When I was around three years old and my mom was shepherding two little kids everywhere she went, she often found solace at our local bookstore’s story time.
This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.
My brother and I loved story time, where kids of all dispositions would sit in disorganized rows on the scratchy carpet, hanging onto the reader’s every word. On one of these slow afternoons, my mom struck up a conversation with another mom, and within a matter of days, this woman would ask my mom to babysit her son.
With their kids now grown and decades of friendship behind them, both moms still talk about this meeting, laughing at the immediate trust placed in my mom. “You were at story time,” the other mom always says. “I got a good feeling from you.”
Bookstores are amazing places. There’s something about a bookstore that seems to call out one’s warmest self. They’re a refuge. A community center.
Alta Journal’s new bookstore guide, anchoring the Summer 2022 issue, honors this sentiment and pays homage to all the quirky, jam-packed (or elegantly sparse), delightfully staffed, and calming bookstores out there. We solicited the help of some wonderful writers and Alta contributors, conducted extensive research, and, wherever possible, drew on our own experiences to squeeze in as many bookstores throughout the West as we could.
Alta’s managing editor, Blaise Zerega, offers a personal introduction, calling the package “a reminder of the vital contributions bookstores make to their communities.” From there, we begin down south with the greater San Diego region, where one of the bookstores Amy E. Wallen writes about has a cookbook section bursting with books that feature recipes from sci-fi and fantasy worlds. Alta’s guide winds its way up to Washington, where Claire Dederer spotlights the shop I myself most want to visit on the list: the collectively owned anarchist bookstore Left Bank Books.
Between these two regions, Michael Jaime-Becerra tackles the expansive Los Angeles area, Marcus Crowder and Ken Layne delve into the desert and the Sierras for stores off the beaten path, and Mark Wallace recommends serene-sounding spots on the Central Coast, including a library built in honor of Henry Miller along the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur. Sara Borjas and Jane Ciabattari bring forth some Central Valley shops, Faith Adiele carries the torch for the Bay Area (with a couple of additions from Ciabattari), Joy Lanzendorfer sheds light on the North Coast bookish community, and Santi Elijah Holley takes us through the state of Oregon, where one bookstore has the best name: Mother Foucault’s. If that doesn’t inspire a trip to Portland, I’m not sure what will.
We’ve also rounded up a bookstore from each of the other states we fondly consider our western siblings, made possible by a contribution from Anne Pedersen for New Mexico, Scott Dickensheets repping Nevada (where the Writer’s Block is nestled right in Sin City), M.T. Hartnell with a shoutout in Arizona, Julian Smith for Utah, Kim Cross throwing her pick in the ring for best bookstore in Idaho, and Jim Lewis with a perfectly not-so-hot spot in Texas for the more focused readers among us.
The bookstores that populate this guide are community spaces; they’re beacons for the nerds, the moms, the wishful; they’re places to seek peace; and they’re kept alive by the communities they serve—readers like you.
They’re also not the only thing in the latest issue of Alta.
There’s an entire section devoted to what we’re calling the New Space Age, featuring a story by Adam Fisher on the first private spaceflight visionary, an oddball inventor named Robert Truax, and his partnership with Evel Knievel; Kate Greene’s piece about the disruption that Elon Musk’s SpaceX has caused to the citizens and wildlife of Boca Chica Village; a poem called “Lady Stardust” that showcases Ishmael Reed’s interest in astronomy; and more space than we have space for here.
Elsewhere in the issue, we introduce a serialization of National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist Marianne Wiggins’s new book, The Properties of Thirst, which will continue with a new release each week on altaonline.com. Want more? How about Gary Kamiya on the San Francisco frescoes of Diego Rivera and Gustavo Arellano going to bat for the book American Me by Beatrice Griffith.
Alta’s Summer 2022 issue is a book lover’s dream, a guide to our future among the stars, and a meditation on California and the West’s current challenges and history, all wrapped into one beautiful, hardbound magazine. Buy one today, or, better yet, find it at a bookstore near you.•