If you were to ask me which bookstores are my favorites, my initial response would be the beloved African American-owned bookstores I've had the pleasure of patronizing over the years-- Marcus Books (Oakland and San Francisco), The Hue-Man Experience (Denver), underground books (Sacramento). If you gave me more time to think, then I would begin to include those independently-owned bookstores, some with us, some gone, with the moxie to think beyond the New York Times bestseller's list and discover and encourage new voices -- Book Passage (San Francisco), Alexander Book Company (San Francisco), Cody's Books (Berkeley - Gone), Kepler's (Palo Alto), The Avid Reader (Sacramento), A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books (San Francisco - Gone), Square Books (Oxford, Mississippi). These bookstores would then lead me to think of all the tiny shoebox-sized bookstores I patronized as a college foreign student in and around the Plaza Mayor in Salamanca, Spain, where there was no "college bookstore." Elderly mom-and-pop owners climbed ladders to reach shelves rising up to the rafters to encourage my "discovery" -- as a foreign student -- of celebrated Spanish authors I had been assigned to read. "Estas leyendo La Colmena por Camilo Jose Cela? Bueno, pues, tienes que leer La Familia de Pascual Duarte." ("You're reading La Colmena by Camilo Jose Cela? Well, then, you have to read La Familia de Pascual Duarte.") Having declared as a matter of cultural fiat that I MUST read another of Camilo Jose Cela's works, up these elderly owners would go on their ladders, cheerfully like Santa up a chimney, to retrieve this other work by an author heretofore unknown to me, a foreigner, for my personal edification -- so that I would truly know this author and his work. They weren't trying to just sell books. They were trying to share a world.
So if you asked me which bookstores are my favorites, and you gave me time enough to think about the answer, I'd tell you: Any where there is passion for books. Not sales; books. Where the people who are selling you books aren't just collecting a paycheck and moving product, but opening windows to worlds you as a reader didn't even know existed. Those are my favorite bookstores.