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San Francisco’s Russian Hill Bookstore – Loved by Locals and Tourists

A sign in the window of the Russian Hill Bookstore

The Russian Hill district of San Francisco is a quirky area full of artists and creative types, and the Russian Hill Bookstore is a key part of that community.

Owned by Carol Spencer, who has been selling books for almost 40 years, the business can be found on Polk Street in the west side of the Russian Hill neighborhood. Late night book browsing is possible here as the store stays open from 10am to 10pm daily. There’s usually a mix of tourists and locals perusing the shelves.

The neighborhood is one of San Francisco’s oldest and dates back to 1806 when Russian ships regularly docked in San Francisco Bay.

It’s a genuine community-based used bookstore with a fantastic selection of vintage paperbacks, including some remarkable pulp. You’ll find lots of cookbooks, modern bestsellers and books about San Francisco. There is also a large selection on cards, journals, calendars, board games and gifts suitable for bookish types. This isn’t a large bookshop but Carol makes every inch count and you won’t be short of inspiration when you walk through the door.

Browse their books.

Russian Hill offers many rare books

Carol Spencer and Benjamin Bellouin from Russian Hill

Vintage paperbacks abound like this Ace Double

Boston’s Iconic Haven of Used and Rare Books

Any list of America’s top used and rare bookstores usually includes the Brattle Book Shop. This Bostonian institution was founded in 1825 and has been owned by the Gloss family since 1949. No many bookstores can boast this kind of legacy.

Housed in a three-story building in the middle of Boston at 9 West Street, the Brattle Book Shop offers more than 250,000 books, maps, prints, postcards and items. Its size alone is impressive. Don’t miss the Rare Book Room. You can pick up a used paperback or a signed first edition.

Ken Gloss

Books are offered inside and outside the store (thanks to shelves on wheels and shelves built into exterior walls) – what’s better than browsing books in the sunshine? This shop even caters for people who want books to decorate their home or as props on their movie set – there’s a huge selection of Easton Press and Franklin Library books, decorative cloth bindings, and over-sized art books.

Ken Gloss is the current proprietor. A past president of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America’s New England Chapter, Ken is a well-known figure in America’s rare bookselling community.

Ken’s appraisal skills are in demand from libraries at Harvard, Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, Tufts and many other universities. He’s even valued books for the FBI and is a regular on TV and radio.

Any visit to New England must include a visit to the ‘Brattle.’

Browse their books.

Harry Potter Illustrated Editions

Exciting news for Harry Potter fans! Bloomsbury Publishing has released 15 images from the upcoming illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Iconic scenes from the immensely popular book have been drawn by Jim Kay – an illustrator based in the UK (who said that his favorite character to draw was Hagrid). Kay will be illustrating all seven of the Harry Potter books. See below for a preview of some of the gorgeous images.

The illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone will be released October 6, 2015.


Cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone


Harry Potter. Look closely – you can see his scar



HP-HermoineHermione Granger


Malfoy Draco


Ron Weasley

Book Covers as Gifs – Delightful!

We love books (that should come as no surprise) and we certainly love beautiful iconic book covers. When someone goes ahead and adds a little bit of whimsy to these covers, our hearts beat a little bit faster. Slate recently shared a post highlighting the work of artist Javier Jensen who added subtle GIFs to some of the most iconic book covers. Personal favourites include the cover for Le Petite Prince and Moby Dick. See all the covers here.

We were inspired to make our own book cover as a GIF.

HP gif

AbeBooks’ Literary Link Lineup

Ten literary links to get your week started:


1. Lithub talks about 5 books making news this week.

2. LA Times interviews author Amy Stewart (The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Plants) about her new fiction book Girl Waits With Gun.

3. NPR Books presents an End of Summer Comics Collection.

4. BookRiot tells us What Happens To Your Reading When You Have a Baby. Anyone one who has experience having a newborn at home will relate.

5. The Globe and Mail reviews Lawrence Hill’s (A Book of Negros) The Illegal – a story about a young man who wants to run marathons.

6. Jesse Eisenberg, actor and author answers questions in the Sunday Book Review about his new collection of stories in Bream Gives Me Hiccups.

7. The Guardian puts your knowledge of James Bond to test with their “Fleming or Horowitz: whose James Bond said what?” quiz.

8. Bookshelf Porn – just look at these images!

9. Fan of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon? Huffington Post suggests 11 Books to Read During the Long Wait for Season Two.

