Wonderland聽window displays! I did lament the prices though; I usually buy secondhand and those two books hurt my wallet 馃檨

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Support your local indie bookstores! Check out The Golden Notebook’s website and Facebook page.

When I Go Exploring…

I don’t ever get a lot of time to shut off my life and go exploring. Despite unemployment I do have a lot of commitments (this blog included) and I also cherish my down time at home with my family and going to the same places that I love in my own area. But I absolutely love to explore and I have been toying with the idea of buying a random plane ticket somewhere and just leaving tomorrow. My bank account just hissed at me for saying so, but in the meantime, I can explore the nooks and crannies of my own state of New York.

The Hudson River towns are chock full of history and they definitely display their heritage proudly. I don’t live on the river, being closer to the Bronx than anywhere else, but the little river towns are only fifteen to twenty minutes away and they boast many independent shops, lots of culture, and an old-world aura that I find addictive.

Recently I made a pilgrimage to the nearby town of Hastings to visit a couple of indie bookshops, but I found upon arrival that both were closed. I was really disappointed that I had made the trip, but then I ended up parking on a side street somewhere and I whipped out my camera and took to the alleys.

I loved the silence and seclusion of being that person with a camera. I always get a few stares when I do this but I try to just turn off the world. There’s so much to see in your normal surroundings that if you look around you with the right disposition, everything you see looks different, like it’s been given a new face. I love seeing the world through a lens and with an artistic attitude.

Here are some snapshots of this one little street with some infrastructural idiosyncrasies:

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The Riverrun Bookshop storefront was lovely, littered as it was with nostalgia and literary paraphernalia. I peeked inside and saw gold-embossed books! I can’t believe it was closed 馃檨

I’ll have to go exploring again soon, and I definitely want to visit those two bookshops the next chance I get. It wasn’t a futile trip after all.

Do you ever get the exploring bug and just go nuts with a camera?

Internships & Indie Books

Yesterday I began a new internship writing for Vibe Vixen, and it’s great to have a reason to put on real clothes in the morning: you know, like pants without dancing toasters on them. Actual clothes. Like these:

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Wait, something is missing.

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^^^That’s better. My train book:聽By The River Piedra I Sat Down And Wept.聽I’m thoroughly entranced by it so far.

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Sorry I look like such a goober: posing for pictures makes me awkward and I’m smiling so cheesy because my father (who took the picture) had no idea how to use my camera and it made me laugh.

What I love most about fashion/style is picking together really old pieces from your wardrobe and finding new combinations. Everything about this outfit is old, old, old but I have never worn them like this. Those burgundy tights from American Apparel have become so worn out but I still wear them basically every other week, and the taupe boots from Forever 21 need some love from a cobbler (I also have them in black). But being broke and interning means I have to recycle my old clothes and my staples and find new ways to wear them. I’m up to the challenge 馃檪

And since it was my first day and therefore short, I thought I’d take some time to visit a new indie bookstore. I love finding new places and after a little searching, I found one centrally located on 47th Street between 5th and Madison: The Center for Fiction.

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It’s an indie and a non-profit, and they have a modest collection of Rare Books, a whole back storeroom of Used Books, new titles at 50% off, and a few self-published zines, as well as the now-common collection of printed tees and totes.

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What I found lovely about this place was the architecture of the building itself. It’s attached to a little office building so you can see the old elevators from the inside, nothing about the decor is overwrought, and it feels more like an eccentric collector’s home than a bookstore, which I’m sure is constructed but it’s charming anyway!

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I loved the Rare Books shelves. I found a book I wanted but it was $75. I think I’ll stick to used, thanks. The Used Books section was my favorite, which was definitely a storeroom they didn’t bother decorating, which is awesome. Bonus: no music playing so you get that creepy-quiet atmosphere conducive to book-shopping (I think!)

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All in all, I had a pretty good Monday.

Bookstore Hopping: Boston and the Brookline Booksmith

Over the weekend I took a road trip to Boston with my best friend. It’s about a four-hour drive from New York, which isn’t terrible, and we stayed in the lovely Boston University area, in the South Campus. This is the Admissions Building all covered with changing leaves and climbing ivy. It was beautiful, but so cold! I had brought only a light jacket and immediately regretted it.

ImageImageImageOne afternoon we took a walk down to the river and what BU kids call “The BU Beach” because there’s a lawn a few feet from the water where kids do homework and lounge during the nice weather. It’s a cool urban quad.

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Though the weather was freezing, it was so beautiful near the water and the view was spectacular.

