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text 2018-09-19 08:21
Bookstores: Borderlands in San Francisco

BorderlandsBorderlands Books is a fantastic otherworldly experience in the heart of San Francisco. A specialty store that focuses on science-fiction, fantasy and horror novels, this is a bookstore for a true connoisseur of speculative fiction. I’m not sure if I qualify entirely, as I’m not as well read in the field as I’d like to be. But I do love me some Tim Powers and Ursula Le Guin, and I’m truly deeply madly in love with Nisi Shawl and Octavia Butler’s writing, so sign me up as a fan of Borderlands Books.

 

In fact, I did just that back in 2015. I signed up to be a sponsor of Borderlands Books, and you can do the same thing. In the hot real estate market of San Francisco, bookstores are hardly viable. So literate people of goodwill have signed up to ensure that a great bookstore like this can stay in the city.

 


BORDERLANDS BOOKS NEEDS SPONSORS every year — 
— 
You can sign up right here as a sponsor.

 


You might wonder how all of this came about.

 

In 1997 Alan Beatts opened Borderlands Books in Hayes Valley as a used-only bookstore consisting of his personal collection and a selection of books from Know Knew Books in Palo Alto.

 

Bookstore owner Beatts had done a lot of things before opening his new and used science fiction bookstore. Private Investigator, night club manager, and briefly a used clothing salesman. But he’s stuck to it with Borderlands Books — which is now the largest science fiction bookstore in the United States, carrying 14,000 titles specializing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

 

BorderlandsBorderlands Books is important in SF and fantasy circles, with many author events per year and international tourists popping in daily during busy months. Borderlands Books makes appearances at horror and science-fiction conventions, and has hosted numerous events with a variety of SF/F luminaries, including Lou Anders, Chris Roberson, John Varley, Jacqueline Carey, John Picacio, Graham Joyce, Patricia McKillip, Paolo Bacigalupi, David Drake, Randall Munroe, Steven Erikson, and Cory Doctorow.

 

Here’s another nice twist — the café attached to Borderlands Books serves coffee or tea, but they never play music and there is no wi-fi, so that you can simply read books. You can sit and read a new book, or nosh on café treats and read one of the SF magazines also sold at Borderlands. I’ve always thought reading is the point of having a bookstore café, so I’m glad that Borderlands agrees with me.

 

Borderlands Books also hosts the Tachyon Publications anniversary party with the associated Emperor Norton Awards, given for “extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason”. The first award is given to a single work of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, or to an author in these genres, and the second to any creation, creator, or service relating to those genres. In 2008, Borderlands’ owner Alan Beatts and general manager Jude Feldman were jointly nominated for a World Fantasy Award under the World Fantasy Special Award: Professional category.

 

Despite all this awesomeness, Borderlands couldn’t survive on its own.

On February 2, 2015, in an open letter posted on Borderlands Books website, the owners Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman, announced they would close the store on March 31, 2015. The Valencia Street store — one of the largest of its kind in the world, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror titles — drew widespread coverage (including a New Yorker piece) after it said the city’s increase in the minimum wage to $15 would not allow it to continue as “a financially viable business” (for the record, the owners support the minimum wage increase).

 

Then, thanks to a public meeting at which customers proposed ideas for saving the store, a new sponsorship plan was hatched.

 

Borderlands Books announced a plan to remain open by relying on sponsorships. Soon it seemed that every fan of speculative fiction in the known universe was willing to help out. People from Peter Straub to Neil Gaiman to Joe Hill all sounded the alarm on their social media channels.

 

Borderlands Sponsors“It’s been incredible,” Beatts said. “I had no idea that this would get so much attention from the press, from the public. I was astonished by how many people wanted to get involved.”

 

The initial goal was merely 300 private sponsors at $100 apiece. This goal was soon surpassed. In fact, the first cohort maxed out at 844 sponsors!

Every year since then, people have signed up to support Borderlands Books, and perhaps the bookstore will even buy their building! (here are some details about the building)

 

I am proud to say that I was an early supporter of Borderlands Bookstore — here I am, listed under my SF moniker “Nicholas Hallum” as sponsor #214 — one of the first 300 to stand in the gap and defend the bookstore against the forces of avarice and illiteracy! Have I mentioned that you can join us?

 


You can sign up right here to sponsor Borderlands Books.

 



Visit Borderlands Books right here.