10. Who to follow on Instagram: Ernest Hemingway in 15 seconds. Bonus Instagram feed to follow: Cat Book Club.

Books of the Beat Generation, from Rob Warren Books

Rob Warren is no stranger to nostalgia. The Bronx-born bibliophile traded in it for years as the owner of Skyline Books.

Skyline was a New York City bookshop that made its home on W. 18th Street in Manhattan for two decades, until its closure in 2010. Its proprietor’s background was as book-soaked as one could dream – Warren’s father was a printer with a shop dedicated to old-time printing presses, selling greeting cards and stationery, and eventually books. Warren worked there, then several varied New York-based bookshops, before striking out on his own and building Skyline in 1990. He has been with AbeBooks since 1998, the very early days of our business.

Skyline was tailor-made for bookish types – a cozy, creaky hole in the wall, piled high with quality books and a much-beloved cat named Linda. Linda was featured not only in a Japanese calendar, but also the cover model for a book about Paris’ Shakespeare & Co. bookshop (those are her hindquarters below left, adorning Time Was Soft There).

Skyline attracted a certain kind of person. Bookish, passionate people from the neighborhood and beyond would stop in to buy, to browse, or even to connect with other like-minded people over a first edition or two. time-soft-there
Over the years the likes of Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Joans, Anne Charters, Robert Frank, and Herbert Huncke darkened its doors. A review from the shop’s now defunct Yelp business profile states “This shop is definitely a book forager’s shop and not one for those with a weak sense of adventure. If you prefer your bookstores with organized shelves, clearly marked prices, and pristine covers, this place is not for you. But if you’re one who doesn’t mind combing through titles for hours on end, Skyline, with its jumbled collection, can be quite a treat.”. Sounds heavenly to me.

When his lease increased suddenly and steeply, Warren was unable to afford the space and was forced to make the painful decision to close his doors. Linda came home with him, of course (and continued at his side until she passed away at age 16, halfway through 2015). And the books? Well, the more pedestrian of the Skyline collection were sold in the shop’s last days, at great discounts. Lots others were snapped up at a West Village book fair, the proceeds of which went to benefit LGBTQ organizations. Still more, the cream of the crop, were put aside by Warren, who just couldn’t bear to part with certain titles and gems. howl-ginsbergModern first editions, special finds and an impressive collection of works by and about the Beat Generation all went home with him to his small apartment, whose two storage rooms he estimates hold ~1500 volumes.

Much of that collection is available now on AbeBooks, after he started selling in the Tin Pan Alley district of New York City later in 2010 under the name Rob Warren Books. The collection that has his apartment and storage areas packed must go, a bit at a time, and so he’s adding more inventory all the time, albeit gradually. Warren’s days are more varied now – he still receives occasional calls from interested book buyers and booksellers. He enjoys plenty of down time, including playing guitar, on his own in the park or along with the other members of his rock band. A few at a time, he’s listing his books for sale, those gems that were his “keepers” for 25 years. Once a booklover, always a booklover, and Warren will still venture far and wide to attend particularly choice book signings. By and large, though, he spends his time close to home, in the coffee shop, library and restaurants in Manhattan’s East Village. Life is soft.

beat-beat-beat-brownWarren was kind enough to talk with us and answer some questions about his collection of Beat books, and how they became the focal point of his book love.

AbeBooks: How and why did you begin collecting books of the Beat Generation?

Rob Warren: I just liked reading them. As a teenager I discovered Burroughs and Kerouac, reading them in hardcover then eventually wanting a first edition.

Abe: What was the first Beat book you remember acquiring?

RW: On the Road. It took me 20 years to get a true first edition of On the Road – and I still have that copy!

Abe: What is the prize find in your collection?

RW: It used to be to be a first edition Naked Lunch by Burroughs (Grove Press) warmly inscribed to Paul Bowles for inspiring him to write the novel. Burroughs was visiting Bowles in Tangier when he wrote it. My current favorite is Junky, also by Burroughs under the pseudonym William Lee. This is the original Ace Double 1953, signed by Burroughs and his close friend Herbert Huncke who is the main character in the book. Interestingly, this book was published by Carl Solomon to whom Howl is dedicated. My other favorites might also be a few original unpublished notebooks by Gregory Corso from the early 90’s. Corso was a regular customer in my shop and one day he brought them in. They’re pretty amazing.

