My New Favorite Bookstore

I am taking an intensive four-day class on narrative writing. Today was Day 2. Yesterday I had to leave early because I wasn’t able to get off work in the afternoon, but today, tomorrow, and Sunday I’ll be there all day. In the mornings we workshop student writing, and in the afternoons we study literature at an absolutely frenetic pace. This afternoon’s class on Eudora Welty was exhilarating and exhausting. Between the morning and afternoon sessions, we have a two-hour break, and for some reason I can’t fathom, I made a conscious choice not to bring my computer and get work done during the break. Now – at 7 pm, when I face a few hours of prep work for tomorrow’s class – this decision seems unaccountably stupid. At the time, though, I wasn’t upset at all, because look what I found:

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Is there anything better than a rickety wooden sign pointing the way to a bookstore in one’s native city that one had no idea was there?

The bookstore is run by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and seems to specialize in high-quality used books. About 13 years ago, my mom donated our family’s 1944 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica to the public library. I checked to see if they had it in the store, but no dice. I totally would have bought the darn thing right back.

This bookstore is perfect. It’s not as comprehensive (and overwhelming) as Green Apple or the Strand in NYC. It’s not the sort of place to go if you are looking for one specific title. It’s a great place to browse and sit for hours, drinking coffee from the attached cafe. And if you want to spend, say, 45 minutes or an hour creating bookcase art, no one even thinks to look at you askance.

Here are a few samples:

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There’s so much to love here. Which one should I read next: Freshwater Algae of North America? How I Became an Authority on Sex? What about Bomba the Jungle Boy in the Steaming Grotto, or perhaps the baffling The Lizard in the Cup? I didn’t buy any of these, but I did take home seven books for $17.00 – not bad for a day’s work, no?

I get hand tremors sometimes – they’re a consequence of some mild but troublesome head injuries back in my martial arts years. Usually when my hands shake and make my photos blurry, I just get annoyed, but today I actually think my tremoring added to the artsy-fartsiness of a couple of my photos:

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Not bad, no?

And then there are all the things I deliberately didn’t photograph today: the brilliant blue sky, the azure bay, the sunlight illuminating the golden locks of the Francophone toddlers swarming the lobby of the pretentious restaurant, and a certain over-hyped red bridge you may have seen once or twice in your travels. I spent a lot of time today thinking about my feelings toward my city. When I was younger, it didn’t bother me that I didn’t understand why I scorned it. Now it does. Even though I now claim to have returned for good, there are still days when my system fights against it, rejecting it like a toxin in the blood. I can say some things about why my city disgusts me even at the moments when it is most beautiful, but I can’t come to a conclusion. I don’t know why I have the reaction I have. When I love my city, it’s usually when I am focused on some small fraction of it: a corner of a bookstore, a block of ordinary houses cuddled together against the fog, the slimy water of Stow Lake, an empty beach in the fog. And did I mention the fog?

That’s it for now. Time to do my homework.

This entry was posted in Book-related personal narratives, Bookcase Art, Favorite bookstores, Reviews by Bethany, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to My New Favorite Bookstore

  1. badkitty1016 says:

    Where is this place? We have to go next time I’m in town. I hope you’re planning on elaborating on your ambivalent feelings about our hometown one of these days, btw. I’m very interested. And then someday I’ll talk about mine.

    • bedstrom says:

      Ha – I deliberately didn’t say where it is because I don’t like it when my favorite places get crowded, but it’s in Fort Mason Center. Yes, we should definitely visit next time we get together in the city.

      I come up against a brick wall when I try to explain my relationship to SF, except to say that it has something to do with the many, many cliches involving the city. I don’t like knowing that every yahoo on a couch somewhere has an opinion about my city. And I also feel that the people who give this place its reputation are the people who came here from somewhere else. The natives are never given a chance to define their city for themselves.

  2. Pingback: The Prodigious Hickey: An Acquisition (by Bethany) | Postcards From Purgatory

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