A good bookstore is a portal to the world and the innermost parts of the human heart. Book Passage offers nearly everything one wants and needs from a store that sells books, both old and new, plus magazines, newspapers and much more. There are books about history, science, politics and medicine, along with contemporary bestsellers. Also on the shelves are the classics of world literature, from Crime and Punishment to The Little Prince, which isn’t just for kids, but for all readers. Whether they’re 4 or 84, there’s a comfortable seat for them in a book or a writing group at Book Passage.
“What’s been crucial for our longevity are the partnerships we have,” says Elaine Petrocelli, who co-founded the store 42 years ago with her husband, Bill, the author most recently of Through the Bookstore Window. “We nurture our customers, and they nurture us,” she says.
For those who insist on hearing and seeing authors read from and talk about their works, Book Passage offers hundreds of literary events a year. On July 6, Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon introduces his new book Pops, about fatherhood. On Friday, July 8, Cory Taylor holds forth on How Hitler Was Made, and on July 18, Cara Black shares her insights on Murder on the Left Bank, her latest in the series that’s set in Paris.
Writing conferences and workshops are held all year long. From Sept. 27–30, you can attend the 25th annual Mystery Writers Conference and learn from pros such as Isabel Allende, the exiled Chilean writer who has made Marin her home, and Jacqueline Winspear, creator of the charming British detective Maisie Dobbs, who knows London as well as Dashiell Hammett knew San Francisco.
Pat Holt, former book review editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, hosts a book discussion group. The July book is Teju Cole’s Every Day Is for the Thief; in August, it’s Hanya Yanagihara’s People in the Trees. Check the website for the latest information.
If you want a break from the literary whirlwind, there’s the Book Passage Café, right next door to the bookstore, which is also open seven days a week. The cafe serves coffee, pastries and sandwiches, and features artisan cheeses, local wines and beers, plus daily specials, including salads, quiches and soups.
Then, too, if you want to combine eating with reading and meeting celebrities, there are the popular “Cooks with Books” events that include wine, food and an autographed copy of the featured work. On Saturday, Sept. 15, there’s a literary brunch with Allende who will talk about her latest novel, In the Midst of Winter.
For tourists and global backpackers, there’s a vast selection of helpful books, among them the Lonely Planet travel guides. There are also classes on conversational French that will all but guarantee that you’ll be able to say “Bonjour” and “Ça va?” when you arrive in Paris and won’t be taken for an American.
Book Passage definitely feels like an extended family that embraces locals and outsiders and provides food for thought. Petrocelli is still very much a presence, an inspiration and avid reader who suggests books to read in the store’s newsletter. “Elaine’s Picks” have turned unknown authors into literary celebrities. “In 2003, we helped launch Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner; more recently we brought Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See to the attention of readers around the world,” she said.
Petrocelli and her “crew,” as she calls them, have shown that an independent bookstore can survive and thrive in the age of Amazon. That’s worth a pilgrimage to the store.