Press Releases

Berkeley Is Still a Great Bookstore Town

By Joe Eaton, Special to the Planet
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 11:25:00 AM
The venerable Moe's Books on Telegraph Avenue boasts four floors of new and used books.
Richard Brenneman
The venerable Moe's Books on Telegraph Avenue boasts four floors of new and used books.

The saga of Cody’s Books finally ended this year when its Fourth Street store (last survivor of a series of venues that started north of the UC Campus 50 years ago, moved to Telegraph for several decades and was briefly in San Francisco’s Union Square) moved to a smaller space on Shattuck Avenue, then closed for good. It’s ironic that this followed the closure of Barnes & Noble’s Shattuck outlet by less than a year. Clearly, both the independents and chains are hurting. But the East Bay still has much to offer those of us who prefer to buy from brick-and-mortar retailers: a whole constellation of bookstores, generalist and specialist, used and new, with something for just about everyone. 

Mrs. Dalloway’s (2904 College Ave.) has strong gardening, poetry, and natural history sections, a choice selection of general titles, and frequent author events; speakers have included Michael Pollan and California poet laureate Kay Ryan. University Press Books (2430 Bancroft Way) 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. Builder’s Booksource (1817 Fourth St.) specializes in architecture and design, with an impressive gardening section. Analog Books (1816 Euclid Ave.) continues the Northside bookselling tradition that began with Cody’s. The UC bookstore, downstairs in the student union building on Bancroft, is also worth a visit even if you’re not a student. 

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

In Oakland’s Rockridge district, Diesel (5433 College Ave.) features new titles and author events. Also for new books, try the Book Tree and the oddly named A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair (both on LaSalle Avenue) and Laurel Bookstore in, where else, the Laurel District (4100 MacArthur Blvd.). Alameda has a branch of Books Inc (1344 Park St.). 

Other Berkeley and Oakland stores reflect the East Bay’s cultural diversity: Rebecca’s Books at 3268 Adeline for African-American books, especially poetry; Marcus Books (3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way) for African-American history, culture, and literature; Eastwind (2066 University Ave.) for Asian and Asian-American subjects; Afikomen (3042 Claremont Ave.) for Jewish-interest books. Although not a bookstore per se, the Spanish Table (1814 San Pablo Ave.) sells cookbooks and other works on Iberian and Latin American culture. 

For both new and used books, Moe’s Books (2476 Telegraph Ave.) alone 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, rarities and collectables on the fourth floor, and remainders throughout. 

Black Oak (1491 Shattuck Ave.), which recently changed hands, still offers both new and used books, although it looks as if the current owners plan to deemphasize the used side. The place looks much the same as it did before except for the absence of the front-door turnstile, some realigned tables and vacant shelves, and the exile of the poetry section to the back room. 

Among other used-book outlets, Half Price Books (2036 Shattuck Ave.), part of an Austin-based chain, is a crapshoot, but I’ve found some real bargains there. Pegasus (1855 Solano Ave.), Pegasus Downtown (2349 Shattuck Ave.), and Pendragon (5560 College Ave., in Oakland’s Rockridge District) make up a local mini-chain; mostly used, with a good stock of remainders and notable first-of-the-year calendar sales. Near Moe’s, there’s Shakespeare & Co. (2499 Telegraph Ave.) and Cartesian (2445 Dwight Way). The Friends of the Berkeley Public Library store (one location in the main library at 2090 Kittredge St; another at 2433 Channing Way, hidden in the ground floor of a parking garage off Telegraph) is another place where almost anything may turn up, and astonishingly cheap. 

Oakland used-book sources include Walden Pond (3316 Grand Ave.), which bills itself as “a Berkeley bookstore in Oakland” and has an interesting selection of political titles. The Book Zoo (6395 Telegraph Ave.), formerly in Berkeley and now just across the border in Oakland, has an eclectic stock and eccentric hours (4-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, earlier on weekends). There’s also Spectator (4163 Piedmont Ave.), Black Swan (4236 Piedmont Ave.), and Bibliomania (1816 Telegraph Ave.). The Friends of the Oakland Public Library run their own store, the Bookmark (721 Washington St.).  

The temptation to buy books online can be hard to resist. But for some of us, those transactions will never replace the thrill of the book hunt: the experience of browsing the physical shelves full of physical books and discovering something we hadn’t known we needed.