It was a dark and stormy afternoon on a wet Wednesday past, the sky bruised and battered like the sorry loser in a barroom brawl. The kind of weather that shoves wind through willows and stirs more war than peace in the heavens.
Curtains of rain, thick and gray, drew down on ground that's been dry as the practical prose in a phone book. It was a day for indoor doings, for dreaming or drawing or daring to think inside the box. And prime for literary loitering, fortified with a steaming cup o' joe so dark and dense you could almost chew it.
On this rainy day, bookworms writhed out of the woodwork like, well, worms on a rainy day. Worms who crave books, bent on a crawl through their favorite used bookstores, both the books and the stores being of the well-used variety. Funny how that works.
I was one of them. The worms, that is. Seeking solace from this soul-sucking digital-driven world in the previously pawed pages of murder or sci-fi or romance, in the present or past or future, here or somewhere or one of a million macrocosms.
Chewy joe in tow, I started my crawl at BookBuyers in Mountain View. A dog bowl propped open the front door. "They like dogs," I thought. "Dogs and dog-eared books. Good combo."
With great expectations, I set foot inside, met with the warm, musty smell of a vault of venerable volumes tucked in stacks, shelves, hallways and nooks veering off, labyrinthinelike. Roads to other realms were paved with worn carpet of indeterminate color.
I sidled toward "mystery" and picked up an Inspector Banks novel. It was dark and mysterious and riddled with corruption. I could feel it through the jacket. Also, it said that on the jacket. Nearby, a glass case held a copy of "The Prince and the Pauper" for 250 clams. For a 50 spot and change, I could have claimed "The Life and Times of $crooge McDuck Companion." I did not.
The shop was busy. There were all types, all ages. No mice. Some men. A kid. Several women. Some in the dangerous 20s. Some gray-templed and grim. Even the women. Even the kid. Bookstores of second-, third-, fourth- and 40th-hand publications are not places for the fast and the furious. More for the slow and the curious, hunched over private worlds, leaning against a stack here, sitting on the floor there, the fluorescent light washing them out like the blood-drained skin of a dead body. That was on a book jacket, too.
On a tip from a source, I made my way up the Peninsula to B Street Books in San Mateo. More stacks. More investigating. Lew Cohen, ex-gumshoe, owns the joint. Showed me a book he got for a single dead president at a yard sale. "A new Peanuts book: Snoopy." With a sly eye, he cracked the cover. A small green-ink Snoopy was scrawled on the page. Signature: Schulz. Sweet.
Daytime was fleeing like a shadow from a crime scene, so I went for one last stop at Dark Carnival in Berkeley. I got that deja vu feeling because, well, I'd been there before.
This place is the heart of nerdy darkness, the Holy Grail for those who can recite the whole shrubbery skit verbatim. Doctor Who, Star Trek, mummies, Viking raids, Cylons, conspiracy theories all vie for space, but despite this miracle of disorder you can likely locate the droids you're looking for. Perhaps in a clearing, but don't step on the pile of sock monkeys. Up the creaky stairs, turn sideways to pass someone sitting on the steps. There are windup robots, devil ducks, punching nuns, gargoyles and those better-than-a-bartender eight-balls you turn over for advice. I did so. "No doubt about it." No doubt about what?
I picked up a book of Edward Gorey illustrations. It has the one with the skeleton holding an umbrella. Seemed apropos of the remains of the day. It was now a dark and stormy night.
Contact Angela Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Despite online omnipresence these days, when it comes to buying books, used bookstores still thrive all around the Bay Area. Here are just a handful for a busy bookworm's crawl:
1) BookBuyers. Named Best Bookstore of 2013 by the Mountain View Voice. 317 Castro St., Mountain View, 650-968-7323, www.bookbuyers.com.
2) Dark Carnival. A sci-fi/fantasy paradise. 3086 Claremont Ave., Berkeley, 510-654-7323, www.darkcarnival.com.
3) Know Knew Books. Only open a few months, it's the opposite of the dusty/musty bookstore. Open, airy and vintage jewelry too. 366 State St., Los Altos, 650-326-9355, www.knowknewbooks.com.
4) Moe's Books. Berkeley's famous Telegraph Avenue store was recently honored with a historic plaque for its 55 years in business. 2476 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-849-2087, www.moesbooks.com.
5) B Street Books. Lew Cohen opened the shop five years ago after 30 years as a private investigator. 301 South B St., San Mateo, 650-343-2800, www.bstreetbooks.com.
6) The Book Shop. A downtown Hayward institution, The Book Shop has been in business since 1960. 1007 B St., Hayward, 510-538-3943, www.haywardbookshop.com.
7) Recycle Books. More than 100,000 titles are in stock at the two South Bay locations. The bookstore cats are faves with customers. 1066 The Alameda, San Jose, 408-286-6275, and 275 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell, 408-370-3514. http://recyclebookstore.com.
8) Kayo Books. Vintage paperbacks from the 1940s to 1970s with the suggestive slogan, "Is that a paperback in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" 814 Post St., San Francisco, 415-749-0554, www.kayobooks.com.
9) Swan's Fine Books. 1381 Locust St., Walnut Creek. Another new shop, this store was opened in May 2013 by Laurelle Swan, formerly in the software sales industry. 925-935-1190, http://swansfinebooks.com.
10) Spectator Books. Books are shelved to the rafters in this labyrinthine store. 4163 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-653-7300, www.spectatorbooks.com.
-- Angela Hill