21 June 2008

It's hot. As I was in the neighborhood, stopped in Black Oak Books in north Berkeley. Black Oak has always had a different idea from me about the value of used books. In their poetry section I've always found steeply priced out-of-print chapbooks and slim volumes by Conrad Aiken, Gary Snyder, Robert Bly and the like. Who are those for? (I don't know.) But then today I found Bernadette Mayer's Midwinter Day, Barrett Watten's Decay, and Nicanor Parra's Emergency Poems all told 20 and tax. (Mayer's is the only title in print, and that they priced a near fine used copy below the conventional—Berkeley's and Black Oak's—60% of list is frankly frightening.)

Re the now actual death of Cody's: Berkeley could have used a new bookstore of such a size at such a location, smartly stocked. Sometimes the worst thing you can say about a bookstore is, "In business since 19XX." Because bookstores aren't brands. They are one or two or seven passionate, obsessive bibliophiles with excellent taste, intelligence, and mortality. In a dream, a new new bookstore would open in Berkeley. Remember that old song, "Your Legacy Is Killing Me"? For my scratch, the long-lived Berkeley general bookstore that's had and has maintained the very best method of operating is Moe's. All else is pretty good + endurance + no new newcomers.

9 RIDERS:

At 21 June, 2008 18:37, Blogger Barbara Jane Reyes said...

Re: Cody's, this is really disappointing. And I think you are right about Moe's.

 
At 21 June, 2008 18:42, Blogger LM Rivera said...

Moe's is great. I wish Book Zoo was getting more support than they are able to get. I am moving right next to Black Oaks so I will know more about their selection process once I am there. I have found some jewels there in the past.

 
At 21 June, 2008 23:24, Blogger CLAY BANES said...

I tried to visit Book Zoo on Wednesday and learnt they're now only open Thursday through Sunday, 4—10 or 11. Less time to help them out.

 
At 22 June, 2008 08:48, Blogger Steven Fama said...

A bookstore is one or a few bibliophiles, yes, but who also, I must observe, (1) can do customer service like Nordstroms; and (2) know well the ins and outs of Schedule C and all other bedrock business principles and can stomach charging 10 bucks for something that cost 10 cents.

I have no trouble with those who do all this well; in fact, I salute them.

Even with all that, stores that sell only new books and are not specialy marketeers (see that builder's book store on Berkeley's 4th Street) probably are doomed.

 
At 22 June, 2008 09:24, Blogger CLAY BANES said...

Two specialty marketeers I neglected to mention: Comic Relief (comics and graphic novels) and Other Change of Hobbit (new and used science fiction and fantasy). By all reports they are excellent and doing well.

I'd been hopeful before the new Cody's opened, as they'd put out word promising focus and a move away from a general inventory. Yet the short-lived store offered only a smaller version of the most obvious kind of stock, bestsellers and leftover bestsellers, buttressed by their name and an exhausting events schedule.

 
At 22 June, 2008 16:29, Blogger koakes said...

I finally went in there about two weeks ago and was dismayed. The stock was spotty, the store looked prefab and impersonal (a problem it brought from 4th Street), and the customer service was dismal, though seeing as that they may have known the end was near, I can understand that. If Downtown wants to be the new Telegraph, it needs to take its commitment to arts beyond theatre and make operating a bookstore tenable. Black Oak, by the way, has always been clueless about poetry.

At one point in time, Berkeley had no less than five different record stores and at least that many bookstores on Telegraph alone. Downloading's changed that too, but from my perspective, what we're really seeing is a cultural shift in the way people read. And new books are simply too expensive these days.

 
At 22 June, 2008 20:07, Blogger Steven Fama said...

" . . . what we're really seeing is a cultural shift in the way people read."

Yes, and aliteracy (yes, aliteracy, not illiteracy) is a HUGE part of that, sadly.

 
At 24 June, 2008 12:58, Blogger Glenn Ingersoll said...

You don't even mention the new poetry section at Black Oak. Out of discretion? Pity?

Looking at the shelves devoted to new books there are many shelves that are empty or comprised of all face-out books. I'm not just talking about poetry (though there it's painfully obvious). So I suspect Black Oak is operating pretty close to the edge, not believing themselves able to afford to invest in much new inventory.

 
At 24 June, 2008 16:11, Blogger CLAY BANES said...

Boredom. I was in one time post Cody's on Telegraph closing, probably late 06, and Black Oak's New Poetry (along with all their other new titles) had expanded, like on steroids. Yet apart from some Wesleyan titles (e.g. Spicer's lectures), it was dismally how: I counted 17 Rilke titles, 6 H.D.; nary a title from SPD. Nauseating binge spending, moneymoneymoney. (Hint: don't let anybody treble a section who doesn't know what he/she is doing.) (Or maybe they did?)

Then I was in last year, after they'd made all the press announcing their lease was up in June 07 and they were looking for a buyer, naturally the New Poetry was pared down to normal/expendable.

I make my creme brulee with matches and burn my fingers.

 

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