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There was coffee, there were books

Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner

It must seem to my children that my two main interests in travel (or indeed in life) are books and coffee. And they have a fair point. One of the things I love the most about being anywhere new is imagining what it must be like to live there — thinking about how climate and place shape our lives; wondering what a normal day looks like to someone who lives there. Cafes and bookshops; coffee shops and book stores; they don’t, to me at least, seem the worst place to start.

Sarah Manguso & Eula Biss

I set out with just two books, The Grapes of Wrath & Joan Didion’s Sentimental Journeys. I came back with seventeen. We had to buy an extra bag for the return flight. This is just a selection.

You can blame most of it — the excellent bookshops, the great coffee places — on Nicole Gulotta’s wonderful blog Eat This Poem and the fantastic collection of literary city guides she has curated there. We had the best guides — to Sonoma County, to San Fransico, to San Luis Obispo, to LA and Santa Barbara and San Diego. We owe them a lot.

.Goat Rock Roast

I bought a book of Dorianne Laux’s poetry (What We Carry) in the used section of Copperfield’s in Petaluma, and then discovered that she was living in Petaluma when it was published.

Where I Was From, Joan Didion

I bought Eula Biss’s Notes from No Man’s Land because I love and admire the opening essay ‘Time and Distance Overcome‘ so very much. Flying home, a small boy sleeping across my lap, I watched Finding Vivian Maier and saw Biss’s name in the credits and had to re-watch to try and spot her. (She’s the neighbour who recounts an anecdote about how Maier used to tell her off in winter for going out without a hat.)What Is Found There, Adrienne Rich

In the Book Den, in Santa Barbara, the used and new books are shelved side by side, which I rather loved, and the books, as usual, seemed to be talking to one another. I came out with a collection of William Maxwell’s essays and reviews and Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings. One of Maxwell’s essays is on Welty’s memoir, and then I remembered that they had been great friends and became desperate to read this.

Eudora Welty and William Maxwell

There were disappointments too. I thought that even Barnes & Noble would interest me (we were mainly thinking of the days when we had Borders here in the UK), but, no. Maybe it was just the branches we tried (two or three), or the excess of kid-toy merchandising which made browsing with little ones nearly impossible, but it didn’t do anything for me. Ditto the bookshop on campus at Stanford, which was filled more with sports clothes than books.

Favourites: Green Apple Books on the Park paired with an oat scone from Arizmendi. Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma paired with — oh my! — coffee from Acre Coffee, or a shake from Lala’s Creamery or a brunch at the Tea Room Cafe (and, yes, we tried all three — though not on the same day).

So, there you have our trip in bookshops & coffees. More on many of these soon.


It’s funny how even the smallest gap opens up resistance. My normal ‘rule’ is to be here at least once a week & it’s easy that way to come, to write about what I’ve thought or read without worrying about it being the most perfect piece ever. I always like the sense that a post here is just a postcard from me to you. A gap opens up & then the anticipated weight of meaning seems greater. I say this only because I think that it’s true in many ways, not just this one. I read somewhere this week (here) that we have more to say to those we see often than those we see infrequently: it’s something that I’ve often observed to be true. If you don’t see someone every day or every week, small annoyances seem to petty to explain, you lack the shared knowledge of what you planned to do and how it went and how you felt about that. All of which is just to say, hi, it’s good to be back.

1 Comment

  1. So good to have you back. Thank you for sharing your journey. Seventeen books: you are a woman after my heart. And now I want to read Notes from No Man’s Land!!

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