Downtowne Book Store – Riverside, CA

I  have to admit that when I first heard that my daughter would participated in a dance competition in Riverside, CA, I inwardly groaned.  I grew up about 90 miles from Riverside, but we called it ‘Reeferside,’ a moniker that wasn’t meant as a compliment.  It had been years since my two week work stint when my employer initially tried to house me in a Motel Six knock off until fearing for my safety, I switched to the local Hilton where the staff would forget that my room was rented and walk in during the night.  You can see why I wasn’t excited.

It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised.  There is a lot of down time during a dance competition, so our first foray into town was to the Downtowne Book Store.  A small used book store tucked away off Main Street, it is quaint.  The well worn wooden floors were covered in throw rugs and squeaked as we walked up and down the aisles.  Mixed in with bookshelves were pieces of original art from local artists, all for sale.  I even noticed a few bowls of fresh fruit, I assumed free for the taking.

The store is a long standing fixture in Riverside.  We asked what was the secret to its success, the bookseller said it’s the fact that they sell everything.  The selection is impressive.  The standard fiction, mystery, romance, all at nice prices, yet I spent most of my time in a row with bookshelves of essay collections, criticism, theology, history and cultural topics.  I came home with two essay collections, The Courage of Turtles by Edward Hoagland and Paper Trail by Michael Dorris.  I chose the Hoagland collection because I enjoyed the actual essay “The Courage of Turtles” and want to experience some of his other writing.  Paper Trail caught my attention for three reasons, the New York Times Book Review blurb on the front, the fact that Dorris wrote A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, and the notes written about the essays on the inside front cover by the original owner.  I was curious to see what the notes meant, but I have to read the essays first.

Mission Inn

The Downtowne Book Store isn’t the only treat in Riverside.  The city is famous for its Mission Inn.  I always pooh-poohed it because it’s fake, it has nothing to do with California’s beautiful missions, all of which are closer to the coast.  However, the dance competition was two blocks from the Inn and a family has to eat dinner.  We walked into the most beautiful courtyard.  My daughter said “we’re in San Miguel again!”  My son thought it reminded him of Italy.  It was a warm night, we sat outside eating lovely food, laughing and enjoying the meal.

So Reeferside isn’t so bad after all.

Downtowne Book Store

3582 Main St.

Riverside, CA

T:  951.682.1082


Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop – LaVerne, CA

These are the Books I Give for Every Baby Shower or Birth

I first heard of Mrs. Nelson’s Toy & Book Shop when it won the Parnell Award last year.  The Parnell Award is given to bookstores that excel in promoting books to young people.  After stopping by last month, it’s clear why they won.  The store is stocked with great books and toys for newborns to YA readers.  I enjoyed walking through the picture book section, it brought back memories of wonderful hours spent reading to my kids. I noticed that since my kids have passed this stage, I tend to gravitate toward the books that were our favorites rather than explore any new books.  So I’ll use this platform to pitch my two favorite children’s books, the ones I give at every baby shower:  Time for Bed by Mem Fox, illustrated by Jane Dyer and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Louis Ehlert.

Time for Bed is a story of parent animals lulling their babies to sleep.  The singsong rhyme was perfect for calming down my sleepy, but squirrelly, toddlers.  Although primarily a bedtime book, we read it all through the day.  Each page gave me the opportunity to weave in animal noises for more rousing readings.  Between the stunning illustrations (I bought every book illustrated by Jane Dyer after this one) and the fun rhymes, neither my kids or their incredibly wonderful parents (somebody needs to say it) tired of reading it.

I can still recite most of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Oddly enough, what I tend to forget is the title.  Several times I have asked a bookseller, do you have “A told B and B told C, I’ll Continue reading


Book Alley – Pasadena, CA

I Have Never Seen This in a Bookstore

When we walked into Book Alley, a group of about 15 people were solemnly saying goodbye to one another and leaving, each with a red carnation in their hand.  Talk about being involved with the community, a memorial service was just breaking up.  That is a full service bookstore.  I have heard of speed dating in a bookstore, birthday parties in a bookstore (I may try that), I even have a faint memory of reading about a wedding in a bookstore, but a memorial service?  A first for me, but for a person who loves books, having your friends and loved ones surrounded by them while they remember you isn’t such a bad idea.

