Saturday, April 7, 2012

"There is a pleasure in the pathless woods"

Photo by Bryan Larson

I've always thought that one of the questions our HR manager should ask potential employees during their interview is, "How good are you at giving directions?" This, because without a doubt the question we're most frequently asked is, "Where are your ____ books?" (Health, business, science fiction, philosophy, &c.) I answer this request often enough that it seems like just about everyone who comes into the store is here for the first time, newly arrived and wide-eyed.

We more than welcome new customers, of course, and it's natural that those who frequent the store are more aware--even if only vaguely--of Green Apple's layout, as shifting and possibly inscrutable as that may be (sometimes even for those of us who work here). Which is to say that the frequency of this question seems to be a good sign for us; the day no one asks where, for instance, poetry is will surely be a sign of impending doom.

And while we've stenciled apples onto floors, given names to parts of the store, printed maps, and slapped signs (atop of older signs, next to newer signs) to the walls, the fact of the matter is that even with all of these helpful pointers, bookstores are, to my mind, the most difficult retail environment to navigate. By difficult I don't mean troublesome, but tricky, like following an overgrown path through a forest. The person who asked at the front counter where writings on nature are will, by the time he or she gets upstairs, have been so sidetracked as to have already forgotten where we were sending them.

This is why so many people speak fondly of getting lost in a bookstore or why we browse for books: I've never heard someone say they're browsing for a pair of jeans.

But we do technically browse for jeans. And we do technically search for books. The difference that exists between the two, I think, is the receptivity the bookstore fosters, the sense of wandering and happy discovery that exists in a space that, Borgesianly, opens up to infinity. Think about the contents of a bookstore: pages upon pages full of dreams, plots, characters, facts, photographs, indexes, footnotes, reaching back into history, forward into the future, stretching out across the present, or into other impossibilities. It's dizzying, yet we invite it. We seek it out.

Rather than coming to any conclusions here--I may not have had even one to draw--I'm going to let this meandering post mirror the way we experience bookstores, and conclude an excerpt from Lo Chih Cheng's "Bookstore in a Dream":
The forest that awes and fascinates us the most
is this bookstore...

Nobody, not even the 89-year old third-generation
shopkeeper, Mr. L.,
Nobody knows the bookstore's true dimensions--
not even the literature Professor T., who last
year in pursuit of some
remaindered book,
was submerged forever in the quicksand of letters,
or the critic who, after many years, came dashing out of a
or the new breed of bats biting his neck...
Really, even in the closely guarded stacks east of Section
in the shrubbery, mainly of biographies and fables--
we will occasionally run into the
skeletons of the lost...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Clement Street- not just for Tupperware

If Alissa Anderson has her way, Clement Street won’t be known mainly for cheap toilet brushes, and someone hoisting a dead hog on his shoulder, because her delightfully curated pop-up store, Foggy Notion, just around the corner from Green Apple, displays a unique selection of handmade and organic decorative appointments, potent potions, and hefty accessoires, bringing a bit of Hayes Valley chic to our sometimes too-sensible street.

Here’s some of the locally crafted luxurious goods found here:

  • Anderson’s own necklaces with chandelier crystals and old-fashioned keys ($30-$75), thin, multi-pocket wallets with heavy-duty snaps redeemed from vintage pleather tennis racket covers ($20-$40), pencil and cosmetic pouches made from soft leather Venezuelan Pampero rum-bottle bags ($36), that Anderson, (granddaughter of seamstress Concetta Longo) sews herself in the shop/studio on an industrial Juki sewing machine, under the brand “mittenmaker.”
  • Sturdy Job + Boss clutches and bucket totes by Oakland’s Brook Lane and Kirby McKenzie using the hand-dipped Shibori dye-bath technique ($130 to $310).
  • Plush “Lay Swing” pillows by Grass Valley partners Carabeth Rowley and Tahiti Pehrson, with intricate papercut stencil work, hand silkscreened on vintage seersucker.
  • Berkeley’s Juniper Ridge room sprays ($20) like “Steep Ravine” and “Cascade Glacier” from sustainably wildcrafted aromatics like spicy laurel, woodsy cedar, sweet desert piƱon, citrusy Douglas Fir, and pungent sage. Ten percent of their profits go to defending western Wilderness causes such as Desert Survivors and the California Wilderness Coalition.
  • Bernal Heights-dweller, and CCA Wattis Institute Curator Jana Blankenship’s “Captain Blankenship” brand “Russalka” palmarosa bath salts ($20) and perfumes ($20) like “meteor” with ylang ylang.
  • 26th and Balboa Jonathan Anzalone and Joseph Ferriso's Anzfer Farms Driftwood Bud vases ($15) and lamps ($75).
  • Portland, Oregon Matt Pierce’s water-repellant, canvas Wood & Faulk bags ($170-$250).
“If I can do as well as December from word-of-mouth and street traffic, then I can do better this year,” said Anderson, 33, an eight-year 6th and Clement Street resident.

Foggy Notion (inspired by the song from Velvet Underground’s 1969 “VU” album, and the Avenues’ familiar vapor, of course), is throwing an Earth Day party April 22, featuring Dogpatch dweller, sculptor and jewelry designer Robyn Miller’s vintage fashions and accessories, and used records from Andy Cabic of neo-folk band, Vetiver (whose thoughtful new Richmond District-inspired LP, Errant Charm,” (Sub Pop, $22), by Cabic and Thom Monahan, is on sale.

Treasure Island Woodworker Drew Bennett used reclaimed Douglas Fir and Redwood to construct the store’s handsome counter.

Store owner Anderson, a Wakefield Memorial High School (Buffy Sainte Marie, class of 1958) and Smith College grad, is also a former Vetiver cellist.

275 6th Avenue 415-683-5654

Monday, April 2, 2012

Wild about WILD by Cheryl Strayed

Our April Book of the Month, guaranteed to please, is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Wild is, at its base, a memoir of a struggling young woman and her challenging solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail (1,100 miles of it!). But it's so much more--full of heart, humor, hope, and humanity.

You will probably be hearing about this book everywhere. Believe thehype. (e.g. Sunday New York Times Book Review, SF Chronicle, GoodReads). I, for one, am willing to put my reputation of 18.5 years as a bookseller on the line for this one. You will love it.

Further proof? My wife and I almost never read the same book (it seems inefficient to us--is that weird?). In rare instances, we will more or less force the other to read something--she had me read Behind the Beautiful Forevers (which is excellent), and she read (and loved)
Wild. So it's not a guy book or a women's book--it's just a great book.

Buy if from your favorite local independent bookseller! If that's Green Apple, here's a link to the book and to the eBook. Those who act quickly might get a signed copy, as the author was gracious enough to stop by the store today.