I moved to San Diego in 2012 under duress. I didn’t want to move to San Diego, I wanted to stay in the Bay Area, but I had taken a career risk in the Bay Area and it didn’t pan out and I ran out of money. My brother and sister-in-law lived north of San Diego and I moved in with them. I’m always and forever grateful that they took me in, but I resented San Diego.
“But why hate San Diego?” I got if I even hinted that I didn’t care for it. “The weather here is wonderful!” And that’s where they usually stopped, which annoyed me beyond everything else. “Look! Endless sun! Why leave?” Every night on the news the anchors would make it worse by exclaiming that sun thing without any provocation whatsoever. San Diego: AIN’T WE GOT SUN.
I resented San Diego for reasons both valid and irrational. I hated that relentless sun. I hated the fact that there was so little shade, or even places to walk (our first apartment was stuck at the end of a road where the sidewalk came and went, and the closest business was nearly a mile away). I resented the lack of mass transit and resented the traffic and resented the heat (even though “gee, but it’s a DRY heat!” except in May and June when it wasn’t dry but this clammy form of dry), I resented the Santa Ana winds, I resented the massive amount of breweries, I resented the lack of bookstores, I resented the lack of cafes…
Seven years later I’ve found ways to make that lack a definition of luxury. I still hate the sun, but now I can use that as a reason to avoid melanoma and write in a coffee shop, which San Diego has a lot more of now. I have found places to have craft cocktails instead of IPA ALL DAY. And I have found my bookstores.
For the last three years, every year on Independent Bookstore Day (the last Saturday in April), San Diego bookstores have done a literary “crawl,” like you would find as a pub crawl in a neighborhood in other big cities. The first year there were three bookstores; the last two years there have been nine bookstores all over San Diego. I see it as San Diego as a booming book town…in hiding. I don’t meet many readers, particularly in bars. I wish I did. I wish I could grab a beer and a bite and read a book, instead of having to watch whatever sport is on the fifty televisions on the walls. Even San Diego’s coffee shops get a little nervous if you read at a table for longer than your coffee is warm. But I’m grateful for these book shops and their book clubs and their events; I’m less lonely and less resentful and more grateful for a few minutes.
The Crawl, this year, included the following bookstores:
- Mysterious Galaxy – This bookstore is built into a strip mall in the Clairemont Mesa in the middle of San Diego. From my apartment it takes a train and a bus to get there (unless I feel like spending a fortune and getting a rideshare), so I only visit it for the crawl. I do follow them on social media, and they have author events and book clubs all of the time, as well as releases of new books every Tuesday with the rest of their new books. They also have lots of other items that aren’t books: pins, bags, t-shirts, etc. This year I picked up an enamel pin with a worker motif that says “Fight Evil, Read Books” around the circumference of the pin.
- UCSD Bookstore – I miss university bookstores since graduating from college in 2000. While I’m not drawn to the Triton material, I love the stacks and stacks and stacks of books, and the possibility that students are reading these books for class credit. This year The Crawl had an Illustrator Ambassador, Susie Ghahremani, and she was working on her next book, painting in person, at the UCSD Bookstore when I was there. I picked up another one of her buttons (I have quite a collection of her enamel pins, all of them animals, some of the animals holding books or art tools or musical instruments) and a book wrapped in brown paper with a description of the book on the outside, the experience of a “blind date with a book,” which I love.
- Warwick’s – Warwick’s is the oldest independent bookstore on the west coast. When you think about the implications of that, the store takes on more weight, even though half of the retail space there is not books or book items at all, but random gift items. I picked up the latest novel by Jess Kidd in paperback (Mr. Flood’s Last Resort). The ride from UCSD Bookstore to Warwick’s is the most beautiful bus ride on The Crawl; it’s a cliff-side view of La Jolla.
- Run For Cover Bookstore – This bookstore is the newest store in the collection, opening in the fall of 2018. The store is a cozy little space in the Ocean Beach area, and they had old-time jazz and blues with live musicians out on the sidewalk when I stopped by. I picked up a book that was pure silliness there, The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America by Matt Kracht, a goofy version of bird guides.
- La Playa Books – This bookstore was the quietest and calmest of the group. It wasn’t that they were empty, but the neighborhood in Point Loma was lazy and calm, and that seemed to play out in the cozy bookstore as well. There I picked up a copy of Francisco Cantu’s memoir of working for the Border Patrol, The Line Becomes a River.
- The Library Shop – I probably go to this store the most of the group outside of the crawl because it is the closest shop to my apartment. The Library Shop probably has the lowest count of books in ratio to gift items, but I understand: they are next door to thousands of free books on loan. I met up with Susie again there, and she was signing her book that will come out in October, Little Muir’s Song. She signed my copy and we got to chat again about what her enamel pins have meant in my life.
- The Book Catapult – This little shop in South Park is my second-most go-to bookstore since they have a book club that I could easily attend while I was still working. (They also have a lovely Indian fusion restaurant across the street from them, so book club is more and more of an event for me.) I picked up a copy of Bookshops: A Reader’s History by Jorge Carrion and a sticker of the bookstore’s logo to put on my laptop.
- Verbatim Books – Verbatim is a used bookstore with a wonderful sense of funkiness, located in North Park. They have books, zines, stickers, toys, buttons; I picked up a used copy of Barry Lopez’s Crossing Open Ground and a pack of funky stickers for my daybook.
- Bluestocking Books – This is the bookstore that I have been visiting the longest in my tenure in San Diego County, a bookstore of used books, vinyl, bookmarks, magazines, etc in the Hillcrest neighborhood. For my last stop I picked up a copy of Amor Towles’s novel A Gentleman in Moscow in paperback, as well as a couple of stickers for my journal.
With the possibility of me moving to the Bay Area in a little while, there are other things I have grown to love here in San Diego: friends, food, The Old Globe, the public library. But The Crawl gave me the chance to see slices of this town as “literary” and artistic. I did the entire crawl in one day, on San Diego’s mass transit (which I don’t recommend, but maybe someday the weekend service will improve so that I can), and every time I got on a train or a bus I was brought suddenly back to the reality of San Diego, a car culture that held very little store in books out in the world, but maybe those stark, opposing views of the city set me up for San Diego’s possibilities as well. Maybe, I thought, I could think of the bookstores in San Diego as more of the little oases of salons of old, as speakeasies of words and stories.