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Amazon Books in Seattle

The Atlantic reports that retail behemoth Amazon has opened a brick-and-mortar store in its hometown Seattle. My first thought is that it’s a smart move because not only Seattle is the most well-read city in the country, the space is to promote a sense of community.

My impression from looking at the pictures is that the giant space, named Amazon Books, is Borders-like in its aesthetic (sorry, Barnes & Noble, the wooden shelves with ladder on rails and warm yellow lighting just remind me of the extinct bookseller). It’s like revival of gargantuan bookstore from the last decade. It’s like a Half Priced Books but with new books. It’s a space that encourages patrons (not just readers) to hang out in, to spend time in, and to hand out. It makes sense to encourage community confluence, engendering a sense of community in a more educated setting.

Though I had my fallout with Amazon, due to the dispute over censored dispute from 10 years ago, I like the fact that selection of books on display at the bookstore is determined by the community. So you’re not just looking at bestsellers the distributors are pushing. The community of readers has a say. I wish Amazon would take a step further to collaborate with book bloggers in book recommendations.

“Bodies in a Bookshop” Found

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An usual scout at the used bookstore during lunch landed a rare copy of Bodies in a Bookshop by Ruthven Campbell Todd who, at the time of the Second World War, was a poet, scholar, and critic from Scotland. He wrote a series of detective fiction and was quickly, but unjustly, forgotten. His detective fiction is very difficult to come by; so this rare copy (not collectible though) would be a treat in time for the season.

The title alone is irresistible. The subject matter corresponds to the very circumstance in which I found this book—rummaging through musty old bookstore in search for the unexpected, except, thankfully, I didn’t find two bodies lie sprawled on the floor of the back room.

Han and Hanff

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I’m back to my old haunt from college days—Walden Pond Bookstore on Grand in Oakland. It’s a wonderful used bookstore with an amazing fiction and mystery selection. I love the high shelves of fiction all on one wall extending to the back of the store. I love the creaky wooden floorboard. This reminds me why I love indie used bookstore so much—I always find books that are either forgotten or no longer in print.

People probably won’t know who Han Suyin is. But I say she’s the writer of A Many Splendored Thing, which was made into a movie, set in Hong Kong, called, Love is A Many-Splendored Thing, would that ring the bell? Han, like her heroine in Splendor, is a Sino-Anglo mixed woman who was trained in medicine. She was born in Beijing and lived in Hong Kong after the war. This copy of The Crippled Tree is the first I come across after a long hunt.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street is the sequel to 84 Charing Cross Road, a record of a postal love affair with England through a twenty-year correspondence with a London bookseller. In this book, Helene Hanff’s dream come true as she makes her way over the pond to visit England. Finding this book also makes my dream come true.

Bookstore

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“A place isn’t a place until it has a bookstore.” This line resonates in my head long after I put down Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which I reviewed yesterday. It makes me think that as long as there are people who care about books, bookstores will not die. Despite the staggering rent in my hometown, Hong Kong, bookstores still thrive in silence. Whether they are corporates like Eslite (from Taiwan) and Page One (from Singapore) or indies, there are people who are passionate about the business sustaining them. Reading is more than a hobby in the same way a bookstore is more than a business. It’s where readers come together to talk about books and spur one another on to more books. I know I’m sentimental when I talk about how I long for the feel of a book in my hands and prefer the pages in my hand over e-reader. Bookstores attract the right kind of people: stubborn, gentle, patient, thoughtful, and composed. Every cover in a bookstore is a door that turns on magic hinges. Bookstores are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places. Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.

The Last Bookstore

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The Last Bookstore in downtown LA is more than a bookstore. In the former bank location is a high-ceiling space that allows for gargantuan book-inspired art work and installations.  It took me about an hour to walk through this “museum” before getting my hands on the books. They have used and new books. The main floor is home to fiction and all the social sciences. Mystery is up in the mezzanine with a slightly creepy setting apropos of the genre. Through the book tunnel you will find yourself in the $1 room where, needless to say, all books are $1 each. They have plenty of chairs and leather couches to sit on. Allow for a day of browsing, for just the art work and the store alone took about an hour to walk through.

Indie Bookstores Thrive

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Publisher Weekly has an article about Green Apple Books in my own backyard on how bookstores survive in the Age of Amazon. Green Apple Books to San Francisco is like Powell Books to Portland. When I’m looking for hard-to-find, obscure used or out-of-print books, Green Apple is the first place off the top of my head. One of Green Apple’s co-owners, Pete Mulvihill, offers up his opinion on how they and other indie bookstores survive—or rather thrive—in the age of Amazon.

