Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath


We went to Alameda yesterday, to find a used book store we saw in Oakland magazine, but also to just check out the island a little more.  Alameda’s a little strip of an island just over from us in Oakland, and it’s an odd curiosity, because it’s so much different than Oakland, and yet we’re all part of Alameda county, so it’s not anything to do with the government.  It’s physically a bit more isolated, and maybe that bit of insulation does it.

Alameda’s got a very nautical feel to it, partially because it’s the old home to the Naval Air Station.  It was also the location of Neptune Beach, which used to be a sort of Coney Island of the west, a resort beach with amusement park rides, boardwalk-type food, Friday night dances, and summer barbecues.  And the island as a whole survived the 1908 earthquake much more than other bay areas, so there are tons of old Victorian houses that have since been restored.

We went to the main strip on Park street, where you dump out after crossing the Park Street Bridge over the inner harbor, and wandered around the little restaurants and old shops a bit.  We found a taqueria that looked good, a place with an old timey sign out front, a lunch counter, and a menu board that looked totally pre-war.  I got some enchiladas for lunch, and really dug the food there.  One of the things I really miss about LA is the good Mexican food, and this place reminded me of the taco joints we used to hit when we lived down south.

The book store – I forget the name, but it took a bit of a hike west to get there, into a strangely-zoned neighborhood, where the businesses quickly dropped off and it became a mix of schools and churches, and the occasional house.  We wanted to go there because the article in the magazine showed a picture of the black tuxedo cat that worked there, and when we got there, we immediately found her, or rather she found us, meowing and then plopping down in front of us, demanding that we ignore the books and pay attention to her.  But the shop – it was one of these places not much bigger than an apartment, filled with stacks and stacks of old books, heaped on top of each other, the smell of old pulp paper in the air, shelves stacked three and four deep of old detective novels and scifi serials.  There was no coffee bar or greeting cards or overpriced pens or anything else – just books.

Book stores like this remind me so much of Seattle.  I mean, in New York, a used book store has to be an empire like The Strand to make the rent.  There were some good new book stores, or places with collectibles, but not things like Seattle’s Twice Sold Tales, the dumping grounds of all things used.  And back when I lived in Seattle, my only goal, besides reading constantly, was to buy as many god damned books as I could buy, even if I would never touch them again.  If there was a chance I would ever pick it up, if I would need it on my shelves.  I used to spend a lot of time in dive book stores like this back in my Seattle days, especially when I was single and had absolutely nothing to do every weekend, except pad the hours between meals and my writing time at night.  That musty smell of rooms full of rotting paper and ink pretty much defined the entire year of 1996 for me, and I felt almost transported back to then.

I say “almost” because I don’t really buy books like that anymore.  I mean, I don’t get to read as much anymore, and my reading has become more focused because of that.  And I have two huge piles of books to be read that I have not shelved, and feel bad about never getting to those.  And half of my reading is on the Kindle these days, which is completely removed from this experience.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad – I know a lot of people will go on about missing the print, and needing those books around me, but I’m so on the fence now.  I mean, if someone offered to take away half of my books and give me the same books in e-format, I might actually do it.  There are some books I will never get rid of, but I also sometimes look at the shelves and wonder “when the hell am I ever going to read a book about the roads the Army engineering corps built in Manchuria during the big one?”  I’m sure back in 2000, that seemed like vital information, but now that this book has moved from Astoria to New York to Denver to LA to South San Francisco to Oakland without its cover cracked, I wonder if it’s next and last trip will be to the Goodwill bin.

But I did dig this little store.  An old guy started talking to Sarah about the cat, how it was a rescue and he raised it before he gave it to the woman who ran the store.  He hung out at the store constantly, and he mentioned that he actually lived on a boat nearby.  Then it made total sense, why this place had so many damn paperbacks – it must have been the place where sea-bound residents came in to trade their old paperbacks they consumed on their last great sail, and swap them for a new set.  I know if I lived in a boat, I would probably do the same – only store a dozen or two books, and constantly swap them out for a new set at the next port.

Back in the old days, I’d look in my wallet, see how much cash I had, and say “okay, this is how many books I’m buying”.  But now, I eyed a lot of curiosities and put them back, books like the 2000 Oakland A’s press book and a bunch of Asimov paperbacks I probably read twenty years ago and would not read again, but that I maybe wanted to read again.  I did want to get something though, and help the place out, so I picked up a Howard Hughes bio I haven’t read yet, and a book of World War II fighter planes that’s part of this series of British plane books, of which I had one back in high school, and have since always bought on sight any of the other related books in the series.

Today’s the 4th.  I have written many other journal entries on the 4th that talk about what I did on previous 4ths, which makes me want to write some other epic entry about today, but I’ve got too many other pots on the stove right now.  Feel free to click on the dates to the right to find them, though.  I wish I was in Denver to see the last game in the series against the Giants, although after last night’s big blowout, I’m not sure if I have the nerves to watch.  I’m really upset they put Ubaldo on the cover of SI – I have a terrible fear that’s going to jinx the rest of the season for him.