I visited an intriguing bookshop in Walnut Creek this last week. It is owned and operated by a friend who loves old books – those printed before World War II. After creating a significant inventory in her home and setting up an online business, she took a leap of faith and established a “bricks-and-mortar” store in a charming old-town area of Walnut Creek.
Walnut Creek is a suburb of San Francisco, and while once a quiet crossroads with horses and cattle grazing the surrounding hills, today it is a bustling town. But Main Street has retained its small town feel, not too different from my childhood memories with quaint shops, cafes, and shade trees. Parallel with Main runs Locust Street and the two streets form a quaint village center, perfect for strolling after a movie (around the corner) or a bite to eat or a coffee.
Bookstores have had challenges here just as they have everywhere. A Barnes & Noble is farther away in a larger shopping area. There used to be a used bookstore in the Main Street neighborhood, but it closed its doors a number of years ago. So it is pleasing to see another store appear in the mix of shops that is book-related.
Swan’s Fine Books is just that – run by Laurelle Swan and full of rare books. Set back from shady Locust Avenue and across the street from the Lark Creek Inn café, her store is immaculate. There was little musty smell that accompanies old books; the ambience was more of a genteel library with good lighting, attractive shelving, cozy corners to sit and browse. Only a few of the titles are behind glass – the rarest of the rare – so the visitor may enjoy holding and peeking into titles of all kinds. A Winnie-the-Pooh first edition caught my eye, but there were many other temptations. A few folks came in to look around, and I liked the fact that Laurelle allowed them to meander about on their own. “Book lovers like to to that,” she said, smiling, and I nodded. How true, I thought.
Laurelle tells us on her website:
Our desire is to allow you to both find that treasured book you’ve longed for, as well as to experience the wonder and delight of finding a new author or book you never knew was out there: to fall in love all over again and experience the reader’s wonder and delight.
Yes, wonder and delight is what I felt as I traveled through time in this shop. She showed me her different sections, by country and era and subject. Each book – it’s binding, its contents, it’s generation – was like a visitor from the past pulling me in. Some volumes had etchings that made them valuable; others the edition made them rare; others were simply unique, never to be duplicated, found treasures. The children’s books, especially, opened a window on another time, a simpler time, a time not far from my own childhood.
I thought about reading and my courtship with words as I travel into them, hearing them echo other words and meanings, my finger on the corner of the page, ready to turn, not wanting to lose the flow. I thought about those writers who were gone from us but their words occupied these shelves and here I was looking at them, reading them, in downtown Walnut Creek in 2013. I thought about the miracle of our brains, how our minds work to link us with one another through language, spoken and written, link our time with other times, the present with the past and future.
This morning in Sunday School as we sat in our circle and prayed the Our Father together, I was struck by the enormity of prayer and praying and offering our words of praise and petition to God, for in offering our words we offered ourselves. We folded our hands. We knelt. Our several voices became one, as we gave voice to this best-of-all prayers. Our words rose to heaven. I was stunned by language and its power to silence us to listen to its voice.
The journey of words is captivating. They form in my mind, drift to my tongue to become speech, travel into the air to become conversation with God or with one another. Or they slip into my fingers and onto this keyboard, suddenly appearing on this white screen. Or they live in a book waiting in time and space. A miracle.
So it was fun to travel through time and space in Laurelle’s unique shop, a truly rare bookstore, one-of-a-kind. Swan’s hosts free events from time to time (last Friday there was live jazz and wine) so her shop is swiftly becoming part of the neighborhood. She also features a shelf of local authors (yes, my books are there…) even if they aren’t rare (authors or books). With validated parking, it’s a pleasant visit to a unique setting, with some nice eateries close by. She’s always adding to her collection and she welcomes browsers.
To see photos of the store and some of her treasures online, visit www.swansfinebooks.com. Or stop by and say hi for me: Swan’s Fine Books, 1381 Locust Street, Walnut Creek.