Let’s Get Ready to Read! #readathon

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Last spring I participated in Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon for the first time. This is an event for crazy, book-obsessed people like me to read for 24 hours, and it happens every April and October. This month’s event kicks off on Saturday, October 20 at 5 a.m. here in California (check the handy event time announcer that the readathon organizers created to find the start time in your time zone).

I did not make it a full 24 hours last time because sleep pulled me away from reading, but I had a fun time setting aside a full day to immerse myself in books. In addition to all the pages I travelled through, I also had a fun time interacting with the online readathon community. The best part of this event is that it brings together readers from all over the world who discuss what they’re reading, post pictures of beautiful stacks of books and share in the joy of getting lost in a good story. As I have said before, the online reader community is such a kind and supportive place and such a nice break from other online communities that are filled with negative comments and insults.

You can see my stack of readathon books at the top of this post. These have been culled from my to-be-read shelves. There’s no way I will be able to get through all of these books, but I like to keep a variety on hand, so I can choose my next selection as I go. I have included several collections of stories so I have the option to read some shorter pieces throughout the readathon.

img_7216In addition to my standard stack of books, I will also be braving my first book on an ereader this time. This is quite a big step for me because I have been rather vocal about my hardcore devotion to paper books. I acquired my Kindle earlier this year when a friend got a new Kindle and was looking for a home for her old one. She was hoping that I would learn to love the device, which I have christened Readbot. To give the Kindle a fair chance, I downloaded Stephen King’s Different Seasons. I wanted to make sure I started with a book that is something it’s safe to assume I will like. Stay tuned to my blog for a post-readathon wrap up and my thoughts on my first Kindle-based reading experience.

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This time around I will also have my “Blind Date with a Book” selection that I picked up at The Open Book in Thousand Oaks, California. In their store, they have a section of wrapped books that each have a label with a short description. Here’s what I have:

  • Remote Mexican Sierras
  • Woman losing, regaining herself
  • Endangered band of people

My plan is to kick off the readathon with this book. It gives this night owl an incentive to get up early enough to start reading at 5 a.m.

Finally, I know I will not be able to read for a full 24 hours this time. I will be taking a break for a few hours in the early afternoon to make some calls at a local phone bank for Hillary Clinton. I had thought about taking the weekend off from phone banking, but this election is too important. Also, I have commitments on Sunday that I do not want to be tired for, so I won’t be staying up until 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, but I do hope to put in a lot of reading hours during the readathon, and I look forward to the lively discussion online with other participants. The organizers explain that this event is really in the spirit of fun, so there are no hard and fast rules. They encourage those who cannot commit to the full 24 hours to still participate as much as they can. Really the event is about celebrating reading.

For updates on my progress, be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Happy reading!

Fictional Bookstores I Want to Visit

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I have been rewatching Gilmore Girls in anticipation of the new episodes being released in November. I love how present books are in the show, and it is always fun to see what Rory is reading. Fans of the show know that the townspeople and their businesses feature prominently in Gilmore Girls. Add the small Connecticut town of Stars Hollow to the list of fictional places I would like to live. I was recently watching an episode from season one where Rory wandered into Stars Hollow Books with her dad when he is visiting. The cute, little bookstore features in other episodes of the show, and I started daydreaming about walking down the aisles and picking out a few books. It got me to thinking about other fictional bookstores I would like to visit.

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Black & White & Read Bookstore, Gilmore Girls

Add this to the list of reasons that Stars Hollow is an awesome place: they have two bookstores even though it is a small town. Black & White & Read hosts regular screenings of old movies. I would gladly pull up a chair, bring some snacks and watch a movie among shelves of books with my favorite residents of Stars Hollow.

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Flourish & Blotts, Harry Potter Series

Being the Potter fan I am, I cannot forget to mention Flourish & Blotts, the bookstore in Diagon Alley where Hogwarts students have been buying their school books for years. During Harry’s first visit there in Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, the store is described as a place, “…where the shelves were stacked to the ceiling with books as large as paving stones bound in leather; books the size of postage stamps in covers of silk; books full of peculiar symbols and a few books with nothing in them at all.” The bookstore pops up throughout the series, including being the site of fight between Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy during a Gilderoy Lockhart book signing in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. We also see the poor bookseller struggling with his stock of The Monster Book of Monsters in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I will take a moment here to imagine wandering the aisles with Hermione and checking out all her favorite titles.