New, Used and Rare Books & Other  Works on Paper

And these are lovely books to be surrounded by.  Book Alley is the classic used bookstore I love to meander around.  Books on shelves, stacked on the ground, sale tables bursting, all call out the sleuth in me.  The huge art section drew me in.  Just what I was hoping for, I found gems I didn’t know I wanted until I opened them.  For me, some books are more interesting used than new.  The Harold Letters:  The Making of an American Intellectual by Clement Greenberg is just such a book.  Clement Greenberg was the great American art critic who influenced the course of post-WWII American art.  I’ve read about him, but never his writings, nor do I have a sense of him.  The Harold Letters are a collection of letters written from 1928 to 1943 to Harold Lazarus, a college friend.  The letters start the summer of their sophomore year and comprise a sort of epistolary bildungsroman autobiography.  The Harold Letters reminded me of the books Helene Hanff would request in 84, Charing Cross Road. I haven’t been disappointed, the letters reflect Greenberg’s striving to lead an intellectual life.  They include what he’s reading, what books he purchased, and a variety intellectual observations, all in nugget bite-sized pieces that I can read while I’m waiting for my printer or sitting on hold.

Keith spent his time looking at the extensive collection of rare Los Angeles books.  He found several he loved, alas, the recession.  The bookseller was willing to be flexible with the price (love that) and Father’s Day isn’t that far away, hmmm.  The website highlights a variety of rare books, right now they are selling a collectible edition of The Hound of Baskervilles and a unique bootleg Russian version (in English) of Salinger’s works.  It’s worth perusing.

Book Alley

1252 E. Colorado Blvd.

Pasadena, CA 91106

T:  626.683.8083


Vroman’s Bookstore – Southern California’s Oldest and Largest Independent Bookstore

Every fan of independent bookstores talks about their importance in creating community.  Sometimes it’s hard to know what that means.  There is certainly interaction between the customers and the booksellers, and between readers and authors at events.  Those are “wheels and spokes” models of interaction, all directed toward a center.  How does an independent bookstore create an opportunity for the spokes to interact?  Visit Vroman’s.  It’s not unusual for me to chat up complete strangers looking at books in a bookstore.  Just pick up The Elegance of the Hedgehog and get ready to hear my thoughts despite the fact you’ve never met me.  At Vroman’s, customers were clustered in groups and talking all over the store.  And not all of them knew each other, I know because I was eavesdropping.  I wasn’t in the store for 10 minutes when a customer walked up to me, pointed at The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig and told me it was a beautifully written story.  Wanting to exchange the favor in the D section of fiction, I recommended The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson.  We both walked away with a new book.

Just when I was going to ask a bookseller for a recommendation, I heard one of the employees recommend Louis de Bernieres for a “sophisticated, educated woman” who was in the hospital.  Well, I’m not bedridden, but I flattered myself that the rest of the description may apply so I discretely followed along (stalked them).  I didn’t connect de Bernieres with Corelli’s Mandolin, probably because I’ve only seen the movie, but the bookseller raved about it.  I bought his A Partisan’s Daughter to give it a try.

What else did I find?  Looking at the WALL of employee recommendations I found Continue reading


NEVER Would Have Read This Book if a Bookseller Hadn’t Recommended It

A few weeks ago, Leslie and I and our respective husbands went to hear a friend sing Vitello’s in Studio City.  Knowing Portrait of a Bookstore was right across the street, we left the club with 30 minutes to spare before the store closed (love the late night hours at the store!).  How much damage could we do in 30 minutes?  Well, a lot.  Keith bought most of my birthday present, plus books for himself.  After a very convincing pitch from the bookseller, Leslie bought Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman, a book that generally would not have attracted either of us.  So much for what we know, here are Leslie’s thoughts on the book:

One of the things I like most about independent bookstores is that the employees (many of whom are owners or invested in the business) are truly big readers. Since I’m assuming none of them are getting rich working there, they must really love books.

When I walk into an independent bookstore, I typically ask “What can you recommend?” This may either be for me or for my two pre-teen daughters. In many cases, my question has been rewarded with wonderful surprises.

Recently, Kim and I, along with our husbands, went to Portrait of a Bookstore, one of my favorite independents, is just across the street from a jazz club we visited. Needless to say, we walked out with books in our arms. Well, actually, the guys carried them.

As usual, the woman that was working that evening was just chock full of recommendations. One of the books that she mentioned was Hypocrite in a Pouffy Dress, a memoir, by Susan Jane Gilman. This is a book, had I simply seen on a shelf, I would never have picked up. I’m really fussy about the non-fiction I Continue reading