The end of the holidays and the ring-in of New Year mean the massive exodus of tourists. The month of January is a good time to visit City Lights Bookstore even on weekends. The bookstore is free from tourists who come to bag the attraction and check it off their list. This is my go-to place for high-brow literature and classical titles. The shop now carries a wide range of both paper and hardback titles. Reflecting the free-speech interests of its founders, it caters to outside-the-mainstream voices, with books on progressive politics and social issues, works from small presses and an entire room devoted to poetry. Although the staff members are extremely knowledgeable, they also have a reputation for being a bit prickly with those they deem less informed. While you shouldn’t let their snobby attitude stop you from shopping here, you may want to think twice about asking where to find the latest Danielle Steel novel (they don’t carry chick lit, not even Tom Perrotta). City Lights separate European literature/authors so it might take some time to get used to their organization and find things around the store. On this particular visit I was hoping to find readings for my upcoming trip to Asia: Light Years by James Salter, The Château by William Maxwell, and a few eclectic titles that might catch my attention.
I enjoy the convenience of airport bbookstore but I can never count on what they offer. On this count City Lights deserves kudos for several things. Firstly because of their careful and always interesting selection. Second, because of their knowledgeable staff. Their fiction section is one of the best I’ve seen in a while (at least for new books). City Lights carries only the latest hardbacks, which is fine for me since I prefer the lighter, more portable paperback editions. Magazine rack is very good. Basement sections too. It seems there’s something to note in every corner of the bookstore, even if its a forbidden bookcase, little papers with staff recommendations, signed editions, etc. This is not a commercial bookstore full of best-seller mass paperbacks. Its a one of a kind bookstore with personality. The most commercial aspect of this place is the visitors who strike a pose in front of every shelf indefatigably.