In Praise of Used Bookstores, Part Deux

Last month I talked about the importance of used book stores, especially for those of us of the sf/f persuasion. And I had a conversation with the staff of my Tacoma, WA local, King’s Books. This month I’ll go just a bit further abroad.

Perhaps the most iconic new-and-used store in the Pacific Northwest is Powell’s Books, which is comprised of several stores in and around Portland, OR. Its website makes note that the flagship store occupies one city block and houses more than a million books.

Powell’s is such a phenomenon that residents of the city include it on the list of must-see landmarks and even one-time visitors speak its name with reverence.

For info on the Bay Area’s legendary book stores I turned to my favorite blog co-contributor (and daughter), Mikah. There are too many stores there to name, but she told me about some of her favorites.

“I have a few,” she says. “There is a small chain called Half-Priced Books that is hit-or-miss. Pegasus Books has a few stores in East Bay, and is generally delightful and good for sci-fi. Honorable mention for Moe’s Books on Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley — it’s very small, but very cute. The best, in my opinion (a mix of used and new), is Borderlands in San Francisco. They specialize in sci-fi and fantasy and have struggled to stay open over the years, but they are much beloved.”

As a postscript, it’s worth noting that Moe’s, founded in 1959, has been central to Berkeley’s position in the vanguard of progressive political and cultural movements.

Mikah spent a year in Seattle, where she frequented a store called Twice Sold Tales. “It has tons of used, hard-to-find science fiction. It has that delightful used book smell. And there are many cats sitting amongst the books, so you get to play a side game of ‘find the cat’.”

When she decided to move back to her beloved Bay Area, she brought her book collection to the store to see if she could sell some of them. As often happens, the owner shook her head and said, “I’ve bought enough books today.”

“So I pulled out my mint-condition, hardcover set of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Boxed Set: Volumes 1 and 2,” Mikah says. “And she said, “Damn you…I need that.”

It was unclear whether the owner of the store meant she needed it for the store or personally. In any case, Mikah was able to sell her a package deal.

There are also some Pacific Northwest gems over the Canadian border. We visited the delightful city of Victoria, British Columbia recently. Victoria’s most famous bookstore is Munro’s Books, right on the main drag, Government Street. It was founded by author Alice Munro and her then-husband, and is famed for its incredible building as well as huge inventory.

But down the Bastion Square alley (albeit a touristy spot) we found a sign pointing to Renaissance Books, purveyor of used and rare books. We were running for the ferry so I didn’t make it inside, but I will next trip. However, if you’re looking for it, an internet search says that the name is now Bastion Books, cute sign notwithstanding.

I’ve been feeling bad about sticking to the coasts, so I asked a writing friend in Colorado for his favorite store there. He gave a shout out to Barbed Wire Books in Longmont, CO. But he’s also spent time in Oregon, so he added one more to my PNW list.

“The Book Bin in Corvallis, Oregon is also pretty awesome,” he says. “Forty-five shelf units of speculative fiction books (I counted).”

Happy reading!