Goodwill's Broadway Bookloft sells the best picks from donated books. Photo by Kelly Davis.
Every time I set out to search for a book, I hear the Supernova song in my head, “Books at the library. Hey, you know they're free! / They got books there, books for you and me! / Books! Check 'em out!” And check 'em out I did. But the city of San Diego has decided that I no longer deserve a library card. It has something to do with a Martha Stewart's Cookies book, a Totoro video and not one, but two, very competitive transvestites on Bus 11. So, while I prefer getting my books for free, I have to settle for paying slightly more. But cover price? No, thanks.
In recent months, we've lost two of our best and most beloved used bookstores: Warhenbrock's in Downtown and Bill Burgett's store, once Downtown, more recently on Adams Avenue. And the other bookstore on Adams, the uninspiringly named Adams Avenue Books, has been knee-deep in renovations but will hopefully re-open at the end of this month.
There are still a handful of used bookstores left that, while lacking that classic used-bookstore dankness that I love so, have plenty to offer.
In fact, one such store is fairly new: Broadway Bookloft (939 16th St., 619-236-8020) is operated by Goodwill and located on the second level of its East Village used-goods store. Goodwill has culled the best-looking books from its donation centers and stores across the county and set them up just like a real used bookstore, so much so that it actually is a real used bookstore. There are two more locations where they're doing this—one in University City, the other in Eastlake. Prices are fantastic: $1 to $4 for softcovers, $4 to $6 for hardcovers. Both times I've visited, I've had specific titles in mind, and both times they've come through. Not bad odds. The aisles are clearly marked, the sections expertly subdivided.
The same cannot be said for Book-Off (4240 Kearny Mesa Road, www.bookoffusa.com), but what it lacks in organizational intuitiveness, it makes up for in crazy-good deals. Located in the same shopping center as Japanese grocer Mitsuwa, this is an Asian-owned used-book, -video and -game mini chain. And half of the enormous square footage is dedicated to Japanese-language books, videos and games. But the other half is all in English. Recently, I've found No One Belongs Here More than You by Miranda July; a cool Grove Press copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (for $3 each); several new American Girl books, each $2, for my kid; the latest book-club selection (for the club I've been in for several months but never attended), The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie hardcover, which, at $8, was the most-expensive book I've ever seen here; and Wicked by Gregory Maguire for a buck. There are walls and walls devoted to $1 books, and each time, I've found at least three I've always wanted to read. They also have used Wii and Nintendo games, used manga and graphic novels and a decent selection of used cookbooks.
But the mother-load for used cookbooks is found in the back of a sort-of strip mall in Kensington, plainly titled The Cookbook Store (4108 Adams Ave., 619 284-8224). This is a cook's paradise where brand-new books by Top Chef Masters lie next to classic, out-of-print tomes of fine French (and beyond) cooking. There are kids' cookbooks, books devoted to every country and every style of cooking and to cupcakes and candy and veganism. And the prices, while not thrift-store cheap, are truly and honestly fair. A great place for gifts, too.
But if the classic used (and musty) bookstore is more your speed, there are still two strong contenders, both located in Hillcrest: At Fifth Avenue Books (3838 Fifth Ave., www.fifthavenuebooks.com), I picked up Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree for $6, John Banville's The Sea for $5 and Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicles for $6.50.
Across the street at Bluestocking Books (3817 Fifth Ave., www.bluestockingbooks.com), the book selection is equally good and the staff is mega-chatty. At 11 years and counting, Bluestocking has that familiar old smell that I truly adore.
If you are, however, like my friend Megan and can't stand the smell of a used book, there are a handful of locally owned bookstores specializing in the brand-new variety, and they provide a much more personal experience than the big chains.
Most of these great little stores feature author talks and signings. Check their websites for the current line-up.
If you're looking for something for your neighbor's kid, niece or son, skip on down to the Yellow Brick Road (7200 Parkway Drive, Suite 118, La Mesa, www.yellowbookroad.com). It's awkward as hell to get to, but it's worth the confusion. They know their Newberys from their Caldecotts, and with just a few hints, the expert staff can point you to the perfect book for your little one. The website is a great resource as well.
The Book Works (2670 Via de la Valle, Suite A230, Del Mar, www.book-works.com) is one of those indie shops you'd find in a bigger city, so it's jarringly cute in the Flower Hill Plaza. Located right next door (practically inside) Pannikin Coffee and Tea, you get the whole reading-books-and-sipping-coffee thing that you'd get from a Powell's or a City Lights.
Upstart Crow (835C W. Harbor Drive, www.upstartcrowtrading.com) in the gorgeous tourist trap that is Seaport Village also has coffee and books, and if you're fortunate enough to snag one of the few bay-window seats, you're in for a treat. It smells like books, glorious books, in here. The selection isn't spectacular, and, frankly, neither is the coffee, but it still just feels cozy and warm and comfortable, and I'm drawn back again and again. This place makes me happy.
Bay Books (1029 Orange Ave., www.baybookscoronado.com) in Coronado is considered the largest of the indie bookstores in our county. It's set up the way I like a bookstore to be—with plenty of browsing tables showcasing books of a certain theme and recommendation cards hand-scrawled by the well-read staff on the shelves. It's a great place to kill an hour while on the island.
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