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Sempere & Sons Bookstore & the Cemetery of Forgotten Books (Cemetery of Forgotten Books Series)

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s series starts out with The Shadow of the Wind, which is our first introduction to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a vast, old library of winding shelves, full of titles that have been forgotten. The books are lovingly preserved there for the few that are allowed access to the library. Tradition dictates that anyone initiated into this place must take one title and protect it for life. The novel unfolds when young Daniel Sempere selects The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Daniel’s dad runs a bookstore called Sempere & Sons, so, needless to say, bookstores and libraries play a prominent part in Zafón’s series. Added bonus: the series is set in Barcelona, a city I visited and loved back in 1996. I will gladly accept a trip back to Barcelona that includes a visit to Zafón’s fictional locations.

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Women & Women First, Portlandia

I would love to visit Toni and Candace at the fictional feminist bookstore, Women & Women First. They do not get a large number of customers, and their behavior toward their customers often leads to customers leaving the store without buying anything, but I can’t help but love Toni and Candace’s dedication to keeping their bookstore going, despite the fact that feminist bookstores in the U.S. are becoming more and more rare. It is not just the awesome selection of feminist books and merchandise that makes this store appealing, but it is also the way that Women & Women First allows us to laugh at feminism without resorting to the mean insults normally used. Even with my MA in Women’s Studies and my feminism, I am not sure I would be able to please Toni and Candace enough to have the chance to buy something in their store, but it would be worth a try.

What are your favorite fictional bookstores? Share them in the comments.

America, Roadside Attractions & 4,735 Miles (Part Two)

In my last post I detailed the first part of my recent cross-country trip. To catch you up, I took off on a nearly two-week road trip with my favorite road buddy Tim. The main purpose of our trip was to attend a second memorial service for his mom in her hometown of Bushnell, Illinois. His mom passed away in May, and my dad passed away in June. Having both been hit with the loss of a parent within about a month of each other, we also knew we needed to make this trip to take care of ourselves and to get a break from all that we had been through. So, we put our lives on hold and took off.

When I left off last time, we were on our way to Bushnell, Illinois, but we had a stop planned in Hannibal, Missouri on our way there. Hannibal is best known for being the home of Mark Twain–a fact that becomes very obvious when you see just how much this town has formed its identity and a whole tourist industry on the famous American author. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a sucker for quirky tourist stuff, and I also love literature. So of course I had to stop in Hannibal.

One of the first things in Hannibal that came up on my Roadside America app was the Haunted House on Hill Street–part Christmas & Halloween store, part wax museum, part haunted house and 100% awesome! This rates high on the list when it comes to quirky things we saw on this trip. Perhaps the scariest part of the experience was the room full of 27 wax figures of both real and fictional people from Twain’s life and books. This part of the tour involved standing and staring through glass at the wax figures, which were lit from below–something which upped the spooky factor. A voice narration described who everyone was as well as some interesting facts about the people represented in the room. We learn, for example, that the Tom Sawyer figure contains real teeth taken from a boy’s mouth. There’s no explanation about why the teeth were extracted, and if the boy knew they would live on in the likeness of Tom Sawyer. The narration was just long enough to make you question whether or not a figure or two moved while you stood there staring. Needless to say, I was thankful that there was glass between us and them. At the conclusion of the narration, we were directed to walk through a door and into the haunted house. This was your standard haunted house fare, complete with black lights, glowing creatures, things that pop up, bursts of air and sudden noises. I laughed and screamed in turns, and had a good time.

It’s hard to top an experience like that, but we did have fun visiting Twain’s boyhood home, Huck Finn’s house and Becky Thatcher’s house. I am a book nerd, so I took a moment to whitewash Tom Sawyer’s fence just long enough for a picture, but then I figured it was time to find some friends to handle the job for me.

