Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bookshops! Some stereotypes brought to life

A couple of times today I had to question the lengths us booksellers will go to to track down gems for their customers - no bookshop can be ignored, no thrift shop unfossicked, no garage sale passed by. The first time was following breakfast at the Golden Coffee Shop again ( French Toast & awful coffee $5, thank you for asking). I headed down Leavenworth St to a bookshop which had been recommended to me by a local:"the area is a bit rough, but it's well worth a visit".

The area is the Tenderloin, home to a disproportionate share of San Francisco's strip joints, flophouses and people down on their luck. The bookshop in question was sandwiched between a welfare agency and a cheque cashing/payday loan office, and the street was lined with people in various states of distress. This really is the dark side of a beautiful city, and of course an example of the fundamental inequities always evident in this country - there are some who have so much and many many more who have nothing. It is a sight I can never get used to.. Now I never at any stage felt unsafe, and noone even approached me, but it did make my hunt for books and culinary experiences a little vacuous.

As it turned out the bookshop was closed, so I hopped on to a bus heading towards the Mission district where I had been told there was a cluster of bookshops near Mission Dolores - famous for its appearance in Vertigo. The Mission district is vibrant and colourful, predominantly Hispanic. The bookshops are an eclectic mix - Adobe was a treasure trove of all sorts of books (including lots of cookbooks), scruffy, comfortable and with the stereotype of an achingly hip bookstore clerk/aspiring novelist tapping away on a manual typewriter at the front desk. When asked what he was writing he answered " A letter at the moment, but I am writing a novel". Forest bookstore was up another level, not quite antiquarian, but lots of first editions, very carefully chosen in a welcoming and organised store. Aardvark was a lot of fun, reminded me of some of the Carlton bookstores, lots of choice, a little messy, friendly. There were several others, so all in all a fun day of bookhunting.

The good news is that I've discovered that the wonderful USPS ($US2.80 to post a large book across the country to a customer in New York) still offers the equivalent of the old M-bag - 30kg of books posted for around $75. SO I'll be going back

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