Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Luster’s Warren

bookstore Jacksonville FL
Chamblin bookstore in Jacksonville claims
they stock over a million books!
When it comes to reading, I’m just an old fashioned girl.  Sure, Kindle’s and laptop’s ability to store tons o books in a minuscule space is cool, and for cozy boats like ours, practical (Wayne’s stored over 8000 e-books!). 

Yet, I’d still rather curl up with dead tree shavings, given the choice.  Maybe it’s the visceral feel of a page, the satisfaction of turning them upon completion, a natural physical progression of an otherwise mental journey. 

Wandering Chamblin's interior like a hungry rat
in a maze of cheese walls.
I especially love pre-owned books … cheap, a little dog-eared, cryptically highlighted, with spidery notes penciled in, sparingly.  Like my cars, I’m more than willing to let someone else pay full price first.  I’ll forgo the new smell and stress over the first scratches and dings – or – in the cases of books, broken bindings and the sullying of clean, pristine pages. I’ll joyfully adopt discarded tomes and tiny paperbacks, faded, tattered and torn, then spread their joy to the next eager reader when I’m done.

To my minimalist husband’s chagrin (who, unlike me prefers reading electronic tomes), books, and hoarding paper in general, is one of my greatest weaknesses. Drop me off at a book exchange (click here for where I found them in the Caribbean) and I feel more excited than a hungry kid in a candy store with a fistful of change.  Even when I can’t check anything out, I’m similarly agog in libraries (click here to see some of the cooler ones encountered cruising)…. All those wonderful stories, and fabulous information made available to anyone there – for free!

While fascinating, as an earthquake-country baby,
this shelving architecture was kinda scary!
In Portland, it was easy to spend hours browsing in Powell’s (click here for their website), the largest independent new and used books store in the world.  Powell’s main store is a block large, and 5 stories high, with a tea/coffee shop and scattered tables and benches.  I appreciate the way Powell’s books are separated into library-like sections; new and used books commingled. It was common – and delightful -- to spend less for a near-new used hardback than for a brand-new paperback.      

When my Ortega Landing Marina neighbors spoke reverently about Chamblin (click here for Chamblin’s website), philosophically, a Southern cousin to Powell’s, but a few block away, I deliberately stayed away.  I was afraid to expose myself to such delicious and way-too-convenient temptation.  Truth be told I can be tough for a while, but eventually those mouldering pages sang their sweet siren song. Helplessly, I found myself lured inside….

Inside was … simply overwhelming!

Chamblin’s shelves are Jack-in-the-Beanstalk tall, Ichabod Crane skinny, overflowing with a crazy kaleidoscope of books… dusty beauties flaunting their faded, yellow pages.  Hallways look and feel more like tunnels, long and snaking, junctions and wider aisles periodically cluttered with a variety of jumbled boxes.  How Chamblin passed fire inspections is beyond me.   I’m grateful for that, though the concept of anyone or anything surviving a fire there is slim to none, maybe a bit less risky than, say, riding a motorcycle over 150 mph (yes, something I did as a passenger in my youth).

Wisely, my Chamblin forays are all conducted on a tight schedule.  Further, I armed myself with a very specific book-list-based focus, attempting to shield myself from randomly wandering amidst the land-o-good-n-plenty.  That, and asking directions of the amazingly well-geographically acquainted staff kept me from getting lost, Alice in Wonderland-like down a rabbit hole.

Thus, in my three trips to Chamblin, miraculously, I’ve managed to keep my sum total of purchases to less than a dozen books…. an appropriately eclectic mix of historical fiction, some classic sea-science books, psych - self help, a Jacksonville magazine, and Wheat Belly.  Good stuff.

For my Portland-area bookie friends, how does Chamblin compare to our beloved Powell’s?

Chamblin's aisles just keep going and going and going....
Powell’s offers far better prices on its secondhand books, and what I consider a reasonable returns policy.  There, if you buy a book and determine it’s a mistake, when you return with your receipt, Powell’s refunds you.  But when I came back to Chamblin within a day or so of purchase, with receipt, the Chamblin cashier said, “Too bad you made a bad choice.  We can buy it back from you.”  They did, at about 1/5th the price paid, or something equally stingy.  No more quick purchases at Chamblin, based on recommendations! 

Bottom line:  Chamblin isn’t Powell’s, but it’s still a local treasure.  It’s well worth a visit if you’re in the ‘hood, especially if vintage books are your thing (basic cheap and decent classics work for me, but I’m not a “collector”).  I will make at least one trip back to Chamblin before we set sail.  There’s only one Powell’s, but any halfway decent indie bookstore is well worth supporting.  Chamblin is certainly worthy of my support, even if I don’t get a full bang for my buck and most likely will put my used books in exchanges rather than selling them at Chamblin.

Do you have a favorite bookstore?  Where is it and what makes it your favorite?

If all things are equal, do you prefer e-books or paper?

Do tell!


  1. After we went to e readers there was no going back, and that's a good thing. We would have half the boat filled with books if we didn't. We both read every day, and only have so many authors in common so it would be a royal pain to keep rotating those books. For us there is still a physical connection to books. Nothing like holding a good hardcover book and turning those actual pages. Even the smell of a new book is great. However, the affect of a good book on our senses is now something from the past. It's kind of sad in a way, but technology changes our world whether we like it or not.

    I was never one for used books. It's hard for me to get past the possibility that they may have been read on the toilet, or that someone with a skin disease may have fallen asleep reading it. But that's just me. :)

  2. Uh oh.... Secrets out on what happens to my books before they go into my pass-alongbooks! Seriously though, Latitude 43, reminds of the line my high school biology teach said about getting VD from toilet seats, "You must have amazing timing and strange sexual habits to pick up it up that way." That said, there are still plenty of toilet seats that deserve at best a "hover," not so different than your "used book" concerns. We too have and dedicate little room to books on our humble Pearson. They come, and they go, for the most part.

  3. LOL I should have paid more attention in biology class. All that hovering has killed my knees.