 

 

 

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text 2018-08-23 10:18
Bookstores: Kepler’s Books

Keplers Books

 

Read my books at Kepler’s

 

 

Kepler’s bookstore has been part of my life for many decades. The first place my family lived when we moved from Taiwan to the United States in the early 1980s was Sunnyvale California. I am sure that my mother, as an avid reader, visited Kepler’s bookstore in Palo Alto with me in tow. But although I was in fourth or fifth grade, I have no memory of visiting Kepler’s at that time. Instead, my first memories of visiting Kepler’s are on post-college road trips from Washington State to California, when we made regular pitstops in Silicon Valley, stayed with friends or family in the area for a night or two, and visited Kepler’s on the way.

 

Why visit Kepler’s? Because it was the best and richest book experience in the south San Francisco area – a book refuge in the middle of the intellectually barren software and hardware technology companies. For over 60 years, Kepler’s has been a major intellectual and cultural hub for the Peninsula. On my peripatetic travels through northern California, I always made a point of stopping at Kepler’s.

 

Keplers BooksOne particularly significant stop was in 1993, when I did a solo 1500 mile bicycle traverse of the West Coast, from southern California to northern Washington — all the riding time completed in 12 days flat (on some days, I topped 200 miles pedaled!). The days on which I wasn’t riding were spent with family or friends in California, Oregon and Washington. And at my favorite haunts, including restaurants I enjoyed and beautiful bookstores I knew and loved on the West Coast.

 

On one particularly memorable hot August day, I bicycled over the Diablo mountain range from the Merced area, and down the other side into San Jose and then on to Palo Alto Valley, where I stayed overnight with a cousin who was in graduate student housing at Stanford University. The next day I peddled over to Kepler’s to pay my allegiance to the best bookstore in the region. In my sweat-stained biking togs I must’ve been an interesting sight, but I still walked out with at least one hardcover (Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe, as I remember) that I put in my bicycle panniers and subsequently toted with me all the way to Seattle Washington. The book made for some great evening reading by my campfire.

 

Keplers Books

Even though I’d been a fan and a regular for many years, I didn’t know the storied history of the bookstore until quite recently. Here’s a brief version — Kepler’s Books was founded in Menlo Park in May 1955 by peace activist Roy Kepler. Along with Cody’s in Berkeley and City Lights in San Francisco, Kepler’s led the paperback revolution in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 50’s and 60’s. According to their website, Kepler’s “soon blossomed into a cultural epicenter, attracting a loyal following among Beat intellectuals, pacifists, students and faculty of Stanford University, and other members of the surrounding communities, interested in serious books and ideas.” In fact, the Grateful Dead performed at Kepler’s early in their career, and they, along with folk singer Joan Baez, often appeared at Kepler’s holding impromptu salons with local community leaders to discuss ideas, political action, and music.

 

Keplers BooksAfter the 60s were over, Kepler’s continued with a new generation. In 1980, Roy’s son, Clark Kepler, took over the management of the bookstore. In 1989, Kepler’s moved to its current location in the Menlo Center on El Camino Real. Under Clark’s leadership, Kepler’s expanded its role in the community, developing new partnerships and programs, and winning multiple awards nationally and locally. In 1990 Publishers Weekly named Kepler’s “Bookseller of the Year.”

 

As the technology revolution swept across the country and changed how people buy things, the bottom line dropped out of Kepler’sbookselling business. Amazon had taken a significant bite out of the paperback market. (Oddly enough in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity for a job in the early days of Amazon.com, but I didn’t pursue it because I felt it would take time away from writing novels. I was right on the novel writing front, but wrong on the potential positive impact that an early role as a booksite editor at Amazon would’ve had on my life.) In any case, the advent of Amazon and the box big sellers such as Barnes and Noble had a massive negative impact on small bookseller such as Kepler’s.

 

Keplers FoundationIn 2006, Kepler’s announced it was closing -– the only independent bookseller in the greater Silicon Valley region now dead. Fortunately, there was a massive outcry of protest from the literary public. People knew that they needed a bookstore in Silicon Valley.

 

Thus, the Kepler’s Literary Foundation was born, and Kepler’s bookstore resurrected! A new organization — the Kepler’s Literary Foundation — was formed to create events, readings, and additional experiences associated with literate culture, and keep the Kepler’s experience alive for future generations.

 

In the last 2000s, I was fortunate to visit the re-vivified Kepler’s bookstore on a nearly weekly basis for a few years. For many years, I’ve worked for large technology companies who have bases of operation in Silicon Valley, from Adobe to Microsoft to Xerox PARC and Intel. Between 2007-2012, I worked variously as the CEO of a small technology company funded in part by investors in Silicon Valley and as a principal product lead for an R&D team at Xerox PARC, located in Palo Alto, (more on my interesting tech career here).

