santa barbara bookstores part one

wrathOkay, so some kids went to Hawaii or Disneyland over spring break.  My kids went to bookstores, and littlest even begged to visit one for a third time to pick up a book in Chris D’Lacey’s Last Dragon Chronicles series so she would not have to read them out of order god so graciously forbid–you see she is on a first name basis with the school librarian, who orders books just for her and who had thoughtfully given me #4 so she could have it over the break.  Littlest wanted to read #4 but could not return it to school without having read #3 first.  I completely understand.

We browsed through two incredible independent bookstores, each unique from the other.  Chaucer’s books on upper State Street in Santa Barbara is a rambling lovely mess we love.  We arrived about 8 PM on our first night and stayed until they escorted us to the door at closing time, me arguing on the way out with biggest love because she gave me the folded arms and glaring hip sit when I tried to get her to take home Emily Bronte.  honey, it’s like TWILIGHT but maybe even better!  She just stamps her foot, sits deeper into her hip and stares at me.  Tells me in the car as I am pulling away all hurt and in a huff, with the fresh sting of rejection but those characters are so dark, mom . . . heathcliff and cathy.  And how pray tell does she know, I ask.  because bella and edward said so in ECLIPSE.  they say they’re ghastly horrible people, and i don’t want to read about them.   I seized upon this small smug parental victory–you bet I did because they are getting few and far between.  a ha!  you see?  you see?!  i haven’t even read those books and yet you’re telling me those moping star-crossed vampires actually mention wuthering heights and talk about cathy and heathcliff of all things.  either that is really random or i must be on to something . . . .  More folded arms and a glaring side glance.  Maybe after the smoke of my righteous indignation dissipates she’ll reconsider Bronte . . . . but might not be until the next trip to Santa Barbara.

Chaucer’s is the book shop that put both Barnes & Noble and Borders out of business.  It’s tucked away in an old strip mall among tony shops like the most delicious Renaud’s Patisserie and Paper Ink, where you can buy a $20 sheet of fancy wrapping paper.  That’s right.  One sheet.  twenty bucks.   Unlike these other places, Chaucer’s is utterly unfancy, with titles tucked anywhere they can fit, piled high on top of shelves, stacked neatly and haphazardly along the floor, tucked onto ledges.  With charming hand-inked paper signs hanging by string from the ceiling to guide my way, I lingered in the music-poetry-performing arts section and in something I think was called the pre-twentieth century classics corner where I found this Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray–I loved the cover.


Several clerks milled about helping people make selections and regular patrons greeted one another and chatted with a young local author signing copies of what I think was a “new mom” cookbook or something or other.  What struck me most about this place was the energy–it seemed frenetic, as if they had such a demand for inventory they just sliced open the shipping boxes and left them in the aisles.  Brand new paperback copies of at least two hardcovers I recently finished tossed along the floor and slim volumes of poetry perched on ledges.  It seems ironic but Chaucer’s unpretentious simplicity is selling books in Santa Barbara.

Part Two Lost Horizon Books 

chaucers chaucersferd chaucerspoetry chaucersruins chaucersstacks chaucerstoss chaucersYA


[dot_recommends]    Email This Post


  1. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, of course, but oh how I would love it if they loved bookstores the way I do.

    Just a bit of envy here . . .

Leave a Reply