What would one of the most pretentious cities in the world be without a plethora of fantastic, independently owned bookstores? Well it wouldn’t be San Francisco, dammit. Here in the city by the bay we take our coffee with conversations about geopolitics and James Joyce. Don’t think that this means that we’re stuck up or prude – the reckless, indulgent partying abilities of the goatee-having, café frequenting pseudo intellectual crowd is well documented. It’s just that we relieve our hangovers with prolonged visits to dimly lit bookstores. Nothing relieves those morning after aches and bouts of nausea like getting lost in a labyrinth of colossal wooden shelves filled to the brim with the likes of Horace and Hesse. So when you’re not drowning your liver in sorrow-solvent, and when you’re not enjoying the GT’s famous FREE DINNERS!!!, visit these intellectual institutions and educate yourself. Because how else will you impress drunken UC Berkeley girls? Not with your charm, you inglorious bastard!
GREEN APPLE BOOKS
This may be the most well known bookstore in San Francisco. It is huge, beatific, behemoth, burning shining Saturn. Okay, enough of that now. Green Apple sells new and used books, and their selection is incredibly comprehensive. There is a main building which is bigger than most bookstores, and then there is a satellite building too. Here you can easily satiate your need for both Heidegger and RL Stein and still not break your five dollar a day budget.
(Note: Like all things popularly well known and well regarded, this bookstore has incurred the opinionated wrath of San Francisco’s literate elite. It might have something to do with the fact that Green Apple sells t-shirts that say “I (insert picture of a Green Apple here in place of a heart) SAN FRANCISCO,” and shilling books titled “Change the World with Ten Bucks” doesn’t help their image amongst the doubters. But never mind the jaded and the cynical, they can hang out in their hip bookstores with empty shelves and overpriced overwrought tomes and harp on about corporate cultures gentrifying and raping of San Francisco, and while spilling café Americanos on their goatees and issuing petty slanders against independent bookstores’ “big business” they breathe asbestos and when they finally get mesothelioma their upper middle class yuppie parents will bankroll a powerhouse lawyer with a name like Bob Log who advertises on KRON at 3 in the afternoon…)
CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE
City Lights Bookstores focuses on beat-era lit, and few stores in SF can lay claim to a better selection of William Burroughs. The only issue here is the price. It’s hard to shake the feeling that City Lights is less of a bookstore and more of a tourist trap. But for you, the tourist, it’s perfect. And maybe trap is too harsh a word. Lawrence Ferlingheteti founded City Lights in the fifties, and City Lights publishing house brought Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” into the world and were subsequently charged with crimes of obscenity. City Lights Bookstore is a cultural landmark and has easily earned its high place in the pantheon of American folklore.
So you’ve got this nerdy brother back home, and he’s heard of this famous bookstore in San Francisco that specializes in Sci-Fi and fantasy. Here you are traveling the world while he’s back at home playing Dungeons and Dragons, right? Yeah, sure. I’m on to you guy. I saw peeking from your knapsack a copy of the Monster Manual. No need to be embarrassed. This is San Francisco after all, no matter how much of a nerd or a delinquent you may be there is someone just around the corner doing something far more demoralizing and humiliating than even your worst impulses would condone. Borderlands Books’ knowledgeable, friendly staff will indulge your inner geek. Make sure to pet the hairless cat, Ridley, too.
Books Inc lays claim to being the oldest independent books seller. I don’t know if that’s true or not, and since I’m not in the mood for research, I’m simply going to reiterate their unfounded claim. Books Inc is the oldest used books seller in the world. Wow, that’s impressive. Besides that historical precedent Books Inc is very cozy, not cozy meaning lame, but cozy meaning a good place to hang out and paw through a variety of genre’s and styles. From books that will spend their lives on tabletops being perused before family outings to wine bars to books that demand to be read between fits of depression and self hatred, you’ll find most anything at this yuppie-sheik lit merchant, enabling your need to distract yourself from the relentless horrors of daily life. And at a mighty fine price too.
Speaking of distracting yourself the relentless horrors of daily life, what better distraction is there than politics and social theory? At Bound Together you can do more than just purchase at an incredibly fair price books that have been socially taboo for years, you can engage the scruffy dude behind the counter in a vigorous debate about the differences between Trotskyism and Marxism. Sure, outside the world might be aflame with disease and poverty, but you’re working on solving it, one antiquated theory at a time. All jaded cynicism aside, besides having a great collection of political and social theory and other historical literature, this collective has been a positive social force for years and have done more than their fair share to keep San Francisco community based and corporate America’s greedy interests at bay.
DOG EARED BOOKS
Maybe (probably?) the best bookstore in San Francisco. Fairly priced books and a lot of them. Few other places in the world sell such uber-pretentious lit like Baudrillard for less than five bucks. Seriously, go take a look at Barnes and Nobles, if they even sell Baudrillard it’s like fifteen dollars! Who would pay that much to get bored? Within an hour at Dog Eared you’ll have surfed hundreds of years of wordy history and you’ll still have hundreds more left. So catch up on your Norse mythology and catch the word virus. This place takes my award for best bookstore in SF.