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Welcome to READERS' BOOKS, Sonoma's literary gathering place where you'll find good books, good talk, lots of events, and opinions, jokes, and music in abundance.

Located in the town of SONOMA in the heart of California's lovely and historic WINE COUNTRY, we are a general bookstore with a particular focus on contemporary fiction, poetry, children's literature, food, wine and religion. We carry both new and used books and host several author events each week.

We are located one-half block off the Sonoma Plaza on the southeast side.

Readers' Books
130 E. Napa St.
Sonoma, CA 95476
Tel: 707-939-1779
Fax: 707-939-8013
Email Us
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No Dummies Need Apply

Maybe it's because we're in the dog days of summer and reporters are bored silly, but nevertheless there has been this kerfuffle over Hillary Clinton's supposed criticism of the Obama Administration's ad hoc foreign policy. The former Secretary of State quoted (sorta) the President's remark that we "don't do stupid stuff" and pronounced that that, in and of itself, was not sufficient for a great nation such as ours.


I heartily agree. We should also stand for freedom and democracy around the world. We should promote free and fair trade. We should do away with racism and homophobia. We should end global warming today if not yesterday. We should uplift the down trodden and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust. All that stuff and more. You go, girl. But it's also true that President Obama made a very sound point when he said "don't do stupid stuff."   Think of it as just another iteration of the Hippocratic Oath. Every physician is sworn to "do no harm." Why should our President, the most powerful man on the planet, be any less careful? We can, of course, argue as to what constitutes "stupid stuff," but Obama's words were surely uttered with a vivid memory of the previous administration and their lazy forays into stupidity. That's largely how he was elected after all, because people were so fed up with the neo-cons in the Bush Administration and the havoc they let loose in places like Iraq and New Orleans and Wall Street.


Say what you will about the current President, you can't accuse him of not being thoughtful and cautious, especially when it comes to introducing American soldiers to exotic places where everyone has a gun and loves to shoot it. He has not done that. Now, Dick Cheney, John McCain, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz -those folks are quick on the trigger and darn proud of it. They have no regrets (why is that?), and no ability, it seems, to understand that not every problem can be solved with a bullet or a drone. We can't just drop the Big One and be done with it. In fact, you could argue that most of the woes in the world today stem from that kind of sloppy thinking.


All politicians make grand assertions about what kind of administration they will have. They like to think that they can see far into the future. You may recall that once upon a time George W. Bush was going to be the "education" president, and later on, that he was a "uniter, not a divider." Unfortunately, events have a way of reshaping our leaders' vision. History doesn't stand still, and the hand Obama's been dealt is probably not what he would have preferred, but to his credit he has made the best of it. Or, put another way, you can make all the plans you want, but God will invariably laugh, and then what do you do? Well, I'll tell you: for starters, you don't do stupid stuff.


In the end, it's all soup

It may be a generalization, but in my experience you don't learn much of anything by going to a wedding. Weddings nowadays are drunken, decorative (overly decorative if you ask me) affairs where people spend far too much money, and they're still smiling, long after the band has packed up and left the stage. This wasn't true many years ago when my cousin Bennett got married, I remember: the bride wasn't Jewish, that was the problem, and Bennett's mother wasn't about to be diplomatic and attend. On top of that, when Bennett tried to crush the wine glass at the end of the ceremony, the damn thing wouldn't break. Not right away, anyway, and I'm sure there were those in the audience who regarded this as a sure sign of tragic things to come. (They're still happily married, by the way, and Bennett's mom has passed away, which just proves my point: there's nothing to be learned).


Funerals, on the other hand, bring out the truth-or lots of different truths-- in spades. People speak glowingly of the deceased; they tell little stories that illustrate this or that point. How Ralph was an avid butterfly collector, how funny Helen was at cocktail parties, especially after she'd had a few high balls herself, how devoted Margaret was to all children everywhere, even though her own children kept their distance once they were grown. One of the great advantages of talking about the dead is that they can't talk back. Your version of events-no matter what axe you may still have to grind-that's the truth. In fact, whatever you say becomes part of the canon.


