For gardeners and young readers: Mrs. Dalloway’s Books
It’s in the full name of the store owned since November 2021 by Eric and Jessica Green: Mrs. Dalloway’s Literary and Gardening Arts. The bustling shop on College Avenue in Berkeley reflects the Elmwood neighborhood, where yards are often mini botanical gardens and an occasional glimpse in a home or apartment window is likely to reveal a well-stocked bookshelf. Beyond gardening books and manuals, Dalloway’s has offered a meticulously curated selection of gardening merchandise, tools, and fresh plants since its founding in 2004.
The store’s children’s books target early readers and older kids seeking YA novels and graphic novels. A Little Library subscription service is a clever offering for families or people choosing to send 3-, 6-, or 12-monthly gifts to the youngest readers. A children’s librarian, an experienced children’s book buyer, and a new mom are the team behind the three books sent each month to the lucky recipient. Interested in just one book, not months of books? Store staff are familiar with more than just a book’s front flap and promotional language and make the gift-giving process a breeze. It goes (almost) without saying there are classics, best-sellers, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and essay collections, and every other kind of book available along with these highlighted categories.
For local literature lovers: A Great Good Place for Books
Great Good Place for Books owner Kathleen Caldwell is a bit of an icon in East Bay literary circles due to her deep knowledge of, passion for, and extensive relationships with local authors. It might be a challenge to find a novel, nonfiction book, collection of poems or essays, or any other literary work by a local author that Caldwell hasn’t read or heard of. She’s also almost certainly able to offer astute recommendations for related reading to any such book. If you stumble upon the likes of Bay Area writers Anne Lamott, Vanessa Hua, Michael Chabon, Gail Tsukiyama, Briana Loewinsohn, Thien Pham, and others, expect raves about the cozy shop nestled in Montclair Village. GGPB hosts intimate chats with authors, book club Zoom get-togethers, and always has on hand a staff member whose love and passion for books is nothing short of oceanic. Visit now and become addicted, especially if Caldwell happens to have a plate of her popular chocolate chip cookies available for nibbling while browsing in the Montclair Village store.
For BIPOC and historically marginalized voices: Marcus Books
Arguably, there is no better, and certainly not an older, independent Black-owned bookstore in the United States. Count on the shop for not only best-selling books by well-established, contemporary, and up-and-coming authors, but also in-store author appearances, and information about Bay Area lit happenings, especially events involving Black voices. December’s highlights include Jada Pinkett Smith in conversation about her new book, “Worthy,” with Sheryl Sandberg at San Francisco’s Jewish Community Center, or hip hop artist Tariq Trotter appearing at the Sydney Goldstein Theater to discuss his memoir “The Upcycled Self: A Memoir” as part of City Arts & Lectures in-person events.
Anyone seeking banned and challenged titles, books on anti-racism and allyship, works featuring or written by Black feminists, books presenting current thoughts on queer identity, and of course, fiction and non-fiction written by Black writers or about subjects relevant to Black life would do well to head straight to Marcus Books, a local treasure and not to be missed.
For collectors of rare or used books: Walden Pond Books
It’s common to come upon a fellow Piedmonter when strolling amidst the store’s fine collections of rare, new, and used books. An East Bay fave and community hub, Walden Pond on Grand Avenue was established in 1973 and has anchored itself within the local literary community ever since.
The bookstore will offer a selection of new, used, and rare noir books on Dec. 20 at the Noir City screening of the 1949 film noir classic “Cover Up” at the Grand Lake Theatre. Starting at 6:30 p.m., festival host Eddie Muller will sign copies of his books at Walden Pond’s booth on the theatre’s mezzanine.
The independent bookstore earns extra points by highlighting local authors, buying shoppers’ extra books, DVD, CDs, LPs and comics — paying cash or issuing store credit.
For bolstering and benefiting local publishers: four Bay Area imprints
Here in the Bay Area we are fortunate to have publishers whose literary offerings stretch beyond local borders, but simultaneously keep a keen eye on the local talent. A study of their front and backlists reveals signature elements to highlight. The San Francisco-based Chronicle Books catalogue is a virtual showcase for some of the best cookbooks and great lit-related games and puzzles.
Berkeley-based Creston Books has exquisitely crafted children’s picture books and young adult novels that often tell stories of important people who’ve long been overlooked in American history texts and publications. Most are created by local authors and illustrators.
Berkeley’s independent nonprofit publisher Heyday Books focuses on books related to civic engagement and social justice, nature, California Indian culture and its renewal, and the state’s history, culture, and influence.
The University of California Press located in Oakland produces approximately 200 original titles annually, covering a broad array of topics, from ancient history to modern-day politics to books on Black studies, art, food and wine, gender identity, health, film and media, music, communication, and more. Journals under the imprint address similar topics and offer the writing of innovative thought leaders, researchers, historians, and scholars.
For a good cause and year-round free reading: county public libraries
Almost every main and branch in the Alameda and Contra Costa County Library systems have Friends groups. In addition to providing essential outreach and a robust volunteer force to ensure all members of the local community have access to books, computers, mobile devices, movies, videos, DVDs and CDs, and the many lending divisions that make available seeds, tools, and other items, the Friends groups establish book shops. The proceeds support not only each library’s collection, but programs that serve multiple generations and expand the library hours not funded by the State of California.
Friends of the Oakland Public Library run the Bookmark Bookstore at 721 Washington St. in Oakland. There you can find over 17,000 gently used books, plus CDs, DVDs, LPs, puzzles, and games at highly discounted prices. Members receive additional in-store discounts and all proceeds benefit Oakland’s public libraries.