 

When I worked in Palo Alto, I commuted down from my home in Washington state on a weekly basis (my “super commute” was even covered in the Seattle Times). While I was on the road to Palo Alto every week, I made a regular habit of stopping at Kepler’s bookstore to attend author readings, buy books, and check on what new releases piqued my interest. Eventually, my work at Xerox PARC ended and I sold off my interest in the Valley-funded tech company.

 

But now, as a senior manager at Intel — whose headquarters are in Santa Clara — I have fresh excuses to check in at Kepler’s on a nearly monthly basis (Intel, after all, is kind enough to provide a free air shuttle to all employees for trips to the Valley, and I supervise several team members who are based in the Santa Clara office). So Kepler’s bookstore is once again a big part of my life.

 

I stopped at Kepler’s most recently a few months ago, to organize a reading near to where many of my friends work in Santa Clara and Palo Alto. I ran into the the wonderful poet Charif Shanahan — we share a publisher and have co-presented at readings before — and it was lovely to catch up with Charif in person. I’m also currently a student at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, so I have more reason to be in Silicon Valley, and I’m hoping to do a reading at Kepler’s soon. Along with the rest of the reading community in the Silicon Valley region, I am excited to see where the Kepler’s Foundation takes the future of this important bookstore.

 

Kepler’s Books is one of my literary touchstones, and I’m happy to share that bookstore experience with my readers! Enjoy!

 

Find my books at Kepler’sKeplers Books 

 

 


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text 2018-08-01 10:41
Bookstores: Vroman’s in Pasadena
Read at Vroman’s Bookstore

 

 

Vroman's

After living overseas for many years, one of my earliest memories of an American bookstore was in the 1980s, when I first walked into Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena California. The store was a revelation to me — a clean well-lighted place where books were arranged like jewels on shelves, well-read attendants who seemed like upscale librarian/sorcerers to my wondering eyes, and — best of all — a children’s reading section that had all of my favorites readily accessible in untouched hardcover editions. I’d never seen such a magical place where everyone knew how important books were in my life, and uttered their admiration for the same books in quiet loving tones. Vroman’s is southern California’s oldest and largest bookstore, but all I knew at that time was that I had landed in heaven.

 

In many regards, I grew up as a reader at Vroman’s. I found succor in their shelves and wonder in their book recommendations. In later years, as I frequented second-hand bookstores and went deep into academic tomes, I continued to come back to Vroman’s to continue to relish the experience of books as a pleasure, not a burden or a learning.

 

The characteristic that is often forgotten in the modern debate over how one buys books — or even what format one reads in — is the fact that the act of being a reader automatically invites you into a community of readers, and bookstores that embrace that reality and further that community become focal points for the reading community. It’s not just about buying books, but about building community.

 

Vroman’s has never forgotten that truth. In later years, after college, when I moved back to California and began teaching kids on the spectrum (and began thinking about writing my novel The Eagle Tree), I recommended the Vroman’s experience to my students, and it was exciting to see early readers share that singular early experience of walking into the same bookstore I’d loved and experiencing heaven all over again.

 

In a deeper way, I also came to appreciate Vroman’s nurturance of the bookish community, as I participated in reading groups at the bookstore, and met other readers in my community. I was now finding my reading companions as an adult, again, thanks to Vroman’s gentle guidance. I particularly remember a reading group discussion of a new book by my favorite poet — Mark Strand. Vroman’s book club meeting about Dark Harbor provoked a deep and thoughtful discussion.

 


I also enjoyed the many literary readings at Vroman’s, and I was excited to see that recently Vroman’s began to embrace indie bestselling authors as well, like my friend (and fellow medieval writer) Kathryn Le Veque whose readings and signings have been stellar successes. Kudos to Vroman’s for embracing the future of author-led publishing!

 

Vroman’s has a storied history. The original bookstore was founded in 1894 by Adam Clark Vroman. Born in 1856 in La Salle, Illinois, Mr. Vroman moved to Pasadena, California in the late 1800s. Mr. Vroman loved books and loved giving back to his community. He helped to rescue some of the old Franciscan missions from decay, helped establish the Southwest Museum (now part of the Autry Museum), and he was a great supporter of the Pasadena Public Library. When Mr. Vroman died in 1916, he left the bookstore to longtime employees, one of whom was the great grandfather of the current owner.

 

Vroman’s Bookstore holds an important place in Southern California’s history. For many years, Vroman’s was the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi, and it continues to be the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. During World War II, Vroman’s donated and delivered books to Japanese Americans interned at nearby camps, returning on several occasions despite being fired upon by camp guards!

 

Now that I have lived far away from California for many years, I still look back on my early experience at Vroman’s with fondness and with a bookish nostalgia. Bookstores in my mind are always mentally judged against that early Vroman’sexperience. Today, it gives me great pleasure to know that you can find my books on Vroman’s shelves.