Abe: How long have you been collecting?

RW: From my teens on I always collected books even if they weren’t first editions. I officially started collecting when I discovered Raymond Carver. That was in 1983. We became acquaintances over the years.
Abe: What Beat books do you not yet have, but wish to acquire?

RW: I always regretted not getting a signed first of Howl.

Abe: Who would you call the key figures of the Beats, outside of Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs?

RW: Gregory Corso, primarily, but also Ferlinghetti as a publisher. Herbert Huncke wrote some very interesting books. Ted Joans for awhile. Gary Snyder never considered himself a Beat, but he got lumped in as he was the inspiration for the main character in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. Ah, and Neal Cassady! His The First Third was actually written before On the Road.

Abe: What do you think contributed to the formation of the Beat poets and movement?

RW: The experience of World War II and the realization that perhaps the American Dream wasn’t necessarily what they’d been told all along. In many ways they were inevitable just as the protests of the 60’s were inevitable.

Abe: What else would you like to tell us about collecting and your collection?

RW: My entire Beat collection is going up on AbeBooks. At this point I’ve listed 130 Beat-related items with pictures. It took 30 years to build so this is going to take some time! After the Beats I’ll start listing my Raymond Carver, William Faulkner and Charles Bukowski collections. And of course a sizeable run of signed books by Samuel Beckett, including an inscribed copy of Waiting For Godot, Grove Press, 1954. A Near Fine copy in NF dust Jacket. Stay tuned.

I will say that over the years I met all the major Beats except Kerouac. They either came into Skyline or I spoke with them at signings at St. Mark’s Church. I also got to meet Robert Frank. He signed a few copies of Les Americans, the true first edition of his seminal work. Kerouac wrote the introduction to the American edition published a year later. You just can’t find yourself in these situations if you don’t inherently love what you do.

Check out all the books currently offered by Rob Warren Books.

Amazon’s Top 10 Books: September 2015

Here we go again – time to turn my TBR (“to be read”) pile into an exciting, teetering skyscraper of a stack, as the book editors at Amazon once again release their list of the top 10 recommended books for the month. I’m most excited about the Chrissie Hynde autobiography (is anybody cooler than Chrissie Hynde?) and the new Jonathan Franzen, personally, but September is shaping up to be a hell of a month for new books if this list is any indication, especially for people who like to laugh – new Jenny Lawson and new Mindy Kaling in the same month?! Fabulous.

Here are the 10 books recommended by Amazon book editors for September, plus, of course, the debut spotlighted book.


This month’s spotlighted book is You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine: A Novel by Alexandra Kleeman, called an intelligent and madly entertaining debut novel reminiscent of Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49, among others. Here’s the scoop:

A woman known only by the letter A lives in an unnamed American city with her roommate, B, and boyfriend, C, who wants her to join him on a reality show called That’s My Partner! A eats (or doesn’t) the right things, watches endless amounts of television, often just for the commercials—particularly the recurring cartoon escapades of Kandy Kat, the mascot for an entirely chemical dessert—and models herself on a standard of beauty that only exists in such advertising. She fixates on the fifteen minutes of fame a news-celebrity named Michael has earned after buying up his local Wally Supermarket’s entire, and increasingly ample, supply of veal.

Meanwhile B is attempting to make herself a twin of A, who hungers for something to give meaning to her life, something aside from C’s pornography addiction, and becomes indoctrinated by a new religion spread throughout a web of corporate franchises, which moves her closer to the decoys that populate her television world, but no closer to her true nature.


And the rest of the September recommendations:


Reckless: My Life as a Pretender by Chrissie Hynde


The Pentagon’s Brain by Annie Jacobsen


The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr


Library of Souls: The Third Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs


Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson


The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante


Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg


Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff


Why Not Me? by Mind Kaling


Purity: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen


Renovating Couple Finds Safe Code, Safe, Cash and Book

***UPDATE: Nevermind. Apparently, the world is full of terrible, untrustworthy people, bent on getting our collective hopes up, and the story was actually a hoax. You people at thechive need better things to do. HOWEVER, the book referenced below is still a very real and very interesting book. So there.***


God knows I love a good intriguing mystery.

