First published here on Mariano’s Scifoo14 blog

Looking for good and affordable books in San Francisco? Here is the list of my favourite bookstores in the city (and the books I have serendipitously found there!)

Book Bay Fort Mason

A public library selling books!

Location: Fort Mason Center, Marina Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94123.

A former United States Army port alongside San Francisco Bay, whose buildings now host Theatres, Museums, Cafeterias, art campus... and a bookstore. And what a bookstore! The “Book Bay Fort Mason” is indistinguishable from a public library, with books sorted with care, tables available for attenders and cable connections for plugging laptops. The only difference is that the books can be bought, and the prices are very low. The bookstore is managed by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library, “a nonprofit organization that advocates, fundraises, and provides support for the San Francisco Public Library and related literary and educational programs.” All the books coming from donors are sold in this bookstore and in a smaller one, located inside the San Francisco Public Library (see the “Readers Bookstore at the Main” below).

Serendipitously found there: James Randi, “The Magic of Uri Geller”, Ballatine Books, 1975. (Paperback Edition: USD 1,00.) – The sharp and spicy analysis of Uri Geller’s psychic powers, written by the world-famous debunker of fake mediums – the magician James Randi. The book can also be read as an encyclopedia of tricks for gaining a supernatural status. One of the stories told by Randi focuses on a curious Italian connection: aware of the role of the “aura”, Geller faked a photograph of himself with Sophia Loren for the Israeli newspapers!

Readers Bookstore at the Main

The finest and cheapest gift shop in Frisco!

Location: San Francisco Public Library, 30 Grove St, San Francisco, CA 94102.

The smaller bookstore managed by the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library (see the “Book Bay Fort Mason” above) is hosted inside the main building of the Public Library, where a visitor would expect to find the museum gift shop. Aside from (cheap) used books, it actually offers many elegant gadgets derived from old illustrated volumes – badges, bookmarks, postcards, notebooks. The perfect place where to buy gifts for book lovers, funding “a collection of committed, caring individuals who share a common vision of a superior free public library accessible by all.”

Serendipitously found there: Lewis Hyde, “Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth and Art”, Canongate, 2008 (Paperback Edition: USD 6,00.) – A wide-ranging collection of stories about tricksters from all over the world – from Prometheus to Marcel Duchamp – revealing their role of boundary-crossers: they live on the edges of the society, playing on its boundaries and always challenging the criteria to define what’s in and what’s out.

Bound Together Anarchist Collective Bookstore

A truly paradise for culture jammers and situationists!

Location: 1369 Haight St, San Francisco, CA 94117.

Run by volunteers, you cannot expect that it is always open. I insisted returning three times there, but it was worth the visit! The widest and eye-opening collection of counter-culture books I have ever seen, in the very center of the Haight district – the place where the legendary Summer of Love took place. It is managed by extremely generous and cultured people – and even the musical choice is stunning: during my visit, a Gregorian choir created a surprising contrast with the hippie mood of the surrounding area. The perfect place to sit and have a coffee, waiting for the opening, is “Coffee to the People” (1206 Masonic Ave, San Francisco, CA 94117): it is just behind the corner and on its walls there are hundreds of exquisite radical slogans (like “A book worth banning is a book worth reading”.)

Serendipitously found there: Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith, John Law, “Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society”, Last Gasp, 2013. – The antology collects pranks, jokes and “situations” created in San Francisco by members of the Cacophony Society, “a randomly gathered network of free spirits united in the pursuit of experiences beyond the pale of mainstream society.” A must read for culture-jamming-enthusiasts like me.

Bibliohead Bookstore

When you feel nostalgic of good old “search engines” in-flesh-and-bones

Location: 334 Gough St, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Located a few blocks from the City Hall, it is run by a woman with a surprising, meticulous knowledge of all the titles in the bookstore. Just test her skill with the most unusual requests and you will immediately feel nostalgic of the times before digital search engines. After my requests for books about hypnosis, she took out of the shelves two volumes – the first by Milton Erickson, the second by some New Age quack – emphasizing the greater accuracy of the psychiatrist. Amazon will never provide such an experience.

Serendipitously found there: Hereward Carrington, “The American Seances With Eusapia Palladino”, Garrett Publications, 1954. (First Edition: USD 8,00.) – The detailed chronicle of the seances with the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino organized in the US by Hereward Carrington. In 1908, during a trip to Italy, the researcher witnessed the miracles performed by the woman and decided to fund her American tour. He was then disappointed when unexpectedly he glimpsed two magic tricks used by Eusapia to create the illusion of supernatural powers.