We gave a quick wave to the Mississippi and then drove up to Bushnell. I had heard quite a bit about Bushnell from Tim’s mom Anne. She always had a fondness for the small town she grew up in and continued to have her columns published in the local paper up until her death. Anne’s stories about the people from Bushnell and the town itself made me feel like I had already been there. Bushnell is a small town of just over 3,000 people. It was founded in 1854 when the Northern Cross Railroad built a line through the area. It’s got the quiet tree-lined streets one expects in a small, Midwest town, and there was a strong sense of community present when we gathered at the community center for the celebration of Anne’s life. I am not a small-town girl, but I can see why Anne held a special place in her heart for her hometown. I had a lovely time visiting Tim’s family in Bushnell and hearing stories of his mom’s youth spent in the town.

Before we left Bushnell for our next stop in Indianola, Iowa, Tim insisted that we stop at a local grocery store to buy some ham salad. Tim said it was one of his favorite foods on his childhood trips back to Bushnell. I use the term “food” loosely because I take issue with anything that lists the first ingredient as “Assorted Hams.” Chalk it up to my snobby California palate, but I really don’t think I can accept ham salad as a food.

Ham Salad

After the ham salad adventure, we began the drive to stay with our friends in Indianola, Iowa. We stopped at a bookstore in Burlington, Iowa that was home to a replica of the TARDIS from Doctor Who.  Aside from the TARDIS, Burlington by the Book is a delightful bookstore with a nice selection and friendly staff. We even made time to drive down Snake Alley, a competitor for the title of World’s Crookedest Street. Apparently there is much debate about which is more crooked: Snake Alley or San Francisco’s Lombard Street. I have been down both, and scientifically I am not sure which street should have the title, but I think I enjoyed the fact that there is less traffic on Snake Alley. Plus, it’s in a town with a TARDIS, so that should get some bonus points. I’m not sure, but I think that the TARDIS and the crooked street might be some kind of sign that something is off with the space-time continuum in Burlington, which makes it an awesome place to visit. I would love to go back and explore the town a bit more because we saw some interesting street art and other stores that would be worth checking out.

I experienced my first major Midwest summer storm from behind the wheel of my Honda Civic as we made our way across Iowa. We made a quick stop at a gas station as the sky opened up and thunder rattled the awning over our heads. We looked around as lightning streaked across the sky and realized that the locals were not heading for cover despite the torrential downpour, so we bravely pulled out onto the road. Fortunately the rain stopped and moved on almost as quickly as it started, but the experience did leave me asking Tim to Google the signs of an impending tornado. I am happy to report that I did not end up experiencing my first tornado on this trip.

Iowa wine

We made an unplanned stop at Cedar Valley Winery when we saw a sign advertising wine tasting. Tim and I have made regular trips to the Napa Valley, and we finally took a wine tasting class earlier this year, so we decided to put our tasting skills to the test in Iowa. Living in California, it is easy to forget that many other areas produce wines, and we were surprised to see this cute, little winery tucked in the middle of the cornfields of Iowa. The woman who worked in the tasting room was very knowledgeable and explained that the wines there were made entirely from the grapes grown on the property. She also told us that Midwesterners tend to enjoy their wines on the sweeter side, which we noticed with the wines we tasted. She asked about the purpose of our trip, and Tim explained that both of us had recently lost a parent and that we had just been to a memorial service for his mom in her hometown. It’s a tale that’s part Victorian novel and part fodder for the classic American road trip, right?

As I said in my last post, this could easily be a story of all those complicated emotions that are a part of grieving the loss of a loved one. And to be honest, when I would hear one of us start to tell the story, it almost sounded tragic to the point where I wanted to laugh in order to avoid crying my eyes out. Yeah, grief is complicated. And sometimes all you can do is get on the road and keep driving, which is why we did what we did. Maybe this is the kind of story where we find ourselves out on the road, or maybe it was just a way to try to fill in a little bit of the huge void left when you lose a parent. I don’t know yet. Even though the miles on the road are done, there are still miles to go in the grieving process, and I am lucky we had the opportunity to drive cross country because staying still was making me lose my mind.

I will leave off there for this post and will wrap things up in part three in a few weeks.

For anyone planning a road trip, I highly recommend the Roadside America app. I am not being paid to endorse their app or website; I am just a huge fun. I opted for the full version (includes attractions in the U.S. and Canada) at $8.98–less than what you would pay for most travel books. You can get just one region for $2.99 if you don’t want the full version, but I would recommend getting all of it to inspire future travels.