When I rose to speak at my father's funeral I'm sure I said a few things that were outwardly true. In his youth he was a socialist. Unions and strikes and the Sacco and Vanzetti trial were part of his upbringing, just as the Kennedy assassination and Vietnam would be part of mine. He read Karl Marx and he saw suffering and inequality all around him. Given those circumstances, I would be surprised if he hadn't been a socialist. Then Stalin made a pact with Hitler and the war came along and everything changed. He came home looking for opportunity, and by the grace of the GI Bill, he found it. He graduated from pharmacy school, moved to California, bought a tract house, and started reading the Wall Street Journal. He wanted to succeed. I don't know that he didn't want to succeed when he called himself a socialist; perhaps what changed was the definition of success.


As our family made arrangements for his funeral, we realized that flowers were not a big part of my dad's life. I can't recall a single time he ever bought my mother flowers (to be fair, my mother didn't appreciate flowers, either) so on his casket we placed a large colorful basket of root vegetables. These would later be boiled in a pot and made into good, thick, proletarian soup. Looking back now, I don't know that my father would have approved or frowned on this kind of business; it was a metaphor for his life we were aiming at, that's all, a simple, loving way to sum things up. He did like to eat. He once was a socialist. If he had any taste at all, it was probably utilitarian. So okay then, soup. There you go.


Ashes to Ashes

This is how it was for me years ago in Los Angeles: I once worked for a man who fervently believed-and told me so in no uncertain terms-- that the inanimate universe was out to kill us. I think he called this philosophy of his entropism, a term which speaks to the notion of nature slowly grinding everything into dust. And maybe, just maybe, there's something malicious going on as well, who knows. Anyway, this fellow, who I'll call Michael, was charming, well-bred, well-schooled, a gentleman married to a somewhat famous, if aging, movie star. And, in the manner that life unfolds, I found myself doing office chores for his non-profit theatrical foundation. This meant making him tea in the morning exactly the way he liked it, and copying papers, and occasionally writing a letter to other aging movie stars on his behalf. What I did for him was pleasant, and, even though I was bored half out of my mind most of the time, I endured it, because he paid me and there was air-conditioning in the building, and I was married with small children. It was what it was, as they used to say. The only possible downside was that there were many hours where I had to smile politely and listen.

Don't get me wrong: I was more than willing to believe his theory. After all, my own world abounded with anecdotal tales about the havoc wreaked by Mother Nature-- how, when you picked up a ceramic mug filled with hot coffee the handle might break off and leave you with third degree burns on your lap; how, when you walked beneath a eucalyptus or palm (or any tree, really) an old limb or a frond could easily drop from the sky; how anytime you stood on the beach and wriggled your toes in the water you were very likely to be swept away by a rogue wave. I mean, I kind of bought into this because of my Jewish upbringing. Bad things are bound to happen. We know this from our careful reading of the Bible. We know this from history. I once heard someone on National Public Radio say that among Jews and African Americans, the word "paranoia" has no meaning. Why? Because people really are out to kill us. That made perfect sense to me (in a way I hope never has to make sense to you). Of course he meant it as a joke, but how can you joke that way about something that's basically true?

No one was out to kill Michael. He drove a nice car and lived in a nice part of Beverly Hills (actually, I don't think there are any not-nice parts of Beverly Hills). He came to work when he felt like it and threw wonderful parties for his many friends and admirers. He believed in art and in the power of artists to do good in the world. Maybe when he talked about the universe being out to get him what he really meant was he was getting older and weaker; maybe he could see down the road and envision the dust he was turning into. Maybe that scared him. Or I don't know--maybe there was some part of him that secretly yearned to be Jewish or African American. There are plenty of people like that, although given the man-made trouble in the world right now, it's a bit of a luxury to worry much about palm fronds or rogue waves. Personally, I think we'd be in far better shape if we spent more time just getting acquainted with ourselves. The truth is, we don't need the universe to kill us off. We're doing a fine job all on our own.


