I was set to opt for the simpler heading "California Bookstores," but bookstores are not all created equal. I know this first-hand, having spent several years at an independent bookstore that underwent a series of sea changes. It was a tumultuous time, but when the place "worked", the experience was a joy for both customers and staff. My final year there I had enough seniority to choose Saturday as my day off: I declined, in part because Saturday customers were a treat to serve. People's agendas were looser, they browsed at length, and willingly engaged in conversation that frequently led to large sales. Satisfying work, that.
Bookstores don't require that sort of environment to be worthwhile, but it sure helps. I've found my share of literary delights in Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books, but I'll willingly take the taxi to A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books, just to forego the habitual surliness of City Lights' boho staff in favor of ACWLPFB's professional cheer. More delightful still is Bookshop Santa Cruz. Like City Lights, BSC wears its (anti-Bush) politics on its sleeve; unlike City Lights, BSC staff members seem to enjoy what they do, to the point where they don't mind stocking material with opposing perspectives.
I don't go to bookstores for their politics, though (I mention it only to hammer home the point that there's no good reason why you can't be a disgruntled lefty and still provide cheerful customer service). BSC is a treat because virtually every shelf in the store is flagged with numerous strips of paper with written recommendations by staff members. This is a terrific method for selling books, given that the most avid readers are usually introverts. Besides, it's reading about reading; this tack cannot be over-utilized, and BSC and ACWLPFB put it to good use.
San Jose's Recycle Books doesn't have this practice, but I still manage to buy a dozen books a visit. This is due in no small part to the excellent discretion of the store's buyer; it's also due to the pricing scheme. Paperbacks are typically sold for half their cover price, and hardcovers just a few dollars over that. So if, for example, I see Paul Auster's Leviathan on sale for $7 pbk and $11 hc, I'll usually spend the extra four dollars for the clunkier hardcover.
What this usually requires, of course, is an extra suitcase holding only books. Back-breaking work, these visits, but I wouldn't miss it for anything.
California Delight #3