My erratic reading habits just don't revolve around bookshops any more and I feel guilty about the slow, steady decline of bricks and mortar stores but I enjoy the way I read. I like cobbling together a weird selection of library books, obscure and specific second-hand books and lent copies from family and friends. Bookshops are good for communities but communities are also good for communities. When there is a shiny new book that I desperately want I will try and buy it from an independent IRL shop but, simultaneously, I try not to chase new-ness. It is easy to get swept up in reading only this month's hyped titles but I try to follow my current interests rather than trends and not neglect older titles.
All of this is to say that I don't, in my day to day life, spend as much time in bookshops as I might like for a variety of more or less logical reasons. But holidays mean time; time to browse, time to read, time to ignore minor stressors. One of my great pleasures on holidays is exploring a city's bookshops. Staff and local favourites, layouts and displays, allllll the books. There is just no upper limit on the amount of time I can spend in bookshops when I'm given the chance.
We bought and browsed all up the West Coast but these were some of our favourites. None of these are secret finds - if you are interested in books and have been/are planning to go to any of these cities then you will probably have heard of them and/or visited already. That's awesome. They are doing amazing work and they deserve all of the recognition.
Los Angeles, Skylight Books
Flickr: Kent Kanouse
They have a tree in their shop! It is all fair wood and light. Their recommendations were 30% books I had read, 30% books I was keen to read and 40% books that I had never heard of but which sounded very interesting. This is a very impressive ratio. They host events and they have a podcast and a beautiful, specialised art bookshop next door.
San Francisco, Dog Eared Books
We were staying just around the corner from Dog Eared Books and we went in every day we were in San Francisco. I love that they mingle new titles and second hand books - it appeals so particularly to my aforementioned reading habits. R particularly enjoyed their graphic novel choices. They are repping the excellent work of small presses (see above) and they have an awesome zine selection. There sister-store Alley Cat Books has an exhibition area and a strong magazine showing. Again, amazing staff picks.
Portland, Powell's City of Books
Flickr: Scott Beale
Real talk, R did not love Powell's even though he bought a few books. I understand his hesitation; Powell's is not a cute, little indie bookshop, Powell's is an enormous, terrifying, overwhelming indie bookshop. It sprawls across an entire city block, there are multiple floors and colour-coded areas and it was completely heaving. I suspect that there are quiet corners but of a weekend it is more like a supermarket than a bookshop. I'm fine with that though. I am happy to be surrounded by a billion people if they are enthusiastically and reasonably mutedly scanning and buying books. We are united in our booklove and there is space. Besides, I find it comforting to be so deeply, physically entrenched in books. You don't have to find Powell's adorable or lovable to find it awesome in an age where bookshops are struggling.
Visit all these places! Support bookshops! Support books! Read everything!
This is my message.