Bookstores are delightful society. If you go into a room filled with books, even without taking them down from their shelves, they seem to speak to you, to welcome you. --William Gladstone, 19th-Century British prime minister Books have been pretty good friends, haven't they? And it's amazing, after the way we've treated them. They've survived our dalliances with radio and movies and television and, now, home video. They'll probably survive the next fickle romance that causes our wandering eyes to stray from the page.
Think about it: Books have been the most steadfast and interesting of companions. Read the same book over and over and, rather than get stale on you, it will give you a different look, a nuance you hadn't seen before. Yet, the essential strength of the book doesn't change, and it will remain faithful at crunch time.
You wish you knew people like that, don't you? Maybe that's why you hear people talk about how much they love curling up with a good book.
That, perhaps, is all part of the "delightful society" Gladstone was talking about. And while the old Britisher might harrumph at the Video Age, he could find comfort that in 20th-Century Orange County there are still places to go to listen to and look at the books beckoning you from the shelves.
They are the county's independent bookstores--those repositories of sometimes new but usually used and rare books--that are wedged in, tucked in and hard to find but which, when discovered, can yield some unexpected pleasures.
Interviews with a dozen or so published authors and book devotees in the county turned up a healthy list of places to go for the good read, including a couple of chain stores. Among them, and in no particular order, are Book Harbor, Book Cellar and Lorson's in Fullerton; Book Baron in Anaheim; Book Carnival in Orange; Fahrenheit 451 and Upchurch-Brown Booksellers in Laguna Beach; Cahill's Book Store in Fountain Valley; Rizzoli's and Scribner Book Store, both in Costa Mesa, and Lido Book Shoppe in Newport Beach.
While that isn't meant to be an all-inclusive county list, what distinguishes those stores, the experts agree, is a combination of esthetics, book selection and the employees' knowledge of and appreciation for books.
The stores are a haven for the serious reader and collector as well as for those among us with quirky tastes. Misplaced your copy of "Art Treasures of Yugoslavia?" The Book Baron can sell you one. How about "The Truth About Fonzie" or "Trust in Tobacco," both of which are available at Book Harbor.
The bookstores on the list come in different shapes and sizes--from the gymnasium-sized Book Baron to the closet-sized Fahrenheit 451--and some specialize in things such as mystery and science fiction. But their owners share the common goal of wanting to make some money and add whatever they can to the sum of acquired knowledge in the county.
David Cormany, owner of the Book Cellar, says: "Bookselling is a business, but it's a business with a difference. We're committed to all the commercial aspects but also to the ideal of books as an instrument of culture in American life."
While some authors and serious readers were charitable toward the large bookstore chains, some weren't. One published county author, who begged for anonymity, says: "In so many of the big chain stores, they're run by bimbos and bimbettes. They don't know the stock. Maybe they're kids who were working at Denny's the day before, flipping burgers. They don't know the book business. They wouldn't know a book from an onion ring."
Like other arts enterprises in the county, the availability of good bookstores appears to be increasing to meet demand.
"Ten or 15 years ago in Orange County, you had to go to junk stores to find anything," says John Mitchell, a Pasadena book dealer. "Now, they're springing up. Which is good. One thing about bookstores--they don't fear competition. It's not like the shoe store that has to knock the competition to survive."
Karen Ziegler manages Fahrenheit 451, a store mentioned frequently and favorably by bookstore devotees. It prides itself, among other things, on its women's books, metaphysical section and contemporary fiction.
"I think every independent bookstore has to have its own personality or they wouldn't survive," Ziegler says. "Why would it matter? You could go to (a chain bookstore). They have books but no personality."
Like Mitchell, Ziegler thinks the state of county bookstores has advanced markedly since the early '70s: "I've lived here for 17 years, and it's certainly way better than it used to be. When I first got here, I simply didn't know if people even bought any books. There was one store. . . . Other than that, there was nothing. I was appalled. I used to go to people's houses, they didn't have any books. Or maybe they kept them in the garage. But it's gotten a lot better."