I have spent parts of the last few days happily checking out some of London’s bookstores. Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street has an amazing library-like feeling with dark wood, numerous skylights and racks and racks of books stacked on oak bookshelves. (see photo) It’s located on one of London’s snazziest shopping streets, an avenue where hip women are so loaded up with shopping bags from Selfridges and other stores that they have to dodge other pedestrians.
Foyer Books, on the other hand, is on busy Charing Cross Road in an area dotted with other bookstores and music shops. There was street construction everywhere and a hurried, urban feel. When I walked in to Foyer, it had a modern in feel with light maple shelves and bold colors. At first, I didn’t think it was that big. I was deceived. It has small rooms but many of them. It also has the largest fiction collection I have ever seen.
All my excitement finding new stores was completely crushed this morning when I woke up to find an e-mail from Meg Waite Clayton (her new novel, The Wednesday Sisters has just been released) that Cody’s Books in Berkeley has closed. Permanently.
I am surprised. And devastated. I went to my first reading there one week ago today and the place was packed. It was for Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex, edited by Ellen Sussman. The book is a collection of essays that explore different words relating to sex, most of which I shall not name here. Some of the contributors read their pieces, including Meredith Maran, Thaisa Frank, and Cornelia Read. They were at turns heartbreaking and hilarious.
The store was packed for the reading. There were about 35 people there and many bought books. I asked a clerk how the place was doing and she said the foot traffic was good. (It is just a block from the UC campus)
I did my bit. I must have purchased more than $100 in books from Cody’s on Shattuck since it opened in March.
Cody’s has tried so many different ways and locations to stay afloat. I naively assumed that this latest, smaller store would be the magic bullet.
Hiroshi Kagawa, who owns bookstores in Japan, bought Cody’s about a year ago. Here is what he said in a press release:
"The Board of Directors of Cody's Books made this difficult decision after years of financial distress and declining sales.
"According to Cody's president, Hiroshi Kagawa, '[It] is a heartbreaking moment…in the spring of 2005 when I learned about the financial crisis facing Cody's, I was excited to save the store from bankruptcy. Unfortunately, my current business is not strong enough or rich enough to support Cody's. Of course, the store has been suffering from low sales and the deficit exceeds our ability to service it.'
"'When I met Cody's 25 years ago, I was a freelance journalist, enraptured by its books and atmosphere. It means so much to me and I apologize to the people who have supported Cody's for not being able to keep this landmark independent bookstore open. Cody's is my treasure and more than that, Cody's is a real friend of Berkeley community and will be missed.'
"Cody's would like to thank all of our loyal customers for their years of patronage."
This is the store that has hosted many of the world's most beloved authors, who continued to sell the Satanic Verses even after it had been firebombed, who patched up protesters who had been beaten by police in the protests at UC Berkeley in the 1960s, and much more.
Sitting in London, 5,000 miles away from Cody’s, I will observe my own minute of silence for this bookstore that has played such an important role in the literary world.