let me be candid. if i had to rank book-acquisition experiences in order of comfort, ease, and satisfaction, the list would go like this:

  1. the perfect independent bookstore, like pygmalion in berkeley.
  2. a big, bright barnes & noble. i know they’re corporate, but let’s face it — those stores are nice. especially the ones with big couches.
  3. the book aisle at walmart. (it’s next to the potting soil.)
  4. the lending library aboard the u.s.s. west virginia, a nuclear submarine deep beneath the surface of the pacific.
  5. mr. penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore.  (mr. penumbra's 24-hour bookstore, 14)
penumbra sells used books, and they are in such uniformly excellent condition that they might as well be new. he buys them during the day — you can only sell to the man with his name on the windows — and he must be a tough customer. he doesn’t seem to pay much attention to the bestseller lists. his inventory is eclectic; there’s no evidence of pattern or purpose other than, i suppose, his own personal taste. so, no teenage wizards or vampire police here. that’s a shame, because this is exactly the kind of store that makes you want to buy a book about a teenage wizard. this is the kind of store that makes you want to be a teenage wizard. (12)

robin sloan’s mr. penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore (FSG, 2012) might be the obvious book to turn to for quotes on bookstores, but i loved this book, so whatever, here we are, even if the book itself is not featured at all in this post.

i read penumbra in 2014, so maybe it’s a little stupid for me to try to write about it when i’m two years and a hundred-something books removed from it. i may be hazy on the details, but i still remember the delight i felt when reading penumbra — it’s like this rollicking, tech-savvy, book-loving adventure that takes its characters from san francisco to new york city and back, and it’s filled with laughs and unapologetic geekery, whether in the way sloan writes about coding or type or google.

thinking about a book i read so long ago, though — i don’t know about you, but my memory is pretty shit. i don’t necessarily retain everything (or a lot of things) from the books i read, unless i’m writing things down and/or taking notes, and, given that i’ve been averaging roughly 60-some books a year for the last few years, that’s a lot of books to read and essentially forget.

so why read if i’ll just forget?

when i think about books, i mostly recall how i felt when i read them. i might recall specific scenarios or situations in which i read certain books, or i might recall the experience of reading, the emotions i felt, the reactions i had. like, i might not remember all the details of salman rushdie’s joseph anton (random house, 2012), but i distinctly remembering thinking fondly of (and wishing i had) the literary community that flocked around him and protected him while he was under the fatwa. i might not remember all the details of shin kyung-sook’s please look after mom (vintage contemporaries, 2012), but i’ll never forget crying on the shinkansen, in a japanese mcdonald’s and starbucks, in a hostel in fukuoka because i missed my grandmother, because i saw her in those pages. 

like, i might already be losing some of the details of sarah waters’ tipping the velvet (riverhead, 2000), but i’ll never forget how that book twisted me up inside, that heady rush of falling in love and the pain of want. (good lord, tipping the velvet did a number on my heart.)

and this is how we tie this back in with bookstores — because, sometimes, books come to us at certain moments of our lives, and, sometimes, a lot of the times, bookstores are the treasure troves that give. and here’s a small celebration of them.

(heh, this post comes courtesy of:  (01) i take a lot of photos of bookstores; and (02) i’m almost almost almost done with a complete draft of my book, which means that i haven’t been reading that much these days and haven’t been doing much thinking/writing outside of book stuff, so here are photos to fill the silence.)


there is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care. all the secrets in the world worth knowing are hiding in plain sight. it takes forty-one seconds to climb a ladder three stories tall. it’s not easy to imagine the year 3012, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. we have new capabilities now — strange powers we’re still getting used to. the mountains are a message from aldrag the wyrm-father. your life must be an open city, with all sorts of ways to wander in.

after that, the book will fade, the way all books fade in your mind. but i hope you will remember this:

a man walking fast down a dark lonely street. quick steps and hard breathing, all wonder and need. a bell above a door and the tinkle it makes. a clerk and a ladder and warm golden light, and then:  the right book exactly, at exactly the right time. (288)