I started out with a grand plan to visit a new bookstore or library each month of 2020. We all know how that worked out.
My bookstore for January was McIntyre’s in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, a lovely independent bookstore with a huge mystery section. I was even able to participate in an author’s event and have some of my books for sale on the Sisters in Crime table. And I highly recommend the Belted Goat next door for a delightful, casual lunch, when we can go to restaurants again.
February was a bonus. I traveled to Los Angeles and stopped in at the public library in Hawthorne, California on a morning walk from my son and daughter-in-law’s house. Later our whole Los Angeles gang went to Skylight Books in the Los Feliz neighborhood. This relatively small store contains a wide selection of literary fiction, books on music, art, film and theatre. I loved browsing their shelves of Los Angeles regional culture and history.
We followed our visit to Skylight Books with a visit to Figaro Bistro down the street for afternoon pastries and ice cream. And since we were on vacation, we meandered on down Vermont Avenue to the Yque Tshirt shop. Hey! That’s what you do on vacation!
Before returning home, we made a repeat visit to The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, one of my favorite bookstores. It is one of the largest independent bookstores in the world. This amazing store has everything, including nooks and crannies and a rabbit warren floor plan that just makes you want to get lost, or maybe spend the night. This gigantic store contains 250,000 new and used books on two floors, and includes an Arts & Rare Book Annex, thousands of vinyl records as well as graphic novels.
So, what makes a good bookstore? I love surprises. It might be the architecture and design. I love being able to wander from room to room, making discoveries as I go. This is also true of City Lights in San Francisco, another favorite of mine. Organization is important, but not too much. I like the categories to be clearly labelled so if I want to browse mysteries or cookbooks or books translated from Spanish, I can find them. Friendly, helpful staff definitely make for a good bookstore. But not too friendly and helpful. I need to spend time alone among the books.
I am dreaming of the day I can continue my exploration of bookstores in person. Maybe next year I will aim for two per month.
I will end with a short list of a few of my other favorites, just in case you want to check them out, or at least look at their websites.
The Strand, New York City
Title Wave Books, Anchorage, Alaska
Tattered Cover, Denver, Colorado
Golden Fig, Durham, North Carolina
Malaprop’s, Asheville, North Carolina
Foyle’s, London, UK