Book List from the Unruly Book Group Talk last week

If you were unable to attend our summer round-up of reading last Wednesday here is a list of the books that were presented:

Readers' Books Unruly Book Group 2014 Recommended Reading

Hardcover Fiction

The Temporary Gentleman - Sebastian Barry

Painted Horses-Malcolm Brooks

All the Light We Cannot See-Anthony Doerr

The Plover-Brian Doyle

Midnight in Europe-Alan Furst

The Stories of Jane Gardam-Jane Gardam

Euphoria-Lily King

Thunderstruck-Elizabeth McCracken

Next Life Might Be Kinder-Howard Norman

The Storied Life of A.J.Fikry-Gabrielle Zevin


Paperback Fiction

Longbourne-Jo Baker

Archangel-Andrea Barrett

The Circle-Dave Eggers

The Signature of All Things-Elizabeth Gilbert

Enon-Paul Harding

Instructions for a Heatwave-Maggie O'Farrell

Fin and Lady-Cathleen Schine

Brewster-Mark Slouka

Mary Coin-Marissa Silver

The Rosie Project-Graeme Simsion


Hardcover Non-Fiction

Distant Neighbors-Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant-Roz Chast

Elephant Company-Vicki Constantine Croke

The Fishing Fleet-Anne De Courcy

Silvia, Queen of the Headhunters-Philip Eade

Preparing the Ghost-Matthew Gavin Frank

The Interior Circuit-Francisco Goldman

War of the Whales-Joshua Horwitz

The Mockingbird Next Door-Marja Mills

Take This Man-Brando Skyhorse


Non-Fiction Paperbacks

Good Manners for Nice People who Sometimes Say F*ck-Amy Alkon 

Lawrence in Arabia-Scott Anderson

Levels of Life-Julian Barnes

On Paper-Nicholas A. Basbanes

Going Somewhere-Brian Benson

One Summer, America 1927-Bill Bryson

Eighty Days-Matthew Goodman

I Hate To Leave This Beautiful Place-Howard Norman

The Telling Room-Michael Paterniti 


Cook Books and Gift Books

Straight From the Earth-Goodman and Goodman

Local-Douglas Gayeton

The Bahn Mi Handbook-Andrea Nguyen

Done-James Peterson

The Real Food Cookbook-Nina Planck

Works on Paper-Squeak Carnath

The Truth is a Cave in the Mountain-Neil Gaiman

Wine Country Trucks of Napa and Sonoma Counties -Lisa A. Harris

Girls Standing on Lawns-Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler

Letters of Note-Shaun Usher ed.


Children's Books


Picture books

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath-Mac Barnett

It's an Orange Aardvark-Michael Hall

The Huey's in None the Number-Oliver Jeffers

This is a Moose-Richard T. Morris

Planet Kindergarten-Sue Ganz-Schmitt


Middle grade readers

The Glass Sentence-S.E. Grove

A Snicker of Magic-Natalie Lloyd

All the Wrong Questions-Lemony Snicket

The Riverman-Aaron Starmer


Young adult novels

Conversion-Katherine Howe

Firecracker-David Iserson

Steering Toward Normal-Rebecca Petruck

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender-Leslye Walton

What You Need To Know About Baseball

Although he never spent a moment of his life there, my dad was a devoted fan of the Cincinnati Reds. This was strange to me, because he came from New York, which was then the epicenter of the game. In fact, before he could even spell the word "Cincinnati" he used to hang around outside Yankee Stadium, where he'd wait hours sometimes just hoping to get a glimpse of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.


