Top Ten Tuesday: Bookstores are my weakness… and I’m not sorry!

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Favorite Bookstores OR Bookstores I’d Love to Visit. Having just returned from a one-week vacation during which I visited about five different bookstores, I feel like this topic is just perfect for me!

Some of my favorites are:

1. Borderlands Books (San Francisco, CA): An awesome independent bookstore that’s been around for 20+ years, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I’ve attended some truly great events here — and fun fact: This bookstore is featured in the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. How cool is that?

2. Green Apple Books (San Francisco, CA): A huge used book store that’s a San Francisco institution!

3. The Strand (New York, NY) — I don’t get to New York nearly as often as I’d like, but when I do go, a visit to The Strand is a must!

4. Title Wave Books (Anchorage, AK): I’ve managed to visit Title Wave Books (and how awesome is that name?) on two different trips to Anchorage. It’s a big, sprawling used book store — so much to look at and explore.

5. Book Worm (Boulder, CO): Another used book store that I’ve now been to twice. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it’s an absolute maze of shelving and great books and weird, unusual finds. I could (and have) spent hours there!

6. Russell Books (Victoria, BC): Another terrific used book store that I stumbled upon once during a vacation. Are we detecting a theme yet? Hint: I can’t resist a great used book store!!

7. Sefer Ve Sefel (Jerusalem, Israel): I’m just amazed to discover that this bookstore still exists! I remember going there to stock up on American paperbacks while studying abroad in Israel many, many (MANY!) years ago.

And bookstores I’d love to visit are:

8. Powell’s Books (Portland, OR): I mean, Powell’s is just legendary! I’ve never been to Portland, but I’d very much like to get there someday… and if I do, this store will be a must-see.

9. Shakespeare and Company (Paris): Dreaming big here! A trip to Paris + books??? What could be better?

10. Poisoned Pen (Phoenix, AZ): I’ve been to an author event sponsored by this store, but have never actually been inside. Poisoned Pen is the local bookstore for a few favorite authors, including Diana Gabaldon, and is an amazing source for signed editions of new releases.

Have you been to any of my favorites? What do you love most about your favorite bookstores?

If you wrote a TTT post, please share your link!





Good times at the Big Book Sale

My favorite annual bookish event rolled into town this week: It’s the Big Book Sale put on by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library — and it’s awesome!

Held in a big warehouse on the waterfront, the sale is massive — according to social media posts, something like 500,000 items on sale, and everything is $4 or less! The beauty, of course, is that we can go and stock up on books and feel completely virtuous about coming home with more books than we have shelves for, because all the money goes to benefit the library.

So, yay me! I did my part.

Last night was the member preview night…

… and of course I went!

This time around, I was quite determined not to overindulge. Some years, I fill up a whole shopping cart and come home with 60+ books. Because, hey, they were all only $1 or $2, and anyway, IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE!

But, since I’ve been doing some shelf purging recently, trying to regain some semblance of shelf control, I couldn’t really justify buying oodles of new books. Or could I?

Yes. I could. And I did.

My haul was not too shabby this time around:

All those, plus a cute little old copy of Jane Eyre:

That’s 20 books for $61 — AND IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE! (I’m going to keep telling myself that every time someone in my house makes fun of me for getting MORE books, when I don’t have space for the ones I already have.)

In case the photo is hard to make out, here’s what I got:

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • The Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson
  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan
  • Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton
  • Tending Roses by Lisa Wingate
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • The Hunger by Alma Katsu
  • The White by Debora Larsen
  • The Feed by Nick Clark Windo
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which is actually a gift for someone else — I already have a copy!)
  • China Dolls by Lisa See
  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  • The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

The sale runs through this Sunday… and I might, just might, have to make a return visit before it’s all over. Who knows what treasures I’ll find?

If you live in the Bay Area, be sure to check it out! Remember…



I take pictures in bookstores. Is that wrong?

I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong… and yet I find myself feeling like I need to either hide or defend my actions, which would seem to indicate a disturbance in my good-conscience field.

I guess I didn’t realize just how often I end up taking pictures of books in bookstores until I was doing some clean-up of the photos on my IPhone, and found just a staggering number of these:


paris wife invention frankenstein expeditioners dovekeepers buncle bday boys bananasscurvysylviahouse on fire

All photos taken by me, in various bookstores, over the course of a couple of weeks. Some for me, some for my grown-up daughter, some for my 10-year-old son.

So what’s the deal? Well, look, let’s accept the premise that we can’t all buy everything we want. Limited dollars, limited space, limited amounts of time in which to actually, you know, read books. So I go, I peruse, I browse, I skim. I rarely walk out of a bookstore empty-handed. But chances are, for every single book I buy, I can probably find at least ten more that I want.

In ancient days of yore (i.e., before I had a smart phone), I used to actually take notes. Like with a pen and piece of paper. Which often was a deposit slip torn out of the back of my checkbook. Which is the thing I used to carry around in my purse before electronic bill pay. Oooh, I am so going down a rabbit hole here.