All pictures are by me except the Bushnell sign, the TARDIS picture and the picture of me with Tom Sawyer’s fence. Those are by Tim Pershing.

America, Roadside Attractions & 4,735 Miles (Part One)

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“And he would take a roadside attraction, no matter how cheap, how crossed, or how sad, over a shopping mall, any day.”
–Neil Gaiman, American Gods

What do a naked bookseller, a pair of shoes made of human flesh and a giant meteor crater have in common? No idea? Well, they were all part of my recent cross-country road trip with my friend and regular road buddy Tim. We have been talking for years about making such a trip, but work and life always seemed to get in the way of a long trip like that. But, with each of us losing a parent within six weeks of each other, we knew that hitting the road was the best way to take care of ourselves amid the wave of grief and emotion that follows such loss.

Our trip was planned around a second memorial service for Tim’s mom in her hometown of Bushnell, Illinois, and it had only been a few weeks since my dad died when we set off on the road. The two months leading up to the road trip had been filled with picking up the pieces after the loss of both our parents and all the crazy emotions that go with that. We both knew that simply going back to our normal lives right after we had been through all that was not an option. I could write pages and pages about the emotion of losing a parent for the second time and finding myself suddenly an adult orphan, but this isn’t that kind of story. The first time I dealt with this kind of loss, I was not so good at taking care of myself. This time I want to make things different. And that is what inspired me to get on the road.

Tim had made the drive to Bushnell many times with his mom, but I had never driven through the states on our route. Armed with my trusty Honda Civic filled with luggage and snacks, the Roadside America app and a sense of adventure, we hit the road on Monday, July 4. Road trips seem like such a strong part of American culture, especially for someone who grew up in the LA area where our entire existence is designed around freeways, traffic and the almighty car. Thus, it seemed fitting to set off on Independence Day.

In a time where a family can make a whole trip out of just visiting the Disneyland resort, and attractions are often fine-tuned operations that run with high levels of precision in order to maximize the guest experience, it is easy to miss the humble roadside attractions–many of which are relics of days gone by when they littered the highways of America to provide entertainment to weary travelers making their way across the country by car. I have always been fascinated by these old museums, oversized statues and roadside oddities. These are the places that really tell the story of this country, and they are often run by some of the most fascinating and dedicated people I have ever met on my travels. I think Neil Gaiman is onto something in American Gods, when he points out that roadside attractions are some of the most sacred spots in the U.S.

I have often felt the pull of a sign that notes a historical site or a billboard announcing some strange artifact. It is in these places that we find the stories that weave together into defining American culture. We are more than flashy, high tech attractions–such places may be entertaining, but they really do not even break the surface of our histories. Americans often lament that we have no unique culture, but I disagree with this. Our culture and our history can be found if you look in the right places. Our real stories are found in the dusty roadside oddities and the people who care for them. And if this trip was truly going to be a reset for us after the difficult couple months we had just experienced, it was going to have to involve some interesting stops along the way.

Our first overnight was in Flagstaff, Arizona with a stop for dinner with Tim’s awesome Uncle Mel and Aunt Marcia just outside of Phoenix. On our way there, I decided to test out the Roadside America app, which immediately proved that it was worth every penny I spent on it. As we drove along the 10 East, I tried out the “Near Me” feature on the app and saw a listing for “Naked Bookstore Owner.” I turned to Tim and said, “Oh, we have to go here.” Then I proceeded to give him directions to Reader’s Oasis in Quartzsite, Arizona, a dusty used bookstore just off the 10 in the middle of the desert. The store lacks air conditioning, but there are fans and the owner is generous with offers of ice water while you browse.  There are shelves stacked high with books that wind all over in a strange desert labyrinth that any reader would celebrate getting lost in. A trailer sticks out of the front of the store, which provides even more space for books.

Reader’s Oasis  is run by Paul Winer, also known as Sweetie Pie. Paul is a bit of a legend, and he has been running the bookstore in Quartzite for more than 20 years. A quick Google search will turn up a number of pictures and stories about this unusual man who freely welcomes visitors to take his picture. My first introduction to Paul was walking around a shelf filled with old volumes covered in plastic to keep the desert dust from filling the pages. There was Paul’s very tanned, bare butt as he bent over a stack of books he was stocking on a shelf that he later told us had tragically collapsed that morning. I have been in a lot of bookstores, and I have to see that this was the first time I had encountered such a view.