“Indie bookstores offer community, discovery, and beauty; readers feel good about keeping their hard-earned money recirculating in their local communities; and many people value the ‘third place’ enough to put their money where their mouths are.” I don’t live in the midwest where your nearest neighborhood is a mile away and where big box store is the fulfillment of shopping. I walk; I bike; I shop local. I must be living in the old times where printed word was more valued. I think e-books and printed word could co-exist, therefore independent bookstores could co-exist with Amazon. As long as there are readers who like to browse and interact, bookstores still have their niche and will thrive.

My affair with Green Apple began in high school. Like many teenagers, I had limited allowance and I had limited budget on books—even used ones. That’s when I discovered Green Apple in the quiet Richmond District, a diverse neighborhood that includes Chinese-American residents and Irish bars. Every weekend I stopped there and browsed for as long as I was free. I got some of my novels and mysteries for at least half the cover prices. Two doors down from the main store is the fiction and music annex. For as long as I can remember, customers are so diverse that they represent a slice of the city. They range from families who drop their kids off, to Asians, to geeks, to little old ladies buying paperback mysteries, and the collectors. They like the sense of discovery and serendipity at the store, and I find Green Apple a beautiful place.

50th Big Book Sale

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Benefiting the San Francisco Public Library with its proceeds, the Big Book Sale turns 50 this year (Sep 23-28). The Fort Mason pier will turn into a book emporium with miles of books set on tables. As a proud member of the Friends of SF Public Library, I’ll help out set up the tables next week and get to preview the 500,000 books. Everything is $3 or less, with a 3-2-1 scale: $3-hard cover books; $2-paperback books; $1-DVDs, CDs, books on tape, vinyl and other forms of media. All items remaining on Sunday are $1.

It’s fun to shop, to pick and choose. I never have a list because everything is so random. Books are categorized by genres but within each genre they are in no particular order. I always browse to see if the blurb interests me. This giant book sale is almost a test to your book and author knowledge. That book recommended to you by your coworker. That book you read about in New York Times Book Review but never got around reading it. All the titles that have bombarded your head—they must all be there buried in the tables. It’s a literary déjà vu awaiting.

Last Bookstore

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I was on my homeward bound flight from Los Angeles when the magazine informed me about the wonderful Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles. Then Tina from Book Chatter mentioned it again when i posted my book adventure in West Hollywood. I think I need to make a trip back just to visit this one. I heard you can make a day trip of Last Bookstore and still not check out the entire collection. I texted my friend and he was very kind to go and take some snapshots for me. All books on the upstairs “labyrinth” are $1 each. New books and myriad of arts made with books will greet you in the main level. Formerly a bank building, the high ceiling gives the bookstore a very welcoming, open atmosphere.

Los Angeles Book Heaven

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West Hollywood public library is the epitome of hip, modern and chic. Plenty of workspace with outlets. Lots of comfortable swivel chairs facing the floor-to-ceiling windows that line the whole building. Beautiful wood-carved ceiling.
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Book Soup is my favorite bookstore in Los Angeles. Staff is very knowledgeable and friendly. I read through all the staff recommendation cards in fiction section and pick up some Norman Mailer books and The Queen’s Gambit. Obviously the staff loves Norman Mailer and recommends almost every single book of his.
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The Barnes & Noble in Studio City is an old theater turned bookstore. You can still see the old 50s decor inside and the movie screen is preserved. The bookstore is very cozy. They don’t seem to mind people taking pictures of their feature book display.
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The brick-and-mortar store is one of the largest used bookstores in Los Angeles. It’s like visiting friends and family when you walk in there. Lots and lots of aisles of books. The owner and his employees are very easygoing—they even offer me coffee.

The Strand: 18 Miles of Books

The Strand

Found in 1927 by Ben Bass, The Strand is a literary landmark of New York. Along with Powell Books in Portland, Oregon, The Strand is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. A trip to New York is not complete without paying a visit (or two) to this literary mecca. After attending to the emails, files and paperwork in preparation to the BEA, which will open tomorrow, I took a stroll in Manhattan and ended here at The Strand. Shelf after shelf of books in rabbit warren. Books are stuffed to the ceiling and windows. The entire basement is home to review copies and proofs. Suffice to say that I went in after a quick lunch and came out with a rumbling stomach ready for dinner—and I only browsed the fiction section! Among the finds is The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, a 1958 novel about five young employees of a New York publishing house. It’s been recently re-released. Borges’s Last Interview was staring at me from the shelf. So I decided to take it home with me before I proceed to the second half of Collection Fictions. The staff here is more than helpful. They are very knowledgeable of books and of the industry. I’m glad to see New Yorkers are passionate about their local bookstore. The Strand marks a great headstart to my week in the Big Apple.