an old-style bookstore with as many books as will fit, and booksellers who know books
There is a reason so many authors – Sue Grafton, Fannie Flagg, Ross Macdonald, and T.C. Boyle, for starters – call Santa Barbara home. It has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, the Channel Islands, wine tours, and the most striking of California’s many striking missions, all great inspiration. A writer can walk for hours on one long stretch of beaches that starts with volleyball nets, passes a wharf and yacht club, and continues on through miles of the most beautiful beach and palisade combination you have ever seen. If you don’t feel like writing after walking this beach, you probably shouldn’t write.
And for a bookstore Santa Barbara has Chaucer’s Books.
The things you should expect when you walk into Chaucer’s: the smell of espresso brewing; the sound of wind chimes; a wide selection of tchotchke, literary or not. This is an old-fashioned bookstore, where the limited space is limited almost exclusively to things one actually reads. Like most bookstores these days, your first steps into Chaucer’s will be toward the front tables. Here, they are as likely to be filled with a display of the finalist for the National Book Award in poetry as with your garden variety bestseller pulp.
Chaucer’s is the brainchild of Mahri Kerley, who opened it almost 40 years ago. She didn’t worry too much when the big chains moved into Santa Barbara because, she’s said, “I’ve got more books in my 6,500 square feet than Borders had in their 38,000 square feet.” And it’s true. In a second room to the left, there is a terrific children’s section, with as much to offer as almost any stand-alone children’s store. Behind the few front tables in the main room, there are shelves and shelves and shelves of books. Biography. History. Fiction. Science. Religion. Literary magazines. All of it organized so you can actually find exactly what you’re looking for. But if you can’t, there is always someone at the customer service desk whose job is not to take your money, but simply to find something you might like to read. Chaucer’s hosts the best author readings in the area, too – and if there is nowhere to move the books to allow for chairs, no matter. We’re all happy to stand. And if you’re looking for a new journal, this is the place to go. I almost always get mine here. – Meg
Chaucers is at 3321 State Street, Santa Barbara CA and on twitter at @chaucersbooks
Independent bookstores help new writers find an audience, and keep literature vibrant. If you don’t live near this one, please see the list of others in the sidebar under “Bookstores Worth Browsing.” Don’t see your favorite here yet? Please email me and I’ll do my best to have it featured here.