Once you get over the fact that Paul is wearing no more than a hat, flip flops and a strategically placed pouch, he’s really a nice and interesting guy. He is an accomplished blues musician and has a piano in his store. We had a nice talk with him about the purpose of our trip and a touching conversation about the difficulties of losing a parent and grief in general. Paul is a one-of-a-kind bookseller, and I highly recommend taking the time to visit him out in Quartzsite if your travels take you that way.

Our drive on the first day also took us by the Hobo Joe statue, which was a bit off the highway but worth a stop for a quick picture in the 100+ degree heat. We followed the directions to the address for Hobo Joe and were about to turn back because we ended up turning down a lonely, desolate road in an industrial area, but suddenly he popped up as we made our way down the street. Hobo Joe is 25-feet tall and stands in front of a slaughterhouse. He was meant to stand in front of a Hobo Joe Coffee Shop, but the chain closed, and a friend of the deceased owner gave Hobo Joe a home in this spot in 1989. If you have the hobo spirit in you, throw a bindle over your shoulder and take a detour to meet Hobo Joe.

The next day, we drove on to visit friends in Antonito, Colorado, a drive that included a stop at the Bicentennial Moon Tree in Flagstaff, Arizona–a tree that was supposedly grown from seeds that had been to the moon. The story goes that someone pulled out the original tree out of the ground three days after it was planted in April 1976. The faded, old sign for the tree is still there as well as the replacement tree (from non-moon seeds), and it sits on the edge of a beautiful pond. Go visit to remember the moon tree that once was, and let your imagination take over and pretend that the stunted tree that grows there now came from seeds that had journeyed to the moon.

On the drive to Antonito, we also visited the Meteor Crater outside of Winslow, Arizona. The crater was formed approximately 50,000 years ago and is nearly one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and over 550 feet deep. There is a museum that contains exhibits on the space program and meteors. The crater was used as a training ground for astronauts preparing to travel to the moon, so it has a strong link to the history of American space travel. As the daughter of two people who met while working as computer programmers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, this place was a real treat.

When I was in the passenger seat, I had started going through the app and looking at attractions on our route. I kept saving the ones I wanted to see, and it became a game to mark things as “Been There.” As the rest of the country was getting hooked on Pokemon Go, I was creating my own little Roadside Attractions scavenger hunt.

I have travelled in the U.S., but aside from numerous west coast road trips, all my travels in the U.S. involved air travel. Seeing the U.S. form the car with the option of  stopping to see fun and quirky pieces of Americana really gave me a version of the country that hopping around by plane doesn’t provide.

Our friends Earl and Louise in Antonito drove us around the town, which had a population of 781 as of the 2010 census. The town boasts several interesting landmarks, including the house that was used as Indiana Jones’s childhood home in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as a junk castle built by a man named Cano. Cano calls it Jesus’s Castle, and he claims that Jesus has been living there since 1987. We just drove by, and this is a private residence, so I didn’t take pictures. You can follow the link above to read more about Cano’s story and to see pictures from when the Roadside America people visited the castle and talked to Cano himself.

We had a relaxing couple days with our friends in Antonito before hitting the road again–a drive that took us through Southern Colorado and across Kansas before settling in Junction City for the night. A number of people had told me that parts of the drive would be long and flat. As a California girl who grew up in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the flat, open spaces that stretched for miles and miles were a bit jarring. It finally dawned on me that when you grow up in a place with varied geography and plenty of mountain ranges in the distance, there is always some sense that there is more and that there are all kinds of things over the mountains. With the flatness of the Midwest, especially when out in rural areas, the fields just seem to stretch out forever as though that is all the world is made up of.

Somewhere on the road between Antonito, CO & Junction City, KS

Somewhere on the road between Antonito, CO & Junction City, KS

Now, I don’t want you to think I don’t like the Midwest because of this. There are actually quite a few things to like about the middle of America, which I will elaborate on in my next post. I just need to admit that I am spoiled by living in California when it comes to the view. I don’t think our geography can be beat, and it sets the bar quite high.