If you’re in southern California for the Rose Parade, visiting Disneyland or for any other reason, I’d encourage you to enjoy Vroman’s multiple locations. Through the years, Vroman’s has continued to be an independently owned family business, now consisting of two Vroman’s locations, and two Vroman’s boutiques located at LAX airport. Of course, all their books are also available online at Vroman’s as well.

Vroman’s Bookstore is one of my literary touchstones, and I’m happy to share that bookstore experience with readers like you! Enjoy!

 


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text 2018-07-18 10:37
Bookstores: Browsers Bookstore in Olympia

Browsers

 

Read at Browsers Bookshop

When I moved to Olympia Washington in 2003, I had no idea that this was the town in which my bestselling novel The Eagle Tree would be set, and I had no idea that I’d gradually fall in love with this city, establish an arts magazine that extolled the wonders of the local arts scene, and find such a supportive community of fellow artists, writers and creative souls here. Back then, the city was a little funky, still dealing with the hangover of being America’s first “grunge” capital (birthplace of Nirvana, K-Records, and Riot Grrrl), and the recent shut-down of its namesake brewery.

 

One of the funky experiences was a little downtrodden used bookstore on the edge of downtown. Browsers Bookstore had been there since 1935, but in recent years the cover had been worn, the spine split, a few pages were missing and there were dust on the shelves. I loved it.

 

Here in this little used bookstore, I could find a nearly-forgotten old academic tome on Milton, an acid-stained leftover Hunter S. Thompson from the 1960s and a cheap Stephen King or Tim Powers paperback. You had to be willing to brave the netherlands of used bookstore back-shelves, but if you dug deep enough, you could make serendipitous discoveries.

 

In the mid-2000s, I left Olympia for a few years for a graduate fellowship, and just a few short years after my family and I returned, Browsers had a bit of a resurrection. A wonderful new owner — Andrea Griffith — had taken ownership of the bookstore. She had big plans!

 

Over a two year period, Andrea gradually transformed the bookstore into a shining jewel — a pocket bookstore where a revitalized and fully used upstairs buzzed with the sound of book discussion groups and writer confabs, while downstairs freshly organized shelves groaned under the weight of face-out new editions, featured new releases and special introductions to local authors and literary luminaries. Andrea proved to have extraordinarily well-refined taste in books, and her picks meet readers right where they need a literary jolt. Now Browsers Bookshop wasn’t just about used books and unexpected finds, but instead showcased the best of brand-new Northwest reading alongside the pick of world fiction and non-fiction.

 

BrowsersBrowsers has a wonderful history, and it’s lovely to see Andrea build on that history. Browsers Bookshop has been in downtown Olympia for 80 years. In that 80 years, four different women have owned the store. Browsers originally began in Aberdeen in 1935 as Anna Blom’s Book Shop. Anna was a Russian Jewish immigrant, born in 1884. She was self-educated, well-read and intelligent. After she divorced and with two young children, she relocated her bookstore to Olympia on the advice of the Washington Supreme Court Judge Walter Beals, who thought Olympia might better support a bookshop during the Depression.

 

According to Browsers‘ website and conversation with Andrea, Anna Blom’s Bookshop was first located on east Fourth Avenue, about three blocks east of Capitol Way. In 1968, Anna sold her shop to Ilene Yates, a former schoolteacher who changed the name of the shop to Browsers and eventually bought the building where Browsers is now, 107 Capitol Way. The building was for many years a tavern and needed quite a lot of work in order to make the transition from bar to bookstore. Only the front half of the shop was used and when Jenifer Stewart, one of Ilene’s employees, bought the shop in 1985, she worked to renovate the back half to also house books. Jenifer raised her two daughters while running the shop for nearly 30 years. Andrea Griffith took over in late 2014. As Andrea writes, “Browsers continues on, providing just the right book to just the right reader.”

 

BrowsersIn 2016, I was so excited to partner with Andrea to host my very first launch event for The Eagle Tree, which featured actors and readers like Amy Shepherd, who has been seen on stage at Harlequin Productions, Olympia Family Theater and the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts and Clarke Hallum, recently seen as “Wilbur” in Olympia Family Theater’s production of Charlotte’s Web and known for his starring role in A Christmas Story at 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle. The event also was the first big author reading for the revitalized and re-born Browser’s Bookshop in Olympia. I’m happy to report that there was standing-room only at the event.

 

Subsequently, many other authors and readers have been fortunate to experience Browser’s Bookshop warm hospitality and welcoming audiences, including such literary luminaries as Nancy Pearl, Maria Mudd Ruth, Jim Lynch and Nikki McClure.

