A Toast to Independent Bookstores

Would Alta be Alta without independent bookstores? So much of our desire to celebrate great writing comes from the new discoveries we’re constantly making in our local bookshops. That’s why we’re particularly excited about Independent Bookstore Day, taking place this weekend across the country. And we’re not alone. Despite the rise of online shopping, mega-bookstores, and e-books, the number of independent booksellers in the U.S. reached 2,470 last year, a 49 percent increase since 2009. This growth is likely due to consumers’ desires for three things they can’t get online or in a big box outlet: curated offerings, knowledgeable staff, and live events.

Some independent bookstores distinguish themselves by specializing in specific categories of content, as Gustavo Arellano found at Santa Ana’s Libromobile. Run by Sarah Rafael García, the Libromobile stocks Spanish-language and Latin American literature and history books—and began as a planter cart parked on Santa Ana sidewalks. García’s Libromobile has grown into a vital community hub: a spot for author events and open mic nights.

In his publisher’s note in the most recent issue of Alta, Will Hearst described our partnerships with four California booksellers: Book Passage and Books Inc. in the Bay Area and Vroman’s Bookstore and Book Soup in Los Angeles. In addition to hosting events with them, we publish their recommendations at Alta Online. And bookstore staff recommendations have become so popular that some sellers are spreading the knowledge from handwritten index cards on bookshelves to the masses on social media. (Portland, Oregon’s Powell’s Books does this really well.)

“I’ve been published long before there [was] any Amazon, before there were any digital books,” Bosch series author Michael Connelly told Alta in 2017. “And the base of my success took bookstores and people like [Book Passage owner] Bill [Petrocelli] to put my books in people’s hands and say, ‘You’ve got to read this guy.’ That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in a digital bookstore.”

“Bookstores are as much a part of the culture as books themselves,” says Petrocelli. “All across the country, when Americans want to share ideas, meet authors, and gain inspiration about life, they gather in independent bookstores.”

This Saturday, April 27, will mark the fifth annual Independent Bookstore Day. Throughout the country, hundreds of independent bookshops will offer events, treats, exclusive merchandise, live music, and more. Here’s a sampling of what you’ll find at Alta’s bookstore partners this weekend:

Vroman’s: Appearances by cookbook authors Marge Perry and David Bonom and Hey, Water! author Antoinette Portis, exclusive Independent Bookstore Day merchandise like What to Eat with What You Read, a bookstore scavenger hunt, and a Seuss-a-bration Story Time.

Book Passage: Meet and greets with Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life author Joan Schoettler, The Honey Bus author Meredith May, and novelist Rachel Howzell Hall; wine and treats with local authors at the Sausalito store; and an Independent Bookstore Day reception with artist Calvin Crosby in Corte Madera.

Book Soup: A Well-Read Black Girl Meet-Up, a book signing with Falter author Bill McKibben, limited-edition indie bookstore swag, and free audiobooks.

Books Inc.: Performances by the Young Performers Theatre; meet and greets with Silicon Valley historian Leslie Berlin, cookbook author Lisa Prince Newman, and novelist Mike Chen; and a one-day opportunity to purchase treasures like a James Baldwin Literary Luminary pin and a signed copy of Roz Chast’s Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It?

                                —Beth Spotswood
We’ve begun experimenting with the style of Alta’s weekly newsletter by adding commentary on recent news and cultural happenings (see above). We’d love to know what you think. Please send us your feedback by emailing Alta’s editors directly at
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Our recommendations for this week’s best writing about California and the West.
A Report from Tulare County, Where a Rogue Conservation Outfit Is Fighting to Save the Sequoia from Climate Change — the Believer

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Support Alta and our event partners at these upcoming events:
TONIGHT: Alta and Books Inc. present activists and award-winning authors Eric Rosswood and Kathleen Archambeau for a discussion of their inspirational collaborative work, We Make It Better: The LGBTQ Community and Their Positive Contributions to SocietyLGBTQ history is as old as history itself. In that time, LGBTQ people have positively affected their communities, made advancements for society, and changed the world. We Make It Better profiles people, places, and events that show just how awesome and inspiring the LGBTQ community is. Details: Books Inc., 1344 Park St., Alameda, 7 p.m., free.
TONIGHT: Visit Vroman’s to see author Marc Weingarten discuss and sign Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water, and the Real Chinatown, a history of Los Angeles and its fraught relationship with water. In a city that’s been on the make since the early 20th century, those in charge of managing resources have fought hard to keep up with the unchecked growth. L.A. water chief William Mulholland built an aqueduct to grab water from over 200 miles away in Owens Valley, but it wasn’t enough. Thirsty is the gripping tale of Los Angeles’s epic battles for water, the larger-than-life characters who shaped the city’s destiny, and the human-made tragedy that killed 400 and forever changed the way water would be harnessed and allocated. Details: Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 7 p.m., free.
Friday, April 26: Join Book Soup and Alta as Saskia Vogel discusses and signs Permission. Set among the bright colors of L.A., Vogel’s novel is a kind of love story about three people sick with dreams and expectations who turn to the erotic for comfort and cure. As they stumble through the landscape of desire, they ask themselves: How do I want to be loved? Details: Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 7 p.m., free.
Saturday, April 27: Attend a meet and greet with Gayle Pirie and John Clark, the owners of San Francisco’s Foreign Cinema restaurant and the authors of The Foreign Cinema Cookbook. Featuring 125 signature dishes, their cookbook spans award-winning brunch favorites like Champagne Omelet and Persian Bloody Mary, cocktail hour with Lavender Baked Goat Cheese in Fig Leaves, and such dinner fare as a Five-Spice Duck Breast with Cassis Sauce and Madras Curry Fried Chicken with Spiced Honey, alongside instructions for how to blend spice staples like ras el hanout. A demo prior to the event will take place at noon at the CUESA Classroom at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Details: Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco, 1 p.m., free.
Tuesday, May 14: In her new book, Alpha Girls, award-winning journalist Julian Guthrie tells the unforgettable story of four women who, through grit and ingenuity, became stars in the cutthroat, high-stakes, male-dominated world of venture capital in Silicon Valley—and helped build some of the foremost companies of our time. Join Guthrie for a powerful live conversation featuring Magdalena Yesil, one of the “alpha girls” in the book, and Meaghan Rose, a rising startup founder. The discussion will be led by Alta publisher Will Hearst. They’ll explore the world of tech, startups, and venture capital—including its work culture—and how this world has and has not changed. Details: Commonwealth Club, 110 the Embarcadero, San Francisco, Alta-hosted reception 5:30 p.m., program 6:30 p.m., $20–$65. 

Alta will be giving away a pair of tickets and a copy of Alpha Girls to the first 20 Alta magazine subscribers who email their interest to
Sunday, May 19: He was the most popular author of his day, but there’s still a lot you don’t know about Jack London. An activist, a two-time candidate for mayor of Oakland, an alcoholic, a rancher—London was a literary icon and a complicated character. Join Alta as writer Joy Lanzendorfer and Jack London scholar Iris Jamahl Dunkle dig deeper into the story of one of the Bay Area’s most legendary authors. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 1 p.m., free.
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