Our drive from Junction City to Bushnell, Illinois included a stop at the General John J. Pershing Boyhood Home in Laclede, Missouri. Tim’s last name is Pershing, and the General is a distant relation of his, so I knew we had to make a stop.  The site includes the home, a schoolhouse and museum. Perhaps the most interesting bit of history for me was General Pershing’s connection to the Patton family. My great-grandmother Ellen Dyer Stephens was the cook for the parents of General George Patton for years in San Marino, California. Even after she stopped working for the family, she maintained a good relationship with them, and they helped pay for a private room and nurse for my grandma when she broke her hip tobogganing at age 19.  I even found General Patton’s sister’s name in the guest book for my grandma’s bridal shower. At the museum, I learned that General Pershing had a brief relationship with General Patton’s sister Nita. It’s just a reminder that even when traveling thousands of miles, you find that the world is indeed a small place.

So, I am going to leave off here for this post and pick up this story in my next post. If you want to know what is happening in the pictures below, be sure to visit my blog later this month. And, of course, you will hear the story of the shoes made of human skin in Wyoming. You may even be treated to tales of ham salad. Don’t miss out!

For anyone planning a road trip, I highly recommend the Roadside America app. I am not being paid to endorse their app or website; I am just a huge fun. I opted for the full version (includes attractions in the U.S. and Canada) at $8.98–less than what you would pay for most travel books. You can get just one region for $2.99 if you don’t want the full version, but I would recommend getting all of it to inspire future travels. 

Pictures at Reader’s Oasis, me at the Meteor Crater and the horses in Antonito were taken by Tim Pershing. All other photos are by me.

Bookstore Adventures in Reno, NV

Sundance b&w shelves

When you think of Reno, Nevada, images of casinos and the iconic “The Biggest Little City in the World” sign probably spring to mind. In fact, you may be wondering, “Reno? Isn’t that by Las Vegas?” Actually, it’s not, and my friends from Nevada get annoyed by this question almost as much as hearing the name of their state pronounced Nev-ah-da. Regardless of how you view the biggest little city, charming bookstores probably are not the first things you think of when you hear Reno. But you would be surprised. On a recent visit to Reno, I had the chance to spend an afternoon visiting two wonderful bookstores.

My afternoon started with a stop at Sundance Books & Music, which is located in the Levy Mansion on the corner of Sierra Street and California Avenue. Yes, you read that correctly: it’s in a mansion. This means that all the different sections are stashed away in their own rooms. The place is full of cozy nooks and crannies and comfortable chairs waiting for a reader to curl up with the perfect book. Sundance offers a wide variety of books, and the store is so lovingly put together that the books and items available for sale appear to be carefully curated. Walking up the stairs brings you up close to a dragon, and bookish quotes take up space on the walls. To top it all off, the staff is friendly. This is a place I will make sure to visit every time I find myself in Reno.

If you have time, stop by the Nevada Museum of Art, which is around the corner from Sundance. On a past trip I saw their exhibit of some of Frida Kahlo’s photographs. If you visit, be sure to make it to the top floor for an amazing view of the city.

My next stop was Grassroots Books, which is an excellent place for used books. My Reno friends tell me that Grassroots has an ever-changing stock of books, so it is a good place to visit regularly to stock up on some inexpensive used finds. There are a lot of shelves to browse, and while I was there, I could see that they were doing a steady trade in both buying and selling used books. Grassroots is a good place to give your old books a new home if you are cleaning your own bookshelves. Just as with Sundance, the staff at Grassroots is friendly. This is another place that I will be adding to my regular rotation on my visits to Reno.

If you happen to be in the Reno area this week, there is still time to check out the Friends of Washoe County Libraries book sale, which is happening through May 22 at the Reno Town Mall. The sale is from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and it concludes with Sunday, May 22 giving shoppers the chance to pay $5 for a bag of books.

Happy reading!

Bookstore Tour–South Orange County, California

Along with finding the closest grocery store and ATM, moving to a new area also means finding all the bookstores. Shortly after my move to Orange County, I started making a list of bookstores to visit. I narrowed the list down to three and planned a small bookstore tour on a recent afternoon. Armed with a Joni Mitchell CD and an iced latte, I hit the road for San Clemente, and my first stop, Village Book Exchange.

