Intrepid former Algonquin intern David Bradley and his trusty sidekick, Lucky the Leprechaun, hit the road for a tour of (almost all) the coolest, hippest, greatest indie bookstores in the United States. Join us for the journey…
MENLO PARK, California — I know everyone is a skeptic these days, but Kepler’s Books is magic. Seriously. I visited Kepler’s on the busiest day of my tour, leaving early from my hotel in San Jose, driving to Menlo Park, taking a train into San Fran, visiting three bookstores in completely different areas, then hopping the train back to Menlo Park to visit Kepler’s. Not to mention that I had driven over 4,000 miles in less than three weeks. I. Was. Exhausted. I sat down on the train to Menlo Park, took out a book and immediately slipped into sleep. I should have woken up at the end of the line, confused and despairing. Instead, I woke up—four stops later, mind you—exactly as the train pulled up in sight of Kepler’s Books. Suspicious.
I would have chalked that up to luck if I didn’t then sit down and learn about Kepler’s penchant for resurrection and reinvention. Twice, Kepler’s Books came face-to-face with its own demise, and twice, it came out stronger on the other side, raising funds and finding new owners. Kepler’s most recent resurrection has completely reformed it, turning it into a hot bed of innovation. Now it isn’t just Kepler’s Books, but also Kepler’s Arts and Lectures, a non-profit organization determined to host the best workshops, classes, and author events around. And Kepler’s Books has a major face-lift coming its way in the form of Kepler’s 2020 — a movement driven by the current owners for the bookstore to be community owned within the next few years. There are great things ahead for Kepler’s. This bookstore has survived hard times and has transformed itself into a thriving laboratory, eager to work with publishers, authors, and anyone with the ideas and motivation to create pilot programs. Kepler’s books wants to be the most innovative bookstore around and, with the magic they have in their store, I have no doubt that they will succeed.
Bookseller and nicest-person-you’ll-ever-meet Lily Shoemaker sat down to answer the Algonquin Questionnaire.
When did Kepler’s Books originally open?
Roy Kepler opened up Kepler’s Books in 1955 as a place to sell pulp paperbacks. The store has changed locations and grown multiple times since then, and now we sell all kinds of books.
What is the funniest book you sell at Kepler’s?
I’m not sure I can narrow it down to just one! I have a daughter in college and we both really like F*ck I’m in My 20’s by Emma Koenig. But I also need to mention The Little Penis Book by Craig Yoe because it’s also absurd and hilarious.
What is your favorite Algonquin book?
I’m going to have to give you two again! I loved The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro which is just a great book all-around. I was also a fan of The Receptionist by Janet Groth. It’s a really nice memoir and it reminded me so much of Mad Men that I couldn’t help but love it.
And your favorite book for the summer?
I might as well give you two here as well. Anita Amirrezvani’s Equal of the Sun is an amazing historical fiction novel set in 16th Century Persia. It’s written with such rich detail and has wonderful insight into Persian culture. I’d also recommend Little Green by Walter Mosley. It’s part of a series about a WWII veteran and it explores post WWII race relations, which you don’t normally get to read about.
Is there a staff cocktail of choice?
The staff gets together sometimes to do a little after hours book swap, and we’ve found that book swapping is best with a little champagne.
Is there a section of the store that really draws people in?
We are lucky enough to have two Book Club Gurus working for us. Our bookseller Nancy has a huge following of book clubs that she’s accrued over twenty years, and they absolutely swear by her choices. Then our book club coordinator, Sina, is always bringing in new clubs to Kepler’s, so our book club section attracts a lot of attention.
Next stop: Book Passage in Corte Madera, California.
*Note: The Lucky Tour posts are not in real time. David and Lucky have returned from their travels with great tales and many, many books. Stay tuned for more road stories…