The Hungry Mind bookstore in Manhattan Beach is a place to start and to finish. To start a morning walk with a caffe latte , an apricot croissant and newspapers spread across the indoor counter. To finish an afternoon bicycle ride with a few minutes' browsing, a tour of the magazine racks and a cup of cold fruit juice at an outside table.
Just a few blocks from the brand-new Manhattan Beach Pier, the Hungry Mind has a lot worth recommending. The sociable staff serves a variety of pastas and quiches. Surfers (boards checked at the door) mingle with less salty shoppers. An "Award Winning" section promotes the best of fiction and nonfiction. Breakfasts are good, there are plenty of children's books and the people-watching is excellent. It all feels homey.
Repeat visits, though, reveal that bright concepts can be dimmed by poor execution.
Several weeks back, for example, the Hungry Mind ran a first-line quiz: Opening sentences to several books were written out on the chalkboard behind the cashier. Identify the author and title of any, and receive a second drink free. A pretty good idea--if you happened to be packing binoculars. The handwriting was so small you'd have had to climb over the counter for a clear look. And there on a shelf not 10 feet away stood a book of collected great first lines, including some of the would-be stumper phrases. It actually was too easy to pass up.
Inattention to such details is consistent.
The paperback edition of "Patriot Games," published in 1987, ties up valuable space in the "New Fiction" area. (Well, OK, so the movie was out this year.) Among the limited stock elsewhere, there are copies of Jay Anson's "The Amityville Horror" but nothing by Raymond Carver. On one recent day, there was Kingsley Amis, but no Martin Amis. You're in luck if you want Stephen King. You're not if it's Clive Barker you're after.
Magazine browsing is discouraged with you-break-it-you've-bought-it gruffness. A typical note says: "Regretfully, Andrew Carnegie forgot to endow us; please pay for all reading material." But some of the store's quirks are as entertaining as they are annoying.
Although you won't find The New Republic or Sports Illustrated in the periodical section, there are plenty of copies of Unicus, the magazine for earthbound extraterrestrials, and UFO, a forum on extraordinary theories and phenomena.
The Hungry Mind's advertising line--"cafe, bakery, bookstore"--pretty much says it: Here, books do in fact come last.
Hungry Mind, 916 Manhattan Ave., Manhattan Beach. (310) 318-9029.