A Phoenix, Arizona couple intent on remodeling their kitchen have found themselves at the heart of a possible mystery, as reported on thechive.com. The young couple moved into their home two years ago, knowing it was a diamond in the rough needing some work. When they first moved in, a look in the medicine cabinet revealed the code to a safe. And when they began tearing up their kitchen floor two years later, they found the safe.

The safe contained just over $50,000 in cash, an exceedingly rare bottle of bourbon, a black and white photograph, and a book – A Guide for the Perplexed, by E.F. Schumacher. More intriguing still – the book itself contains a “Bingo” card with three numbers circled, and many meaningful-seeming underlined passages. And on the back of the photograph, the subject of which is a head-and-shoulders portrait of an unassuming, bespectacled man in a suit, is written:


I have a book you must read. I’ve underlined a few key passages.

Your friend,


Inside the book there is also a cardboard fact sheet of Arizona, with an area highlighted green.

Who is/was Alan? Who is/was Vincent? Is the Bingo card telling us the code to another safe? Is the fact card of Arizona showing us the location of that safe? Is it Vincent in the photograph? Where did he get those great glasses? Can I try the bourbon??

Ok, no answers to any of that, but I can at least shed some light on the book. A Guide for the Perplexed is a short book by Ernst Friedrich (E.F.) Schumacher, published in 1977 (meaning this safe had to be interred and hidden since then). Schumacher was a German-Swiss ecologist, economist and statistician, and also a booklover. His personal archival collection of books are available for viewing at the library of the Schumacher Center for New Economics in Great Barrington, Massachussetts.

Schumacher believed A Guide to the Perplexed to be his finest work and life’s most important achievement. He reportedly handed it over to his daughter days before his death, and impressed upon her the importance of the work.

The book itself is a theoretical discussion, and in some cases, a critique, of the ways in which humans live in the world and interact with it. It focuses particularly on terms of our role here – what are our obligations here on Earth? What are we here for, and how do we provide and derive meaning in our lives? Mostly, it asks how do we find our place here on Earth, and encourages us to become our own “mapmakers” – Schumacher claims we need maps for life, such as a map of living and a map of knowledge, and it’s up to us to make those maps.

AbeBooks has 111 copies of the book for sale as of the writing of this post, ranging in price from just over $1.00 to just under $500.

A fairly intriguing treatise to find in a safe, chock full of clues, and cash, and booze, if you ask me.

I hope to hear more about this.

Amy Stewart turns to fiction with Girl Waits With Gun

Author and bookseller Amy Stewart

I’ve been reading Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart. Released this week, it’s Amy’s first novel and marks her entry into fiction after a series of entertaining non-fiction hits including The Drunken Botanist, Wicked Plants, Wicked Bugs and Flower Confidential.

Amy is no ordinary author as she is truly committed to books and the literary world. I’m not talking about signing a few books for her fans. I’m talking about the fact that she co-owns a bookstore in Northern California and knows about the trials and tribulations of being a bricks and mortar bookseller. She sees two distinct ends of the book business.

Girls Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy and her husband Scott Brown earlier this summer in Eureka, California, where they live and run Eureka Books. With two months to go until the release of Girls Waits With Gun, she was very excited about the novel’s prospects and there was a book tour already in the works.

Girls Waits With Gun is a piece of historical fiction based upon real events and actual people. It tells the story of Constance Kopp, one of America’s first deputy sheriffs. Set in 1914 in small town New Jersey, the novel develops around a collision between a car, driven by a reckless silk factory owner, and a horse-drawn buggy, containing Constance and her sisters.

The aftermath involves threats and violence, and Constance defending her family while also assisting the local sheriff in the investigation. Gradually, she becomes more and more involved, and several stories unfold at once. In the background, Amy’s story touches on workplace conditions and social unrest, and how women were expected to behave in 1914.

Enjoy our interview with Amy.

AbeBooks: After so much non-fiction, why turn to fiction and write a novel?

Amy Stewart: “I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and, like many writers, I have a few failed novels in the drawer. Girl Waits with Gun comes from a true story, but it very much lends itself to fiction. I loved the idea of these three sisters who were–in real life–very different from each other but also sort of stuck to one another. And although the crime was a very serious one, their story also had the feeling of a caper about it. It felt like an adventure.  As soon as I had a short stack of newspaper clippings, I thought, ‘Oh, this is a novel I’d like to read. I suppose I’ll have to write it.'”

AbeBooks: Was it a challenge to write fiction?

