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          Real Bookmarks from True Favorites

Vignettes of some cherished bookstores

    You expected a list of favorite links? No, these are real bookmarks: cardboard rectangles for marking your place inside books. It’s a small collection, because I only keep the bookmarks given out by my favorite bookstores, ones that have left me with good memories. Being a happy bookworm, I gravitate towards the local booksellers in any city I visit, and of those, maybe two dozen made it into the collection (others have no bookmarks of their own, so they’re missing). Below are some of these bookish vignettes.

La Penna e la Civetta ("The Quill and the Owl"), Palermo, Italy

The wizard on the bookmark intones “Read, read, something will remain!”

    This is perhaps the strangest store in this batch. It moves around a lot... when we first found it, it was in a second floor apartment and you had to buzz the intercom downstairs to even be admitted. Most recently it’s in an old house with a large garden behind the Politeama theatre. Once inside, you get treated to a feast of books, mainly of the intellectual kind –- such as high literature, politics and history. The clientele matches this literate profile, and are as likely to engage in conversation and debate as they are to buy books.
    This makes for a homey atmosphere –- and indeed, when our travels take me and my wife to Palermo, as soon as we enter the store the owner, Ms. Giuffrida, will rush to welcome us with a big smile and heartfelt embraces.
    Try to match that, Barnes and Noble!

The Book Stop, Jerusalem, Israel

    The bookmark claims it was the largest English bookstore in Jerusalem, and perhaps it was, though I remember it as a rather small one-room shop, with rough bookcases all over the place. Be that as it may, it was certainly our premier source for used English books in the eighties -- crammed full of used paperbacks of all kinds, notably the SF we thrived on, and managed by some very nice people. It disappeared sometime in the nineties, gone but not forgotten by the many English bibliophiles in our city.

The Tattered Cover, Denver, Colorado

    This was long ago, when I was working on artificial neural networks and attending the NIPS conferences in snowy Denver. Some of us went into town and found this multi-story bookshop -- large but with character. Lovely name, lovely store. Unfortunately, I no longer work on neural networks...

Sefer ve Sefel (Book and Mug), Jerusalem, Israel

    Replacing the Book Stop as our primary English book source, this shop hides on the second story of an old stone house in Yavetz st. (street? more like a tiny alley, really) in downtown Jerusalem. The Mug part is a mystery to me... maybe they served coffee once, but none that I can see now. But who needs the coffee when the place is chock full of books, and is run by a wise and friendly owner who is always ready to discuss a book you’re considering or just chat about life?

A Clean, Well-lighted Place for Books, Cupertino, California

    A fond memory from our stay in California in the early eighties, this wonderful independent bookstore was a real delight. It had an excellent Science section, and it was indeed the kind of place where you could browse and enjoy the books at length -- great length if you notice the given store hours . Unfortunately, it is there no longer, a victim to the big mega-store chains. It had to close its doors in 1997, leaving only the San Francisco location of the same name.

Itamar Levi’s Bookstore, Israel

    Itamar is an Israeli legend. He is a book finder; people come to him with "I want this book I had in Poland as a child in 1930, and all I remember is there was a story with this dark corridor with two windows in it, and there was a picture of a big dog, and the cover was sort of brownish" -- and Itamar finds it for them, sometimes then and there, at other times years later -- he never forgets, and his memory power allows him to hold thousands of such orders in his head. In case you doubt this memory thing, I once came to the counter holding an old book, one of thousands in the store, and as he took it from me Itamar said "this one has a torn page inside, let me show you". And he did. (But I bought the book anyway).

Bookmaster, Scottsdale, Arizona

    A lovely store, so dense with bookshelves -- if memory serves -- that there was barely room for anything else, even us, the readers. Perhaps that is the right priority...

Tmol Shilshom, Jerusalem, Israel

    Named after a story ("Yesteryear") by S.Y. Agnon, this bookshop-café quotes it on its bookmark: "The club has only two rooms, one for eating and drinking, and one for reading; but one doesn’t take care to read in the place of reading, and to eat and drink in the place of eating and drinking; rather, this one eats and reads, and that one reads and drinks, this one comes in, and that one goes out". Which is what Tmol Shilshom provides -- a small coffeeshop sprinkled with used books to read or buy, set in a lovely old Jerusalem stone building.

Trent’s Bookworm, Rancho Cordova, California

    One of those stores that always surprise you with something you haven’t seen from an SF author you think you’ve seen everything of. Lots and lots of classic SF; lots of other paperbacks too. And friendly people to boot!

Book World, San Jose, California

    Long ago, in San Jose. Memories of a dark room with piles of old and unusual books, none bestsellers, but many a pleasure to buy. "Californiana, Railroad, Maritime, Military, Art" at its pre-Internet best. No idea whether it still survives..., Cyberspace

    Must give Amazon its due -- the only e-store whose bookmark deserves a spot here. They put much thought into these bookmarks from day one, when they only sold books, and also used to send us on occasion Amazon mouse pads, Amazon thermos mugs and whatnot. These days it’s only bookmarks (and they’re smaller and somehow less exciting...)

Powell's bookstore, Portland, Oregon

    Powell's city of books... an apt description, a favorite from long before they added the "dot-com". A sprawling warren of rooms and halls full of shelves going every which way, like a Victorian metropolis of used books. What a delight!

Computer Literacy, Sunnyvale, California

    These guys had anything you could want in computer lit, to any level of geekiness you might desire. At the heart of Silicon Valley, operating before and through the Dot-com boom era, what would you expect? Unfortunately they folded after the bubble burst, at the end of 2001. RIP!

Waterstone’s Booksellers, Atlanta airport, Georgia

    Airports are getting better these days, and the best of them have quite decent bookstores. Of course, they must stock the inevitable airport novels and management self-improvement books for the business traveler, but if you skip those, you can find something meaningful to keep your brain in shape after takeoff. Waterstone’s is a chain of such stores that has earned my respect.

IBM Punched Card

    Long ago, before the arrival of CRT terminals, we all used punched cards to submit computer jobs to the university’s Mainframe. These cards were made of very strong, thin, durable cardboard, and made an excellent general purpose material for anything from cardboard modeling to palettes for mixing epoxy cement. Since they were ubiquitous in our environment, drafting them for use as bookmarks was inevitable; though to be useful in a paperback book they had to be cut to a convenient size, like this one that I recently found buried in a book.


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