A Booklover’s Guide to East Bay Bookstores

Our 15 favorite literary haunts for browsing, buying, selling, and just hanging out.


Sci-fi palace Dark Carnival knows more than a thing or two about books.

Photo by Pat Mazzera

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What makes a bookstore great? Is it the literal book collection, consistently good staff picks, or vibrant reading series and events? Yes, plus character, customer service, inviting spaces, and add-ons like appealing trinkets and one-of-a-kind finds for self, home, family, and friends. We searched the East Bay over to compile our list of favorite bookstores, for the most part sticking to our indie guns, though two chainsters made our cut. Here’s what we came up with, in alphabetical order: laudable local spots for East Bay book lovers with an admitted bias toward homey, helpful, and widespread interests.

Afikomen Judaica

An uplands neighborhood bookstore with a friendly blend of reverence and lightheartedness (“Yo-Semite” T-shirt anyone?), Afikomen Judaica trades in “contemporary Judaica for inspired living,” which means books and more. Just under half the store is devoted to books, including histories, biographies, Hebrew dictionaries, various versions of the Torah, and a selection of children’s picture books such as Lights Out Shabbat and Thank You, God: A Jewish Children’s Book of Prayers. One can find The Little Prince written in Hebrew next to a well-used kiddie area, but there are plenty of philosophical books for serious scholars and shelves containing fresh fiction for customers seeking adventure and escape. Mahjongg classes are taught here, and a carved wooden pedestal holds a gorgeous book of museum collection Jewish textiles. When customers get bogged down in the tantalizing cookbook area, salespersons will gently nudge them toward locally made exotic honeys, essential oils referencing biblical history, and the music CD library or point them in the direction of Shabbat candlesticks, Mezuzah cases and scrolls, chuppah rentals, or ketubah prints. 3042 Claremont Ave., Berkeley, 510-655-1977, www.Afikomen.com. —TT and EP

A Great Good Place for Books

This Montclair shop is a great good neighborhood bookstore that aims to be a place that people visit not only to shop, but also to chat and connect. It’s the kind of shop where you can depend on the staff recommendations and always learn about a great, new author you’ve yet to hear of. It’s also a stellar place to attend author events and readings, with up to four per week featuring both local and far-flung scribes. There is a strong young adult emphasis here as well. The space is limited, but if you want something the bookstore doesn’t have, go ahead and ask for a special order. And note that A Great Good Place now hosts book sales (both paper and electronic) through its website. 6120 LaSalle Ave., Oakland, 510-339-8210, www.GGPBooks.com. —EP

Barnes & Noble

Sometimes, bigger is better. When you’re too impatient to wait for two-day shipping from Amazon or your local independent bookstore is out of stock, head to the big-box store to fulfill your literary longings. Barnes & Noble’s extensive selection is sure to have you covered from Kierkegaard to Katniss and from Dr. Seuss to Dr. Spock. B&N also has a thorough graphic novel collection that covers everything from Marvel to manga as well as magazine racks overflowing with national publications, local selections, and some hard-to-find specialty and independent ’zines, not to mention movies, music, and Nook e-readers, gift offerings, and board games. Grab a coffee and whittle away hours browsing—you’ll discover the benefits of a big-box store. It’s in the Bay Street shopping center, and so is perfect for purchasing an after- (or pre-)cinema tome. Enjoyed watching Gone Girl? You may love the book even more. 5604 Bay St., Emeryville, 510-547-0905, www.BarnesAndNoble.com. —MC and EP

Bookmark Bookstore

Love libraries but just can’t bear to give the books back when you’re done? The Friends of the Oakland Public Library solve this quandary with Old Oakland’s Bookmark Bookstore. Comprised of donations from the community, all sales from this used bookstore benefit the Oakland Public Library, so picking up Pinocchio or snagging some Stephen King feeds the beautiful cycle that is the public library. Unassuming on the outside, inside you’re sure to find a few surprises. Recent trips revealed somewhat rare Raymond Chandler, a smattering of Hunter S. Thompson, gobs of Greek gods, and a collection of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels for $4. Great prices for a good cause, and, once you leave the shop, they’re yours to keep—until you decide to donate them back to the Bookmark. 721 Washington St., Oakland, 510-444-0473, www.fopl.org. —MC

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