After we moved to Southern California, I imagined that he would have gravitated naturally to the Dodgers. That's where I ended up, drawn not so much by the team as by their colorful history and by the mellifluous voice of their announcer, Vin Scully.  Scully knew everything there was to know about the game, but he was also a poet; he could describe in a few choice words the deep green expanse of Chavez Ravine's left field as well as the simple justice of an umpire's called strike three. For me, that was magic. That was romance. But whenever my dad and I spoke of baseball, the Reds were his team. In his youth they were the habitual underdogs, he'd explain, always in the cellar, always underperforming. Of course, by the time I took any interest in the sport it was the seventies, and Cincinnati was a force to contend with. My dad couldn't be happier. Loyalty and patience (albeit from afar) had finally begun to pay off. Once in a while when the Reds came to town we would go to the game. We'd bet a nickel, him on the Reds, me on the Dodgers. And win or lose, a grand time would be had by all.


Last week my wife was away on a business trip. On the return leg, they routed her through Detroit, and I asked her to buy me a Tigers baseball cap, which is now sitting on my desk. It's a handsome thing, dark blue with an ornate white D in front. And I look pretty good in it, even though I've never actually been to Detroit, and I don't think I've ever seen the Tigers play in person. If you were to ask me why I need a cap from Detroit, the answer is, I don't (in fact, I don't actually need anything) but I want to support them. Not the team, mind you, but the town of Detroit. And not even the town of Detroit, but the idea of Detroit.


Detroit, as you probably know, is in terrible straits these days; people are leaving in droves, housing prices are in the single digits, unemployment is huge, the city has declared bankruptcy and just recently, about half the homes there had their water shut off for failure to pay the bill. There are whole blocks that have burned down and are being slowly turned back into farm land. The D on my cap could stand for "Detroit" or "down-and-out" or-I don't know-"done for." But I choose to let that D stand for "determined."


There are good, honest, hard-working people living there, after all, and even though their world has been shredded by what economists and academics call the "creative destruction" of capitalism, they are still there, still getting up every morning and putting cereal on the kitchen table, still shuffling one foot in front of the other, still trying to make ends meet. We in Sonoma may be a little better off than they are at the moment, but that could change in a heartbeat, you never know. And what doesn't change is the fact that they are our brothers and sisters. That's what this cap reminds me of. That's why I wear it. My dad, I think, would understand.


The Arc of History

When I was nine or ten, we lived right across the street from a family with a little boy named Don. He was an only child, and perhaps because of this, his family seemed to shower him with gifts far beyond what the other kids in the neighborhood received. Also, he was kind of frail and fearful, or at least, he acted frail and fearful. Whenever we were rough-housing and one of us inadvertently tripped him, he would go into great spasms of agony, rolling around on the ground, groaning and crying and carrying on in a most un-male-like fashion. Sometimes it would get so bad he would pick up his toys and go home, but not before insinuating that we were all out to get him. This was a tragedy from our point of view, because Donny had the best toys on the block-the best bat, the best glove, the platinum Monopoly game.    


I can't say I liked Donny; I don't think any of us really liked him, but we tolerated him and his rich-boy-poor-me antics. This was our world, after all, and he was part of our world, the hand we were dealt.


The other day on television I was reminded of this kid again when I watched John Boehner talking about immigration reform and the prospects (dim) for any legislation this year. Boehner is afraid of the Tea Party and what they might do to his incumbent friends; also, he says that if he put any immigration bill out for a vote he doesn't trust the President to enforce it. This is the same president who has probably deported more illegal immigrants than all the previous ones combined, but hey, let's not bother about facts. As he has done similarly with the issue of climate change, Boehner would rather whine and moan and point fingers somewhere else.


The problem with this approach is that immigration is not climate change. Climate change is difficult for some folks to get their heads around, because they confuse it with weather, and weather is always, well, changing. You get hot years, then you get cold years. And even if the climate is changing, as the scientists tell us, it's an incremental process, which means we probably won't be around to witness all the dire effects.   Immigrants, however, are already here, millions of them. And even if many of them are undocumented, their children are American citizens. And more and more of their children can vote. This will have enormous consequences. In Arizona, Texas, and Georgia-states with long traditions of voting Republican-there are large Latino populations and political movements to organize them for the upcoming elections. It might not happen in 2014, but time is not on the side of a Republican Party that turns its back on this constituency.


