Rekindling The Literary Romance: An Experiential Guide to Sacramento’s Bookstores

In a world that runs online, where quick snippets of information are fired off of faceless keyboards and the bright lights of Kindles, iPads and smartphones glitter all around us, one might wonder if physical books really have a future or a place with us anymore. But the real appeal of a physical book can’t be replaced with a computer. It isn’t just the information and the words it contains, it’s the feeling and the soul of it, holding it in your hands and diving in. There’s a certain romance to it, only attainable by holding a real book in your hands. In the midst of a world dominated by online orders, Amazon shopping, and instant gratification, the bookstore seems like a dying breed; however, just as books themselves have magic in them, the bookstore casts its own unique spell. The stores I’m highlighting here are the three that I feel best carry this spark.

 Beers Books | 915 S St

Not only is Beers Books my favorite bookstore in Sacramento, it’s also one of my favorite spots around town. I fell in love with this place this summer when I spent two months living above Gam Lei Sing Chinese Restaurant right across the street. Located on the edge of Midtown/Downtown, just down the street from Insight Coffee, and kitty-corner to Old Ironsides Beers is a treasure trove for book lovers.

As Sacramento’s oldest bookstore, Beers has a certain mystique about it, immediately apparent upon entering. The air is sweet and dusky with the smell of books, old and new, which lingers as you walk in further. A sign at the door lets customers know that cell phones are not welcome. This is a place to unplug, making the browsing experience more rewarding.

Cleverly chosen graphics serve to label each section and keep the eyes moving whilst ensuring topics are easy to find. An ever-rotating selection of old RPG books, Heavy Metal fantasy art magazines, and volumes of McSweeney’s “The Believer” fill in the gaps and satisfy the comic book loving, dice casting, and literary journal nerd in me.

I’ve found all my favorite authors here: Philip K. Dick, Kerouac, Burroughs, Tolkien, etc. Beers is filled with books of every genre; spanning classic literature, beat poetry, yoga, sci-fi, biographies, history, language learning, art and instructional books. This store also has, hands down, the best available metaphysical selection of literature in all of Sacramento. There are even wide varieties of tarot packs and rune sets.

An atmosphere of curiosity saturates this place. Winding back further into the store, I’ve stumbled upon rare and out of print books that I’ve been nearly ecstatic to discover. On one of my more recent explorations, I was thrilled to find a bootleg copy of the tarot manual “The Book of Thoth.” I get the sense that I could find just about anything here.

Along with the friendly and knowledgeable accessibility of the staff, there is a good deal of happy hours and sales at various times throughout the week. The 50-cent paperback and dollar hardcover shelf that lines the outside sidewalk kept me coming back here every day for over a month as it’s always changing. And just a friendly heads up, no, there isn’t Beer available here.

Time Tested Books | 1114 21st St

This was the first bookstore I discovered when I moved back from college and really started hanging out in Midtown, whilst doing an internship just around the corner, this was where I spent my lunch breaks.

Time Tested Books really feels like a bookstore should feel. Located on 21st right between K and L, its brick walls and wooden doors invite you in to explore, and along with a sign on the register reading “Free Shrugs”, imbue this little building with an atmosphere of general whimsicality.

The Old Spaghetti Factory at Nimbus Winery in Rancho Cordova, which I frequented as a kid, has art that depicts graphics from Glen David Gold’s novelized account of American stage magician Carter The Great’s life. Before I walked into this bookstore and found the novel, I had no idea the artwork was based on a book, which in turn was based on an actual historical figure. The nostalgia and excitement I experienced with this discovery immediately made me feel at home.

It’s easy to lose track of time amidst the towering shelves of books here. Time Tested also has the broadest range of political thought that I’ve found in a single establishment in Sacramento. There are some books here from Marxist perspectives; as well as work by Jerry Rubin, countercultural icon and a leader of the post-hippy, “Yippie” movement, that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

In addition to the book selection, there are some decent vinyl LP offerings here, too. And, if you are looking for something that you can’t find, the staff is very helpful and willing to order books that aren’t in stock, possibly out of print or otherwise obscure. While this is something that you could do online, taking the time to go to an actual physical bookstore and ordering a book by conducting a face to face interaction with another human being and investing your money in your own community really makes the book feel more meaningful when it does arrive. The book buying becomes not just an errand or an order but a full experience.

Underground Books | 2814 35th St

Underground Books is one of the most unique places to be found in town, and a place that I’ve just begun to explore. Located at Forty Acres in Oak Park right next to Old Soul Coffee, Underground Books serves as a cultural center and literary hub with a focus on Black authors, artists, and speakers. Workshops regularly held here cater to the local community, and the spacious layout with open chairs and tables provides a wonderfully comfortable environment to take a moment out of the day and sit for reading and study.

The focus and set up of this place reminds me, to a certain extent, of Revolution Books in Berkeley. It’s not only a bookstore but also a place for idea sharing and community. The titles and authors, easily accessible here, are unfortunately often relegated to small niche sections in many other bookstores. That’s why Underground Books is so important. It provides a much-needed outlet for ideas and authors that aren’t always front and center at the average bookshop. Underground Books is true to its name by expanding what, wrongly, becomes just a niche sociological section in many other bookstores.

One of my favorite finds here is a volume of writings by Marcus Garvey, a radical thinker often ignored by history books and even college courses. Considered a spiritual leader by Rastafarians, and an early proponent of Black nationalism, his ideas preceded the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s and influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This store also has an excellent dollar bargain bin where I found a really good copy of poetry by Paul Laurence Dunbar, in my opinion one of the most important poets of the late 19th and early 20th Century.

 Exploring these bookstores has been rewarding, and every time I come back I always find something new, not just in the form of books I haven’t read, but subtle aspects of each bookstore itself. Every bookstore has a unique character of its own and its own special feeling. To really appreciate it, though, you’ve got to break away from your screen for a bit and go explore Sacramento’s literary offerings yourself!