Back to the here and now. Can I help it if it’s quicker and easier to take a pic instead of pawing through my bag for a real-live (well, inanimate, to be honest) writing implement?

Look, I go into a bookstore, I see stuff I want. And if I see stuff I want, I want to remember said stuff. And chances are I won’t, because there’s too much other stuff clogging up my brain’s hard-drive at the moment.

So I take pictures of the books I want to remember. Maybe I just want to look them up later on and get a better sense of whether they’re for me. Maybe I’ve never heard of the book, but hey! it’s blurbed by an author I like! Maybe it’s something that sounds like something I’ll want to read eventually… but I might not get to it this year – or next – or quite possibly the one after that.

So I take pictures. And maybe when I get home I’ll check to see if any of the books that caught my eye are available at the library. Or possibly, next time I’m in my local used bookstore, I’ll look at the pictures to see if I can find them on the shelves. Or perhaps I’ll just add the books to my Goodreads to-read shelf, and maybe not think about them again for a few months. And yes, there might be one or two that down the road, I end up ordering from Amazon.

I think the fact that I’m writing all this is a pretty strong indicator that I have mixed feelings about the matter. After all, I want brick-and-mortar bookstores to survive and thrive. I love being able to pop in, browse, see what’s out now, see what pretty or unusual covers catch my eye. But honestly, I’m just not going to spend a ton on any given bookstore visit… but I will (oh, 9 times out of 10) buy something.

I solemnly swear that I am not using the absolutely evil scan function on my Amazon app, which I believe only exists in order to tempt us to pick up a book in the bookstore, scan it, see how much cheaper it is on Amazon, and then walk out of the store and order it online. That’s just wrong.

For the record, most of the above photos were taken over the course of a single weekend spent on a little getaway with my daughter, who loves hanging out in bookstores just as much as I do. Some of the photos are for her, some for me. We visited about five bookstores during our weekend, during which I bought her one brand-new copy of The Hobbit, ten used books (everything from Isabel Allende to good old Tolstoy), and one used book for myself (Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel). After the weekend, I sent two of the books pictured above to my daughter (via used bookstores), found used copies of a couple more for myself, and put in a request at the library for one more. As for the rest? I’d like to remember to come back to them at some point, but don’t need to read them right now.

So am I hurting bookstores by browsing a lot, buying a little, and taking lots of photos for future reference? Is this any different than my old habit of writing down zillions of book titles every time I’d enter a bookstore? I don’t think I’m causing any harm… but then why do I feel guilty?

Scoring big at the Big Book Sale

Nirvana. Paradise. Garden of Eden. The Promised Land.

If you’re a book lover living in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can get to heaven simply by heading over to Ft. Mason this week, where the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library are holding their 48th Annual Big Book Sale. According to the event website, over 500,000 items are on sale, all benefiting the SFPL’s literacy programs. It’s an amazing event, truly. Filling a warehouse-sized building, there are tables and tables filled with books of every shape, size, and subject, from tattered to pristine, from fiction to the most esoteric of topics and then some. For most of the sale, all hardcovers are $3 and paperbacks are $2 — but if you want the biggest bargain of all, stop by on Sunday when everything is $1.

Tuesday night was member preview night, which I’ve attended for the past several years. Doors opened at 4:00; when I arrived at about 3:30, the line snaked all the way around the building and down the side of the adjacent pier. I couldn’t help but get a thrill walking by all the early birds on the way to the back of the line — these are my peeps! A crowd full of book folks! People as crazed as I am, showing up with boxes, tote bags, and granny carts, chattering excitedly about what they hoped to find and what tables they planned to hit first.

My friend and I used our waiting time wisely, scoping out the map of the floor plan and plotting our order of attack: Start with science fiction and fantasy, then horror, then move on to regular fiction. Time allowing, we’d probably split up after that: me to kids’ books, graphic novels, and science; her to literary criticism, travel, and occult. Of course, once the doors opened, we were swept up in the mass rush for good books, four hours flew by in the blink of an eye, and I never did make it much further than fiction. C’est la vie.

I went to the sale with a very short wish list this year. Having spent this past weekend putting books on my new bookshelves, I went to the sale damned sure that I’d keep my purchases to a minimum. I have plenty to read in my house already!*

*I’m quite certain that if I bought no new books and took nothing out of the library for an entire year, and spent the year reading only those books already on my shelves which I haven’t read yet,  I would not run out of reading material by the end of that year. I actually thought about setting this up as a challenge for myself — my year of no new books! — but where’s the fun in that?

However, my good intentions flew out the window once I entered the sale. My tally for the night: 44 books for $88. I never did find the book I most hoped to find. (Note: If you go to the sale and happen to spot a copy of Doc by Mary Doria Russell, grab it for me!)

