My favorite bookstore: East Bay Booksellers

Independent Bookstore Day is on April 24th, and so we’re celebrating our favorite indie sellers here at the Deb Ball. I’ve loved many bookstores in my life, starting with Half Price Books in my hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, to The Raven in Lawrence, Kansas where I attended graduate school, to Green Apple Books in San Francisco. But my favorite favorite of all my favorites has to be East Bay Booksellers in Oakland, California.

Love these guys!

I’ve been living in Oakland for 13 years and East Bay Booksellers, formerly Diesel Books, has been a mainstay of my life for that entire time. I saw Mary Gaitskill read from her short story collection, Don’t Cry, in 2009. I saw Dr. Vanessa Grubbs read from her beautiful memoir, Hundreds of Interlaced Fingers, in 2017. And I took my children to meet Ivy and Bean author, Annie Barrows, who made us all laugh with stories of the real Pancake Court.

Moving to Oakland coincided with my husband and I starting a family, and I bought my children so many of their favorites from East Bay Booksellers. Like The Princess in Black! And Steam Train, Dream Train! And then when my kids entered preschool and elementary school and I was suddenly faced with buying thousands of birthday gifts for their classmates – guess what? Everyone got books!

Last March when everything shut down for the statewide quarantine, I was so worried that my favorite bookstore was going to go out of business. So I started buying books for all of my friends. It was great – I got to support East Bay and I got to send surprise gifts to all of my friends during a stressful time. I must not have been the only one: Now that my state is opening back up, East Bay is open for in-person browsing once again, and I’ve been able actually walk inside and look at books. Swoon!

This was exactly me when I walked into the store, minus the whole singing thing.

And I haven’t even told you the best thing about the store. Are you ready? Because it’s kind of a big deal.

I present to you, The fish painting:

Cue the heavenly chorus

You are very welcome, for I have just blessed your eyes with the most beautiful painting ever executed of a man and a fish. The brilliant and hilarious painter and illustrator, Jon Stich, didn’t so much paint this picture, as allow the painting to be channeled through him. He was awakened one night by an angel of blinding light who whispered the secrets of the universe into his ear, and when he was able to open his eyes and see again, he discovered that he had created this tribute to the divine presence of the rainbow trout.

Just kidding. I have no idea what the deal is with this painting, but I love it. No joke, I do bring out-of-town visitors to East Bay just so they can see this Renaissance masterpiece with their own eyes. It’s on my list of Oakland must-dos along with the Lake Merritt farmer’s market and the hand-rolled noodles at Shandong.

Now more than ever we have to support local businesses. And bookstores are always among the most likely to lose market share to online competitors. So this April (and really every month, tbh) please go into an independent bookstore, or find one online, and buy a book or a t-shirt or a set of some pretty notecards and show how much you value small businesses. Bookstores are more than stores – they’re community centers, cafes, third places (ie, not home or work), quiet places to collect your thoughts, and sometimes, in the best cases, places to showcase fine, fine art.

Author: Elizabeth Gonzalez James

Before becoming a writer Elizabeth was a waitress, a pollster, an Avon lady, and an opera singer. Her stories and essays have appeared in Ploughshares Blog, The Idaho Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and have received multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations. Her debut novel, MONA AT SEA, was a finalist in the 2019 SFWP Literary Awards judged by Carmen Maria Machado, and is forthcoming, Summer 2021, from Santa Fe Writers Project. Originally from South Texas, Elizabeth now lives with her family in Oakland, California.