You can't beat demographics. You can stamp your feet and not put out any legislation, you can slow it down maybe with questionable voter suppression tactics, but sooner or later, the people will win out. It's the arc of history. Think of how Mandela went from being a prisoner on Robin Island to being the President of South Africa. Not overnight certainly, but it happened.


Donny moved away from our street. When he left, of course, he took his toys with him. And for a while, we were all sad. But then we found other kids to play with. We moved on, and you know what? It was okay. In fact, it was fine.


Summer Reading Academy

This was a field trip by the Sonoma Reading Academy--70 first graders on Friday, 140 second graders on Tuesday and 120 third graders on Friday. First, everyone was bused to the Library (which opened early for them) and everyone checked out a book (and were given a library card if they need one)--then they went over to the plaza--half the group came here to Readers' for a free book (paid by the Academy sponsors)--while the other half went to get ice cream (for breakfast!) --then they swtched around. It's lovely to see kids excited about choosing books--we had everything set up in the garden (correct reading level and price point etc.) so they were able to find the perfect book.

We took loads of pictures--take a look on our Facebook page! There's nothing more gratifying than seeing the smiling faces of young people who have just discovered a brand new book! 

I've done my research and I have the facts at my fingertips.

When we got into this business back in 1991, we looked at the people who came through the door and determined, through a clever use of science and magical thinking, that our customer base was approximately 75% local and 25% tourist. How did we do this, exactly? Well, first we became savvy readers of people. Also, we conducted random surveys. We would look at someone we didn't recognize (which was everyone, initially) and ask, "So....where abouts are ya from?" And if they said Sonoma or Glen Ellen, or even Kenwood, we'd nod sagely, then, when they weren't looking, we'd put a hash mark down in the LOCAL column. And, if somebody came in as pale as a ghost and speaking with a heavy Boston twang, or tanned but wearing pink shorts and an LA Dodger cap, or well dressed, but murmuring in German or Russian or Hebrew, we might not ask them that question, in fact, we might not ask them anything at all, but we'd for sure put them down as TOURIST. Then, after many months of this thankless work, we'd add up our numbers and-lo and behold-it was 75 to 25.


Now, I'm here to report that that mix has undergone a seismic shift: about 25% of our customers come from the Valley of the Moon, while the rest (that would be 75%) are from out of the area. Let's leave aside whether this is absolutely true or whether I'm just imagining it for a moment. I mean, I know the scientific reasoning which led me to my first set of conclusions is, admittedly, suspect and perhaps even sophomoric, but let's take a deep breath and pretend I'm right, that it's a fact. How and why did this come about? That's the real question.


Here's what I think: In the first place, a number of our old time customers have either moved away, gotten infirm, or sadly, died. I know this for a fact, and it's a natural process, after all. People get old, stop reading, die. In the second place, the young people here, maybe because there are not enough good jobs in Sonoma, or because they get bored silly with small town life or because it's in their DNA to see whether the grass is greener in New York or Paris, leave. I've seen this with my own eyes.  Lastly, it must be stated that the City Council and the wineries and the Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Bureau and others have done a bang-up job promoting tiny little Sonoma as the town that time forgot. That's why the sidewalk around the Plaza seems so crowded these days: it's our own doing; we have deliberately opened the door to folks who used to live in quaint places like ours, but can't quite remember when.


As the owner of the last bookstore in town I have to say that I don't mind this new trend nearly as much as perhaps some others do. Tourists help pay our bills, and their money is still green (actually, that's kind of changing, too, but never mind). And we still have many, many loyal customers who aren't bored or sick or dead yet, people who aren't afraid to come in regularly and joke around like in the olden days, which is something we cherish. And business has actually started to improve. Along with many other shops we're gradually coming back from the Dreaded Recession. You may have noticed, for example, that we put down a new carpet (the old one was so shabby it was getting ready to walk away on its own). This is a good thing. We paid Rugworks, a friendly, local company, a nice chunk of money and they did a marvelous job. The guy who contracted the job came in later and bought some books from us, probably using some of the cash we gave him. That's the way it should work.


