Arts Listings

Life After Cody’s for Local Booksellers and Readers

By Joe Eaton
Tuesday August 21, 2007

Yes, we still miss Cody’s on Telegraph. The whole bookstore scene remains precarious. Black Oak has retrenched, and the future of its Berkeley store appears uncertain. Even the big chains aren’t immune, as witness the fate of the Shattuck Avenue Barnes & Noble.  

But some bookbuyers are still keeping the independents alive. Berkeley is home to a whole constellation of bookstores, generalist and specialist, used and new, with something for just about everyone—and then there’s Oakland and San Francisco. 

Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph) alone still justifies a visit to the block where Cody’s used to be. This Berkeley institution, the creation of the late Moe Moskowitz, whose cigar-chomping likeness is prominently displayed, remains the used-book Mecca. Moe’s prices are reasonable, and the stock is always changing (they often buy personal libraries, and reviewers’ copies of new hardbacks show up regularly). There are new titles downstairs at a discount, rarities and collectables on the fourth floor, and remainders throughout. 

Also worth cruising for used books is Black Oak (1491 Shattuck), although prices are a bit on the high side; watch for readings and other author events. Half Price Books (2036 Shattuck), part of an Austin-based chain, is a crapshoot, but I’ve found some real bargains there. Pegasus (1855 Solano), Pegasus Downtown (2349 Shattuck), and Pendragon (5560 College, in Oakland) make up a local mini-chain; mostly used, with a good stock of remainders and notable first-of-the-year calendar sales.  

The Friends of the Berkeley Public Library store (one location in the main library at 2090 Kittredge; another at 2433 Channing, hidden in the ground floor of a parking garage off Telegraph) is another place where almost anything may turn up, and astonishingly cheap. 

But if you’re willing to spring for new-book prices, there are lots of options. The Fourth Street Cody’s (1730 Fourth Street) is still around. University Press Books (2430 Bancroft) is just what it says it is, with a few titles from non-academic presses. It might be just the place to find that specialized tome on Byzantine hermeneutics. Mrs. Dalloway’s (2904 College) has strong gardening, poetry, and natural history sections, a choice selection of general titles, and its own author events—as does Diesel (5433 College, Oakland). Builder’s Booksource (1817 Fourth Street) specializes in architecture and design, with an impressive gardening section. 

Other Berkeley and Oakland stores reflect the East Bay’s cultural diversity: Marcus Books (3900 Martin Luther King) for African-American history, culture, and literature; Change Makers (6536 Telegraph, Oakland) for feminist books; Eastwind (2066 University) for Asian and Asian-American subjects; Afikomen (3042 Claremont) for Jewish-interest books. Although not a bookstore per se, the Spanish Table (1814 San Pablo) sells cookbooks and other works on Iberian and Latin American culture. 

You can buy legal advice in handy book form at the Nolo Press store (950 Parker). For jazz aficionados, the The Basement @ JazzSchool (2087 Addison) purveys books and records. Down Home Music (10341 San Pablo, El Cerrito, and now on Fourth Street, too) has an extensive book section. Mr. Mopps (1405 Martin Luther King) has books for children. And don’t forget genre fiction: for science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mystery, as well as plush Cthulus and Monty Python action figures, there’s Dark Carnival (3086 Claremont) and Other Change of Hobbit (2020 Shattuck). 

Reflecting a certain ambivalence, Walden Pond (3316 Grand) calls itself “a Berkeley bookstore in Oakland.” It has one of the East Bay’s best selections of new political/cultural titles, many from independent publishers, in addition to used books. Other Oakland used-book outlets include Spectator (4163 Piedmont), Black Swan (4236 Piedmont), and Bibliomania (1816 Telegraph). The Friends of the Oakland Public Library run their own store, the Bookmark (721 Washington). For new books, try the Book Tree and A Great Good Place of Books in Montclair (both on LaSalle Avenue) and Laurel Bookstore in, where else, the Laurel District (4100 MacArthur).  

Across the bay, San Francisco’s answer to Moe’s is Green Apple (506 Clement), a labyrinthine warren of mostly used books; the new stuff is downstairs. Kerouac and Ginsberg fans will want to make a pilgrimage to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books (261 Columbus). Modern Times (888 Valencia) works the political side of the street. For a Chaplin trifecta, Limelight (1803 Market) specializes in the theater arts. Alexander Books (50 2nd Street) has strong African-American literature and poetry sections. Kinokuniya (1581 Webster, in the Nihonmachi Center) offers Japanese titles in both Japanese and English. In the Mission, Dog Eared Books (900 Valencia) and Needles and Pens (3253 16th) showcase zines and independent publications, and Borderlands (866 Valencia) covers science fiction and related genres. And old reliable Stacey’s is still downtown (581 Market).  

This just scratches the surface, of course. There are noteworthy independent bookstores on the Peninsula (Kepler’s, back from the grave!), east of the Caldecott Tunnel (Bonanza Street Books in Walnut Creek), and north of the Golden Gate. The obituaries for the non-chain brick-and-mortar bookseller may be premature. But for God’s sake, get out there and buy some books!