Pre-Viously Loved Books

Since Borders has closed most of its stores in the Bay Area, that leaves those of us, who still appreciate the feel of a real book in our hands, with the option of the second-hand bookshop. There’s two worthy of note: Bibliohead in San Francisco ( and Half-Price Books in Berkeley and Fremont (

Melissa, the owner of Bibliohead, is an avid reader and knows her books. I’ve asked her on several occasions to recommend a book in a genre I like and she hasn’t disappointed me yet. I came home this week with two stories: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Fatal Remedies by Donna Leon.

Biliohead is small, intimate and crammed with good titles for the buyer looking for literature, mysteries, poetry, and music and dance, it’s specialty. Half-Price is larger in space with books that include science, computers, and religion besides literature and mysteries. You’re more on your own there, but you’ll find what you like.

If you’re the adventurous type, and you don’t mind chaos, visit Serendipity Books in Berkeley ( It specializes in poetry, first editions and wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling books. As soon as you’re in the front door, watch your step because books are everywhere. And then you’ll meet Peter, the owner, sitting in a grand chair surveying his kingdom of titles.

“I’m looking for poetry by Billy Collins, first editions,” I say.

“Go straight past Literature on your right, then take another right past Drama, then up a flight of stairs, make a left, through the doorway, watch your head there, and go straight through past the kitchen, and in the back, you’ll find Poetry.”

Good luck.

Calvins says, “Looking for a good book is like digging up an old bone. It’s worth kicking up some dirt.”

What Are You Looking For?

Last night I browsed in an independent bookshop. I think it’s the last one left in San Francisco ( You know the kind. Hardwood floors. Well lit. Wood tables stacked high with literature. Yes, literature. Not the latest mass produced drivel. Titles that beckon your attention. Books with a distinct voice. Intelligent writing. Compelling stories. Just breathing the air made you smarter.

“What are you looking for?” asked the saleswoman. She was a woman in her fifties with short, dark hair, and a few wrinkles around her eyes.

“I’m looking for something well written, with charm, wit, and a story worthy of my time and money,” I said waiting to see a blank stare cross her face.

“Come with me,” she said. “Do you like mysteries?”

“Yes. British. Women protagonists,” I said.

Before I knew it I had a book in my hand, by an author who was new to me, that bore the marks of a decent read. “She’s smart and her stories have depth,” the saleswoman said. Clearly she was a reader.

She rang me up. I thanked her for the personal attention. And I’d be back to let her know how I liked the book.

I made my way to the front door. The blue computer screen on the counter stared at me unblinkingly.

Calvin says, “I love the personal touch. It’s like getting scratched behind your ears.”