The only thing we need to guard against now is this death thing. We just have to stay healthy. I mean, if all the locals die out, there'll be nothing but tourists here. And tourists never die. That's a fact.


Some further information on upcoming classes in the Reading Garden.

Kiki and Brianna are back and running another round of their delightful and very successful class, which they call "Becoming Bookworms." This is essentially a book club for girls, ages 7 to 10, that are looking to enhance their reading skills over the summer, or for girls who just love to read. For more information contact Brianna or

Also, we are thrilled that Mara Unger will again be at Readers' offering her clay classes for children (July 12) and adults (two 2-day sessions: July 26 and August 2, and then on August 26 and September 2).  More information will follow, but please if you're interested call Mara now for the particulars and to reserve your space. (Her classes fill up fast). 707-935-7555 or

Happily ever after, that would be me.

Because I grew up in sunny Pasadena, and because the first house Lilla and I ever owned was in Hollywood, a few blocks from the old Paramount Studios, I have a particular fondness for all things LA and noire. I know it's not as beautiful as it is here in Sonoma, I know it is replete with traffic jams that rival Bombay or Calcutta, and that grayish smog still coats your eyes sometimes and makes it impossible to realize that there is indeed snow on Mount Baldy not far away. I also know that there is an eternal war between Bay Area people and Angelenos, that folks from here often go to great lengths to say how much they detest LA. You might like to know that this is really a one-sided war; I can't think of anyone in Southern California who "hates" Northern California. In fact, they quite enjoy coming up here and spending time and money in our restaurants and hotels and wineries, for which we should probably be grateful.


To an outsider, Hollywood is difficult to understand because it was built in the middle of nowhere and, essentially, on nothing. Or not nothing: dreams. The dreams of (mainly immigrant) actors and directors and screen writers who put together a vision of life and sold it to the American public. It was a distinctly Western enterprise. By that I mean you had to be something of a gambler to want to make your mark in Hollywood. Show business was degrading back then, or at the very least, suspect. Old money and respectable people did not go there. And yet, the wonderful thing is that the vision of these artists and gamblers has largely prevailed: America is what Hollywood projected it to be. 


I get all this wisdom, not just from my misspent youth in LA, but from reading a fascinating new book on the subject--Hollywood Digs: An Archaeology of Shadows, by Ken LaZebnik.  He will be here in person to speak about this on Saturday, June 28th at 2:30 p.m. and you would do yourself a favor by attending.


Hollywood Digs is filled with stories--amazing inside stories--of the stars we all thought we knew. Por ejemplo: everyone knows that Groucho Marx was funny, but did you know that when You Bet Your Life aired on radio in 1947 it had to be prerecorded and then savagely edited to conform with the censorship laws of the time? And later, when it went on TV, did you realize that they had to have eight different cameras at the ready to catch any off the cuff remark Groucho might make? And of course, everything he ever said was off the cuff. Or did you know that Giget, the surfer girl from our collective memories, is actually a real person? That she's alive and well? Her name is Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, she's in her 70's now, and her father, Frederick Kohner, wrote a novel about her love of surfing which he called Giget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas. It took him all of three weeks to complete. Kohner was a Bohemian Jewish émigré, an intellectual who'd escaped the Nazis in Europe. He had no idea that this tiny little book about surfing would alter his life forever. Or how about this: in 1950, eighty percent of the American people stopped everything to watch Milton Berle on the Texaco Star Theater. Restaurants closed early that night, and the city of Detroit reported a mysterious and enormous drop in water usage for an hour on Tuesday nights. If Berle was on, people even waited to go to the bathroom.


You can say this is fluff, but I think it speaks volumes about who we are and what we care most about. As much as any artistic institution, Hollywood binds us together as a nation, and the more we dig into Hollywood, the more we know about ourselves.


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