Used Bookstore Tour

Lost Horizon Bookstore

Lost Horizon Bookstore

A couple of weeks ago I drove to Southern California. The rest of the family was already there, at a campground, and I drove down to met them. This has become an annual trip these last four  years. The previous three, I rode my bike (at least part of the way). I didn’t have enough time this year. But in keeping with my pattern of theming these trips (“Goldrush Randonee prep,” “SF to LA,” and “Mission Tour Preview”), I decided to theme this the “Used Bookstore Tour.”

Along the way, I stopped at Logos Books in Santa Cruz, an old favorite from college days; Book Haven in Monterey; Phoenix Books in San Luis Obispo;  the Book Den and Lost Horizon Bookstore in Santa Barbara; and Bart’s Books (the cool outdoor bookstore) in Ojai. I was looking specifically for books on California History, and FWIW, Lost Horizon was by far the best. The store had all kinds of books I wanted and just could not quite justify paying for (like a complete set of Crespi’s diary from the first overland excursion to Monterey – in Spanish and English).

All in all, it was really a pleasant way to spend a couple of days.  But what made it a great trip was that I managed to leave enough time  to get in a quick surf session at at Mondo’s (in Ventura County) and afterward to pick up a breakfast burrito at Jim and Rob’s Fresh Grill in Ventura. If I were drinking coffee these days, I could have juiced up at Caffrodite next door . . . but I passed on that this time.

But back to the bookstore part of the tour, I had hoped to stop at a couple in Berkeley. But I had to deliver spare bicycle tires to my friend Rick who was riding down the coast and took a nail through his brand new Gator Skin back tire about three miles into the ride. Pretty much shot my first day running around to get a new tire, drive to San Jose, pick up another of the party riding down the coast, and deliver him, his overloaded bike, and the spare tires to Sunset Beach in Watsonville. But that’s another story.

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Steinbeck and Travels With Charlie

It turns out that Steinbeck’s purportedly nonfiction account of his tour of America circa 1962 in a camper, Travels With Charlie in America, may be largely fiction after all.  Maybe.  But the book has a few lines in the introduction I always liked.  Such as:

“I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment.”

Written like a true man. Or as my Mom used to say about Sonny Crockett in Miami Vice, one of the last real men. And seeing this next line some number of years after I first read it is sobering:

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.”

Right. Fifty-eight. He, or more properly his wife, is worried about traveling alone around the country at fifty-eight years old. And he’s contemplating the onset of senility. Fifty-eight is only six years older than I am now. I wonder if it was different being almost sixty back in the early sixties. Man, I hope so.

Ancillary thought: Do scholars “scholar?” As in “If scholars aren’t concerned about this, what are they scholaring about?”

FWIW more quotes from the book here, here, and here.


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Fiction is Dead

Well, maybe not dead.  But according to Buce, picking up from Tyler at Marginal Revolution, it’s on the skids. That is, they both seem to feel that the quality of fiction is declining while the quality of non-fiction is ascending.  I’m not sure I agree with that. Part of me thinks it’s like saying rock used to be better than it is now. It may be, in an absolute sense. But I suspect that the real reason why I think 1972 was a banner year for albums (Barnstorm, Eat a Peach, Harvest, to name a few) has a lot more to do with where I was at that time than where music was.

At the the same time, there’s this incredible story I read yesterday about how Amanda Hawking, a 26-year old writer from Minnesota with nine self-published books (8 novels and 1 novella), has sold over 900,000 e-books in less than a year. Apparently, the subjects are Teen-oriented Twilight vampire romance variety. And to read some of the negative reviews, her writings do seem to lack things like originality, plot, character development, and grammar. Those seem like pretty basic elements of good fiction, and I’d like to think that’s something most people could generally agree on. But maybe that’s not true anymore. After all, how much music released now has pedal steel guitar?

Still, I’m wondering: The quality of fiction may be on the skids, but thanks to new media distribution, more of that crappy fiction can get out more cheaply and easily to more people, making it cheaper to buy and earning some writers more money than any publishing house could offer them. Is that good or bad news? I’d like to think that new media has given Ms. Hawking a chance she wouldn’t have had otherwise, that she sold what she could to whom she could, and that both parties, or all 900,000 anyway, are happy. I don’t see anything bad about that, so long as I don’t have to read her books.

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