Friday, July 16, 2010

Go While You Still Can

(photo from

If you have any interest in books whatsoever, and if you're anywhere near Berkeley, or if you have some vacation time you haven't allocated yet, you really shouldn't miss Serendipity Books.

C.S. and I stumbled upon it purely by . . . well . . . serendipity when we were in Berkeley a few years back. Our conversation in the car went something like this:

J.G.: Oh, wait, stop, there's another one!

C.S.: Nah, that's nothing but a head shop.

J.G.: Well, it says "used books." We should stop.

C.S.: Probably a waste of time. But, okay, if you insist.

(a few minutes later)

J.G. and C.S. in unison: Oh. My. God. This is the greatest bookstore ever!

After that, we just said "Wow" about a thousand times.

We were lucky enough that the proprietor himself decided to show us a few things. C.S. was looking for Nelson Algren books and Howard took us to a whole section of his works. Many were "signed" with Algren's distinctive cat drawings. They were all just there on the shelves to be taken down and perused. No locks, no keys, no glass cases.

In fact, I remember that one side of the building, or maybe one of the connected buildings that make up the store (once you get inside, all orientation to space and time slips away, and you're simply wandering a maze of books on shelves that reach to the ceiling, high above your head), had a roll-up door on it and in that corner there were little sticks and leaves that had blown in through a little gap at the edge of the door. This sounds kind of icky but it was completely charming. It certainly added to the sense of unreality created by this fabulous place. If I ever get to wander around in my own unconscious, this is what it will be like.

Anyway, Howard has been diagnosed with cancer and the future of this marvellous collection is uncertain. C.S. is going back to San Francisco later this summer and is hoping he can make it to Berkeley in time.

Here's a nice story about it that gives an accurate picture of the situation and the treasures that are going to disappear soon from their assembled place at Serendipity: BerkeleySide story. Another good article is available at Americana Exchange.

Get there if you can.


  1. What a wonderful bookstore. It would be a shame to see it go. We had a similiar fate to a beloved children's bookstore in our town. I think the entire town cried when the bookstore closed.

  2. Oh, it looks wonderful! I hope the bookstore is saved--places like this are treasures.

  3. Looks fabulous. It's a place where I could get lost.


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