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In the same way that the scent of warm bread can coax one into a bakery, the smell of old books drifting out to the sidewalk is something no reader can resist. Village Book Exchange offers both new and used books, and they even have a store cat to watch over all of it. Wander around shelves well stocked with a good selection of books, and then get comfy in one of the reading chairs scattered throughout the store.  This store is in a great location that is perfect for grabbing a book and heading to the nearby beach for a few hours of reading by the water. The staff are friendly too and ready to offer a recommendation. I ended up buying a nicely used copy of Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. It’s a book that’s been on my to-read list for a long time.

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I then drove north along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Laguna Beach Books. Even though this is a small store, they have a good selection of new books, notebooks and gifts for your favorite reader. With a location right on PCH and a quick walk to the ocean, it’s no surprise that the staff are happy and helpful. I bought Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. The bookseller told me she really enjoyed the book.

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I finished up my bookstore tour with a stop at The Book Corral in Laguna Hills. This place has great deals on used books. I walked out with a hardback copy of Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual for only $5. As someone who doesn’t own an ereader, I loved their “Books Without Batteries” sign in the window. I love used books because their worn covers and dog eared pages tell a story about their previous owner, and this store has plenty of good books like this.

In a time when small, independent bookstores are closing due to competition with online retailers and big box stores, it is nice to find some that are still surviving. Ordering online will never replace the experience of browsing the shelves and letting a book find you. These are not the only three bookstores in the Orange County area, and I plan to visit others in the near future. Feel free to leave recommendations of your favorite bookstores in the comments.

Click on book titles in this post to find these books at Laguna Beach Books, or visit your favorite bookstore or library.

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Books as Art

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When a friend tells you about a bookstore she wants to go to that includes such features as a tunnel of books, you drop everything and free up a few hours on your calendar as soon as possible. Such was the case when a couple friends from my book group mentioned that they wanted to go to the Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles. None of us had been there before, so the three of us made plans to meet up there last weekend.

As you will see, this post is going to be more about the pictures than the words because the Last Bookstore is a visual feast for readers. Those of us who love reading often find ourselves staring down at the pages in front of us, but this is the kind of place that begs you to tear your eyes away from the book in your hands and look at the way books can be art. One of my friends even commented that it was hard to browse for books because she was so distracted by all the things to look at throughout the store.

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Much of the inventory is made up of used books and records. Even though there are clear sections by genre in the downstairs area, I think it would be a challenge to show up at the Last Bookstore with a specific book in mind. It’s the kind of place where a book finds you rather than being the kind of store where you go to find a book on your list. This is precisely what makes this place feel magical.

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I must admit that I sometimes see art made from books and feel a bit of sadness that those books can’t be read like a book normally would be. Those books had to be taken apart to make that art, but there is also a certain kind of beauty in books being repurposed into art. Being at the Last Bookstore and discussing this topic with one of my friends helped me see that. It’s as though the art becomes a new way to read an old story.

The upstairs part of the store includes small shops for local artists and the Labyrinth of Books. Although the lack of organization in the Labyrinth may drive some crazy, I quite enjoyed the varied selection from shelf to shelf. Some shelves are organized by color, and some are just a random assortment of books. Did I mention there is a section in the Labyrinth where books are $1 each?

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Walking around upstairs made me forget the rush of people walking around the Downtown LA streets on a Saturday afternoon. This bookstore looked like a place out of a book. Here dusty books and squishy, old chairs were right at home and welcome. The shelves were filled with books that felt like the kinds of places Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next could go–places one could walk into and get wonderfully lost for days. I’m pretty sure that if a hopeful reader were to walk through the tunnel of books in the right state of mind, perhaps she could find herself transported to any fictional world she wanted to visit.

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I managed to leave the store with a few books that caught my attention, including an interesting find called The Serial that was on a shelf in the $1 room. You can see the cover below. The story and illustrations inside are every bit as awesome as you think they would be. This book needs to be judged by its cover. If you are curious about the book, it has its own Wikipedia entry. I’m looking forward to flipping through its pages with a glass of cheap wine on a rainy night in the near future.

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The Last Bookstore first opened in 2005. It is a new store in a time when news of bookstore closures is far more common than news of openings. Perhaps its success lies in the way it creates an experience of browsing without a real clear idea of what the browsing reader wants to find. With more and more bookstores closing, it seems we are losing the old experience of happening upon an interesting book in the course of perusing a store’s shelves. Online browsing just isn’t the same as scanning shelves and grabbing a book that catches your eye.

