I enjoy reading my friend Melissa’s blog, which is called Starlit Nights. My favorite (unofficial) series of hers: the bookshop posts. You can find them collected with other book-related writing here. In short, Melissa likes to visit bookstores while traveling, and she writes about them after the fact. Naturally, there are plenty of great photos to admire as well. Some examples: Strand Books, Book Plate and Boulder Bookstore (which, coincidentally, I happened to visit this month).
Yes, I too tend to seek out such businesses while traveling, and so I decided to write my very own Starlit Nights post about two bookstores I visited in the Bay Area last week.
Don’t worry, Melissa. This is just a tribute:
I first visited Moe’s Books in Berkeley.
I have a soft spot for shops like Moe’s. While there are certainly a few tables that are laid out nicely, Moe’s is all about volume. It’s right there on the sign. Four floors of books: something for everyone. Step right in.
As you can see, Moe’s certainly cleans up nicely. But this is not the first thing you see upon entering the store. Nope, you see what interests me more: the chaos!
The genius in Moe’s four floors layout is that it manages to become multiple shops all in one. If you want a quiet space to dive into a potential purchase, Moe’s offers that.
But if you’re just looking for books that go to the ceiling, you can head upstairs and find that as well.
I made myself cozy on the third floor and went through the racks. Unlike Melissa, I’m never wise enough to leave room to pack suitcases, so I usually have to relegate myself to browsing. But even browsing has its joys, like when you stumble on notes you were never supposed to see.
I guess Bill Hicks was just spitting too much truth for Josh on the occasion of the big 4-0.
A few days after visiting Moe’s, I made the obligatory stop at City Lights in San Francisco.
What’s so unique about City Lights is how the area around the store seems fitted to the bookstore, rather than the other way around. Off to the left there is Jack Kerouac Alley, while up the block is the Beat Museum.
While Moe’s seemed impressive in its use of space, it has nothing on City Lights, which hardly wastes any wall or floor space. If a human can conceivably touch a spot, there’s a book there. Simple as that.
There are, of course, some decorative touches around the place. The basement feels even tighter than the main floor. With no windows, there’s even more wall space to cover. But the closets must remain free.
My favorite floor of the shop, though, was at the top. This is where they store the Beat Literature and the Poetry. It’s quieter, and airier. There certainly are a lot of books, but there’s also more space to roam. City Lights seems to know that only the diehards are trekking up here. There are places to settle in and kill an afternoon.
Visiting these shops helped me articulate what it is I like about my local store, The Dusty Bookshelf. The trip itself was a joy just to be around people and places and buildings again. There’s too much open space here, at least for my taste. I like to be surrounded. But whether I’m in a bookstore in Kansas or San Francisco, I’m entering similar spaces. The clutter is attractive. Melissa’s posts often like to highlight excellent curation in the bookstores she visits, but during my trip to the Bay Area, I found joy in crude piles and narrow aisles.