On our last day, our friend gave us a recommendation for a great indie bookstore in Brookline, in a neighborhood called Coolidge Corner. It’s called Brookline Booksmith.

Photo Nov 24, 1 50 27 PMThe store has two floors: the top floor reminded me a bit of the Strand crossed with Barnes & Noble; there were many other kinds of merchandise there from tote bags, greeting cards, maps, notebooks, and all your various paper-type merchandise but there were also hats, gloves, and scarves and a whole Kid’s Section that definitely reminded me of B&N. It’s an indie but it feels corporate…that is, until you get downstairs.

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The used book cellar, and more my kind of bookstore.

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It was quiet and had that library feel, as opposed to the hustle and bustle of the upstairs. My friend and I scored some cheap titles and spent a lovely half hour browsing drowsily.

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I loved these shelves! There’s something mysterious about stacking books this way, although I’m sure it has more to do with cataloging and keeping new arrivals out of the way than with aesthetics, but it has that mystery nonetheless.

ImageI bought four books:

IMG_20281. Mary and Maria/Matilda, by Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft

2.聽The Awakening and Selected Stories, by Kate Chopin

3.聽The Heptameron, by Marguerite de Navarre (who is one of my favorite historical figures. She was the Mother of the Renaissance, horribly overlooked and underrated, a contemporary of and a huge intellectual influence on Anne Boleyn)

4.聽My Antonia, by Willa Cather (I also offer for suggestion Dogfish Head’s My Antonia Pilsner, which I bought at Eataly simply because it had a literary name. I love beer, and this seemed like the perfect combination of two of my loves!)

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My friend and me. I had wrapped a scarf around my head to protect myself from the freezing wind! Tip: bring an actual coat to Boston in November–don’t repeat my foolish mistakes.

Bookstore Hopping aka BookPorn [SFW]

Today, I thrifted. Hard. For the last year or so I have nary touched a new book. Because I’m such an eyes-are-bigger-than-stomach kind of reader (which should read as “eyes are bigger than eyes” but that makes no sense) I have the tendency to buy books in bulk, let the volumes languish on my shelves, and then re-read like a fiend while the new books sit and stew and get jealous of the older ones. So I’d been making a conscious effort to read all the books I already own before buying any new ones.

That ended today. In a big way.

I blame the Westsider. My favorite bookstore in New York is literally a hole in the wall, two floors, and what seems like a million distinct titles jammed together so tight if you take one book out the others exhale and leave no room for you to replace it. But that’s okay, because you can always buy that book and give it a nice home, aka your already overstuffed shelves.

Books follow me home like sad puppies. And I fall for it every time.

First I hit the Strand because I had some old (read: terrible) books to sell and with the credit I received, I bought the most expensive book I could afford: a $15 copy of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. The only other Murakami I’ve read is聽Norwegian Wood, which I’ll review in due time. I thought it time to dive into his repertoire. Since I hardly ever read by-author (I tend to read by-interest, if that makes sense), and since I successfully just read a block of books by Eugenides and liked the experience of focusing on one author for a good amount of time, I figured this was a good place to start.

So I bought Michel Faber’s novels, novellas, and short stories because I am a聽Crimson Petal and the White fangirl. And then I bought a new translation of聽Madame Bovary, partly because of the pretty, pretty girl on the cover. And then I treated myself to one guilty pleasure: a 1968 edition of one of my favorite novels,聽A聽Room With A View. It’s green and it’s got gold lettering on the cover. And it was $7.

Then I left before I could look at the new arrivals section. They gave me a free tote bag as well, because those masterminds at the Strand know I’m a sucker for hipsteresque canvas. I’d call them evil if I didn’t love their prices so much.

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After a brief sojourn into a Housing Works, I headed uptown to my happy place, Westsider Books. This place is so quiet and so cramped; there are books piled floor-to-ceiling, two deep on the shelves and alphabetized only lazily, so you really have to search to find something. This place is less “I’m looking for this” and more “Wow, I can’t believe I found this.” Come with no expectations, no book list, and you’ll invariably leave with gold. It’s every book lover’s dream.

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I allowed myself five new books, each representing an author I’d like to explore deeper: McEwan, Garcia Marquez, Coelho, Parker, and as a treat, Andrea Levy’s聽Small Island (it was required reading for a study abroad class and sadly I left it in London when my suitcase became too packed with stolen pint glasses).

Here’s my whole haul:

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At least it’s out of my system. I can stop whenever I want.