If you live in the LA area or are planning a visit, make sure to schedule some time for a stop at the Last Bookstore. Allow a few hours because this is not the kind of place you should rush through.

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Road Tripping & Tessering Through California, Nevada and Oregon

There’s something that puts my mind at ease about being on the open road. I will fly when I need to, but I find that security checks, long lines and baggage claim get in the way of enjoying the experience of the journey. I had been looking forward to my latest trip since we started planning it a few months ago. My favorite road buddy Tim Pershing and I set out on a Saturday morning for an adventure that would take us to Reno, Ashland, Napa and points in between.

The drive to Reno meant trekking up the 395 and through Bishop, CA. Tim wrote about a recent drive on this highway last month in the Reno Gazette-Journal. We had lunch at Jack’s (as we have on previous trips through Bishop) and then visited Spellbinder Books, a gem at the foot of the Eastern Sierra Nevada. Be sure to check out their local section for some interesting books on the region. I picked up No Rooms of Their Own: Women Writers of Early California, 1849-1869 edited by Ida Rae Egli.

After a visit with some friends in the Reno, NV area, we hit the road for Ashland, OR. Even though small, independent bookstores seem to be disappearing, several have managed to survive in Ashland. Our first stop was Bloomsbury Books—a good place to pick up Shakespeare related books and items.

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Shakespeare Books & Antiques had a whole bookcase dedicated to banned books, which included quite a few of my favorites. It is just a reminder that I need to be reading more banned books. Where there is controversy, there is often a good story.

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We also visited Antiquarium Books & Antiques, where every shelf, nook and wall was filled with bits of the past. This is the kind of place where a mannequin hand could be at peace resting on an old copy of The Paris Review and a typewriter. To walk through the tight pathways of books, rusty tins, knick-knacks, faded furniture and dusty magazines was truly like travelling back in time.

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Our main reason for visiting Ashland was seeing a stage adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, which was part of the 2014 season of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF). The OSF staging of this book seemed to be for people like me who fell in love with the story as a child. The experience of reading the book is as much a character in the play as Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin are. Throughout the production, characters are on stage reading from copies of the text. One of the most present readers is a girl who at times works on a science experiment on stage right. She and the other readers serve as our gateway into this story in that they take us into the action at the place we first entered it when reading the book. It is a place where the words on the page meet our imagination and where bed sheets can form the wings of a centaur-like creature. It also allows us, for a brief moment, to believe that the concept of traveling through space and time by tessering seems like a real possibility.

The set was minimal, making the play somewhat conceptual in that it asked the audience to supply their imagination to fill in gaps. The effect meant that at times I felt like I was reading instead of seeing a play. The OSF interpretation of the story was a reminder of why I love L’Engle’s book so much, and I highly recommend it to anyone who feels the same way about the original text.

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While you are in Ashland for the theatre scene and bookstores, make the drive north to Central Point to visit Rogue Creamery. We bought some Echo Mountain Blue Cheese. All other blues pale in comparison to this amazing cheese, and it went quite nicely with the wine we bought next door at Ledger David Cellars. The two businesses share a parking lot with Lillie Belle Farms Chocolate Shop. I find the idea of eating chocolate to be as appetizing as devouring a bowl of dirt, so this obviously is not my kind of store (I’ll give you a moment to get over your shock of someone hating chocolate), but I know many of my chocophile friends would think this place was heaven with its cases of beautiful handmade chocolates and friendly staff. They even have Smokey Blue Cheese Truffles made with cheese from Rogue Creamery.

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Our trip finished with a stop in Napa for a few days before we made the drive back to Los Angeles. The highlight of our stay in Napa was a visit to Kasten Family Wines, which is owned by some fellow California Lutheran University alumni. This winery grew out of their love for winemaking, and that shows in the quality and richness of their wines.

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It was hard to return, knowing that meetings, blog posts and presentation preparation were waiting for us when we got back to LA. But we are back at work, so we can earn the money to feed the travel addiction. I have already picked out the plays I want to see during the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s 2015 season, so perhaps another trip to Ashland isn’t too far off.