I did walk out with quite a satisfying haul:

  • For someone who professes not to be a fan of short stories, I sure ended up with a bunch of short story collections. Among them, four (4!!!) books of Stephen King stories, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians, Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories, a Norton anthology of science fiction, and a big fat volume entitled Treasures of Fantasy.
  • I managed to pick up some mint condition copies of classic works of science fiction by Philip K. Dick, Robert Heinlein, and Greg Bear.
  • Lots of people seemed to have off-loaded ARCs this year. My finds included ARCs of Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, and The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe.
  • I found lovely hardcover copies of The Thorn Birds and The Good Earth, both books I read and adored years ago, but which I’d lost or misplaced in various moves over the years.
  • I replaced a few books, lost when loaned out to friends who never returned them… you know who you are. Don’t worry, all is forgiven. Just don’t ask to borrow any more books.
  • Picked up — dirt cheap — various volumes in series I’ve been meaning to read, including books by Karen Marie Moning, Seanan McGuire, Patrick Rothfuss, and Jasper Fforde.
  • Plus, several other fiction titles, some very new, some I’ve always wanted to read, some I’ve read as library books but always wished to have on my shelves.

Ahhh. The pleasure of being surrounded by people who adore books, pawing through stacks and piles of paperbacks and hardcovers, looking for the gems among the thousands of books on display.

Then there are the books which I have already and love insanely. Every time I’d see a Diana Gabaldon book, I’d have to touch it and say hello. (Don’t judge me; I wasn’t being creepy or anything.) Whenever I came across something by Christopher Moore, I’d have to stifle a giggle — just seeing his books makes me laugh.

Of course, on the flip side, every time I came across a book I’d bought during the past year for more than $3, I wanted to kick myself. When will I learn? Every year, I leave the Big Book Sale resolved to not buy any more books until the next sale rolls around. Sadly, I never manage to live up to my resolutions.

What more can I say? Awesome event, great selections, amazing bargains, and all for a good cause. Check it out!

My poor, overcrowded bookshelves

Time for a survey of the state of my bookshelves. The results ain’t pretty.

Here’s a typical set of shelves in my house:

Is it getting a bit crowded in here?


Notice, if you will, the double-stacking, the books crammed in at the top, the lack of any discernible rhyme or reason for book placement. I tend to shelve books these days by feel. Look, there’s still an inch of space — let’s see if this skinny one will make it!

My frustrated inner librarian shudders with dismay. How about organizing by genre? By author, maybe? Or by color scheme? Nope, it’s all about fit. Stuff ’em in there, and if they don’t fall out onto the floor, we’re done.

I suppose these books should feel fortunate that they actually have a shelf to call home. Here’s where some other books live in my house:

This pile has accumulated another 10 books or so since the picture was taken.


This poor stack is homeless. These are the various books that I continue to amass without having a place to put them. All the stuff that I consider my “next-in-line” books — although many of them have been “next-in-line” for months. So there they sit on top of a dresser, in a pile that grows and grows…





Spoils of war

See these bags of books? These are my lucky finds from last year’s public library sale. Quick aside: Awesome event! Twice a year, the friends of the public library organize a HUGE used book sale (500,000 items for sale, or so they say). Everything is $5 or less (paperbacks typically $1 or $2), and all proceeds benefit the public libraries.

Typically, I score big at these events. The bags in this picture hold about 60 or so “new” used books that I found at the sale last fall… still sitting in the paper bags they came home in. I want them, I love them, I intend to read them, DON’T EVEN THINK OF GIVING THEM AWAY!!! But my shelves are full to bursting and I have no place to put another book, much less three bags full.

So what’s a poor, overcrowded booklover like me to do?

A ray of hope has arrived! All is not lost! Due to various people coming and going in my house, lots of changes and reorganizing, suddenly, this beautiful thing appeared:

Miracle of miracles!

An empty wall!

Of course, much debate ensued. My husband sees a guest room perhaps, or maybe even a room to rent. My son envisions a game room, with electronics and Legos everywhere.

Me? It’s obvious, isn’t it? IT’S MY READING ROOM!

I don’t know if I’ll succeed in claiming the whole room, but that wall is mine. I’m picturing wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Oh, the fun I’ll have! I can see it now, organizing my various and sundry tomes by whatever method catches my fancy.

It’s time to be bold, stake my claim. Tape measure in hand, I’ll map out what’s mine. No one can stop me!

I feel a trip to Ikea beckoning in the not-too-distant future. My epic quest begins!

I’ll be back to let you know if I slay the dragon.


My shelves runneth over (a bookish sort of survey)

My piles of books are having babies overnight, I swear. The stacks keep growing. My shelves are all double-layered, with a few extra paperbacks squeezed in on top of all the neat, orderly books. I have bags of books on my office floor, which will remain where they are until I get some more shelves or until the magic book fairy turns my living room into a Tardis-style library that’s bigger on the inside.

I do take books out of the library. I lend my books (reluctantly, and only after extracting severe promises to maintain my books’ pristine conditions). I sell the books I can live without back to my local friendly used book dealers — although I often walk away from these transactions with more used books to take back home with me. I give away the books I really don’t want any more, and sometimes the ones I’ve picked up but then never really felt like reading. And yet… my shelves runneth over, my house is filled to bursting with books, and I keep getting more.

So what’s a book lover to do? What do you do with your books after you’ve read them?