In my travels this spring, I had the chance to duck in to three great book stores for some browsing:
– The Strand in NYC (Broadway & 12th)
– City Lights in SF (261 Columbus Ave. in North Beach)
– Bookshop Santa Cruz (CA)
These are one-of-a-kind independents that are presumably getting a surge in business due to the financial woes of some of the “big box” book stores. In any case, they’re each definitely worth a good hour of your time. (Spend less and you’ll end up spending more… if you know what I mean. You’ll also miss out on anything but standard fare.)
The Strand‘s slogan boasts “18 miles of books” and offers some incredible deals on some obscure gems if you’re willing to studiously keep your eyes open. I scored a bio on blues legend Jimmy Reed: Big Boss Man by Will Romano (Backbeat Books, 2006) and two 1995 restrospective compilations – Blues Legends and Jazz Legends (Gibbs-Smith), both featuring bonus CD’s.
Fearful that it might be little more than a front, or worse, a caricature of a museum on 1950s Beat Literature, I was a bit suspicious of City Lights. But figuring that a walk through North Beach wouldn’t be complete without stopping in, I crossed the theshold. Glad I did. While the upstairs is indeed a bit of a shrine to Kerouac, Ginsburg, Ferlinghetti, Howl, etc., there’s some really cool stuff downstairs. In fact, the music books section revealed treasures I never knew existed. I picked up two. I Want to Take You Higher – The Life & Times of Sly & The Family Stone by Jeff Kaliss (Backbeat Books, 2008) offers an irresistible 2-step kick-off with the foreword by none other than Sly himself and the preface by the inimitable George Clinton. The Little Blues Book by Brian Robertson (Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 1996) with illustrations by the equally inimitable R. Crumb is a fun book of quotes from the all-time greats supported by brief observations by the author.
I only had a few minutes at Bookshop Santa Cruz but have been there many times and will undoubtedly be back there again. (Did I mention that Santa Cruz also features some of the best surf… in the world?) No purchases this time… unless you count the “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” bumper sticker.
So, should you find yourself in any of the above locales, do yourself a favor and do some browsing. Also, let me know of any of your own personal favorites and I’ll post them on this blog.
Onward, Malcolm Gauld