Amy Stewart:“It was a real joy. I actually approach my non-fiction the way novelists do, which is to say that I think a lot about the voice, even for books like The Drunken Botanist written in the third person.  Even if it’s something very subtle that readers don’t consciously pick up on, I’m very aware of who the narrator is in those books. The narrator is still present as a character.

“Also, even with nonfiction, I do all my research first so that when I sit down to write, I can focus on the story. So much of it felt really familiar. I do appreciate,with historical fiction, being somewhat constrained by the truth. I can see how too many choices could get overwhelming.”

AbeBooks: Describe how you discovered the real Constance Kopp?

The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

Amy Stewart: I was still writing The Drunken Botanist, and I was looking into the story of a gin smuggler named Henry Kaufman. I thought I’d better see what else this Henry Kaufman had done, and one of the first articles I turned up in the New York Times’ archive was about this silk factory owner named Henry Kaufman who ran his car into a buggy being driven by the Kopp sisters. I never did figure out if it was the same Henry Kaufman, but that was the beginning of their story.

AbeBooks: Is Girl Waits With Gun a story of good versus evil or a story of strong women?

Amy Stewart: “Yeah, I see it mostly as a story of these three women making their way in the world. You know, most of us can’t really point to very many moments in our own lives that actually changed everything for us. It’s the hook on which every great movie and book is based, but it doesn’t really happen that much in everyday life. But here are three women who really were set on an entirely new course because of this one crime against them. I’m much more interested in their journey–that’s what inspired me the most.

AbeBooks: If you had a dinner party and could invite anyone, which strong-willed women from history would you invite?

Amy Stewart: “It takes my breath away to imagine having dinner with Constance!  Can I just invite the Kopp sisters?  Really, that’s such a heart-stoppingly shocking notion that I can hardly bear to think about it.

“I’d love to talk to Margaret Sanger and Jane Jacobs, two women who cared deeply about social reform, and also Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who was in Paterson, New Jersey, right before my story began and helped organize the famous Paterson silk strikes. It sounds like a very serious and sincere group, but I bet they knew how to kick back and have fun.”

AbeBooks: What appealed to you about this era (1914) of American life?

Amy Stewart: “Well, it’s the very beginning of the modern age. Women didn’t yet have the vote, but we were agitating for it. Our world was only just becoming motorized and electrified, but there were still gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages and weird medical tonics and all the artifacts of the nineteenth century. It’s such an unstable and unpredictable moment in time, right before the war, before the modern era began in earnest.  It’s antiquated and strange but also just recent enough that we can almost touch it.”

AbeBooks: Your husband is a bookseller (like you) – does he also proof-read your writing?

Amy Stewart: “Yes, and he always finds something! He’s particularly good at looking out for anachronisms. He’s saved me from some embarrassing mistakes, none of which I’m willing to confess to.”

Eureka Books co-owned by Amy Stewart

Rare lithograph of America’s largest mass execution sells for $1,035

America’s largest mass execution

A rare color lithograph depicting the largest mass execution in the history of the United States has sold for $1,035 on the AbeBooks marketplace. Measuring 25 1/4 x 21 inches, ‘Execution of the Thirty-Eight Sioux Indians at Mankato, Minnesota December 26, 1862′ was sold by Nat DesMarais Rare Books from Portland. It was printed in 1883 and illustrates a key moment in Native American affairs following the Dakota War of 1862.

According to Nat’s description, “On August 18, the Sioux Dakota’s killed more than 40 Americans. Federal troops started advancing towards their Agency in the hopes of avoiding an uprising. In doing so, 10 Americans were captured by the Sioux, and 16 others were killed. This started the conflict. The Minnesota uprising was one of the nation’s most costly Indian wars, both in lives lost and property destroyed. It resulted in the near depletion of the frontier and the exile of the Dakota from Minnesota.

“At the war’s conclusion several hundred Indians were tried by a five-man territory commission and on November 5, 1862, 303 were sentenced to death. Henry B. Whipple, Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, met with President Abraham Lincoln on behalf of the Indians. After listening to the bishop and personally reviewing the trial records, Lincoln commuted the death sentence for all but 38 prisoners. At 10 am on December 26, 1862, the condemned men, chanting the Dakota death song, marched in single file to a scaffold guarded by 1,400 troops in full battle dress. A chilling but important image.”

The hanging remains the largest mass execution to occur in the USA.