 

Browser’s Bookshop is now truly one of the best bookstores on the West Coast. I’m excited to feature Andrea’s beautiful place as the first in a new ongoing series about my favorite bookish places.

 

Browser’s Bookshop is one of my literary touchstones, and I’m happy to share that bookstore experience with my readers! Enjoy!

 

Find my books at Browsers


 


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text 2018-07-10 10:33
Bookstores: The Strand in New York City

In 2018, I’m writing a short series of posts on bookstores I know and love. The series was due to begin in early February, and I’ve already written love letters (not yet published) to many of the bookstores I love, and told you exactly why you should visit so many of these lovely bookish communities.

 

However, I decided to begin my Bookstore Series earlier than I expected, when I read the obituary for a legend of the bookselling trade whom I have met and whose bookstore I enjoyed.

 

Strand Books in New York City is a legend for people who love bookstores, and I had the pleasure of visiting the Strand nearly every time I went to New York and even spending time chatting with the inimitable Fred Bass, who is featured in this wonderful obit in this week’s New York Times. To be clear, I got to know Mr. Bass only perfunctorily, by way of asking about books and talking about books. But as we both enjoyed the conversation. There are few people who seemed to have so much interest in knowing the exact catalog of over “18 miles of books,” so I’ll miss him and his bookish knowledge tremendously.

 

Strand Books in 1938 (Photo via Strand)

 

Strand Books began in the 1930s, in a district long known for books. Back in the early 1900s, an entire book district covered Fourth Avenue from from Union Square to Astor Place. Fred began working for his father in this bookselling district back when he was 13 years old in 1928. Back then, many bookstores in bookseller’s row had particular specialties and antiquarian interests and Strand Books was only one among many. Yet Fred persevered. (Remind me to set a librarian-magician story in NYC’s classic bookstore district!)

 

Strand Books eventually moved to Broadway and began expanding under Fred Bass’s leadership in 1956. Now at Broadway on 12th Street, Strand Books took over half the ground floor of what had been a clothing store. Eventually, Strand Books took over three floors of the building and eventually added an antiquarian books department. By the late 1960s, Strand Books was the only surviving bookstore from old bookstore row in New York city.

 

He loved buying books. “It’s a disease,” he told New York magazine in 1977. “I get an attack, something like a panic, of book-buying. I simply must keep fresh used books flowing over my shelves.”

 

Fred Bass in the 1970s (Photo via Strand)

As the New York Times article points out, Fred Bass nearly single-handedly grew Strand Books into the renowed giant of bookstores it is today. The Times notes that the 70,000 books in the Fourth Avenue store swelled, at the Broadway site, to half a million by the mid-1960s and 2.5 million by the 1990s, requiring the purchase of a storage warehouse in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. By the time Mr. Bass bought the building for $8.2 million in 1997, the Strand had become the largest used bookstore in the world.

 

Now that’s an accomplishment! Wow!


The largest used bookstore in the world.

 

As the Times notes, Mr. Bass was perhaps most famous for creating a literary quiz for prospective Strand employees to take when filling out their applications. “I thought it was a quick way to find if somebody had any knowledge of books,” he told the Times. Applicants had to match 10 authors with 10 titles, and maneuver around one trick question, in an exercise that became a cherished bit of New York lore.

 

Credit: George Etheredge, New York Times

 

(Here are more details on the Strand Books quiz)

 

And in the mid-1990s, I met Mr. Bass himself. As always, he stood behind the counter — sometimes when I saw him he was perched on a high stool, like a king overlooking his bookish palace. He looked like a bartender of books; I almost expected him to slide a bookmark across the table to me, and say in his oddly kind New York accent “What’ll you have today? What’ll take the edge off?”

 

Credit: Tony Cenicola, New York Times

Yes, Fred was a pusher of books, and he got me to spend hundreds of dollars on books at the Strand over the years. “I got the dust in my blood and I never got it out,” he told McCandlish Phillips, author of City Notebook: A Reporter’s Portrait of a Vanishing New York.

 

Now you can find Strand Books everywhere around New York City. Besides the main bookstore on Broadway and 12th, you can also find satellite Strands in kiosks outside the entrance to Central Park on Fifth Avenue at Grand Army Plaza and downtown in the South Street Seaport. You can also find Strand Books in a smaller Flatiron district location. Finally, just last year Strand Books opened a summer-season kiosk in Times Square. You can even watch a Video Tour of Strand Books right here.

 

Strand Books is one of my literary touchstones, and I’m happy to share that bookstore experience with my readers! Enjoy!

 

Find my books at The Strand

 

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