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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
Store Hours


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.


Ticket to Ride

Many, many years ago my mother signed up to take a trip to the moon. No, seriously. She bought a ticket (or what would someday be a ticket) from Pan Am Airlines for the grand price of five or ten dollars, which stated that when commercial traffic to the moon became a reality she could turn that in and hop on board. And she kept that ticket in her sock drawer for a very long time, even after Mr. Armstrong put his foot down on the moon and they planted the flag and played a little golf, all that important stuff astronauts did. And because she was averse to throwing things out, as were many children of the Great Depression, she still had it when Pan Am finally went bankrupt and vanished for good.


I bring this up now because I read an article the other day about a group of Jews in Israel who are raising big money to put a Torah on board a rocket ship and send it to the moon. Not only a Torah, but the Hindu scriptures known as the Veda and, perhaps for luck, a copy of the I Ching. The idea is that these things are sacred, and embody much of the world's moral wisdom, and if they could be kept "safe" on the moon then if something should happen to the earth, well. By the way, if you are Christian and happen to be reading this, apparently there is already a copy of the New Testament up there somewhere, so not to worry.


I think I understand the primal urge for immortality. I mean, I don't particularly want to live forever, but I can see how some folks might want to have their life story put on a perpetual film loop and shown to their descendants. I even kind of get the impulse of people who want to be cryogenically frozen so they can come back in two hundred years (when of course science has cured all diseases) and wake up with the energy of a nine-year old.   Nothing wrong with that, I don't suppose.


But it seems to me something is fundamentally wacked with this Torah-on-the-moon notion: For one thing, if we're going to use the moon as a storage space, as another cloud technology, doesn't that suggest we have little or no faith that the earth will endure? And if we believe the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket, that total destruction is inevitable, how can we be sure when Armageddon comes, that the moon will somehow be spared? More to the point, isn't the crux of the Torah to be found in living an ethical life here on Earth? And if we can't keep the Earth from disintegrating, the fact that there is this ancient grand plan for living a sweet life on Earth, but -drat--it's sitting in a hermetically sealed capsule on the moon, well, that's rather awkward, isn't it.


Jews have always placed great value upon words, maybe because for much of our existence, we had precious little else. But this seems-you'll forgive me--like a bridge to nowhere. Now maybe if there were a synagogue up there, Temple Beth Luna, a decent rabbi, a cantor with a voice that didn't make people want to stand up and leave, well, that might be different. You'd need a Torah then, on a dark, cold Friday night. And folks like my mother, who kept their Pan Am tickets faithfully.


Some Things Just Can't Be Explained

This week, were she still alive, my mother would be turning one hundred years old, and even more than life, I credit her with giving me a deep love of music and language. She was the one who sat me down at the piano at the age of-oh, I couldn't have been more than three or four-and delighted in whatever mishmash I hammered out. She was also the one who praised my early writing and who was never happier than when she was scribbling little poems for special occasions (Happy birthday, darling boy/You are both our pride and joy/Don't reply/You needn't bother/Love, Your Mother and your Father). And although she was the first one in her family to graduate from high school, she never built anything further, never took the necessary prerequisite courses to obtain a college degree. She was a dabbler, I guess you'd say, or what we might today call a "lifelong learner." She would be forever enrolled at Pasadena City College, it seemed, but she was always taking the introductory course in whatever foreign language she was smitten with at the time. She would usually get an A, and if she loved the teacher, which was often the case, she would sign up again for the same introductory class.


Apart from being the teacher's pet though, I reckoned that my mom's passion for foreign languages had more to do with obfuscation than with actually saying anything meaningful. If she met a man or woman from France or Mexico or Japan, she would automatically burst out with some little how-are-you phrase that would cause them to smile and marvel politely, but of course, the conversation could never go too far beyond that. It didn't matter really; it was just her way of touching base and welcoming them into her cosmopolitan, junior college realm. Not that it always worked with every language. I remember her saying that the hardest course she ever took was Arabic, from which she only could retain one exasperating sentence: The ugly man sits in the garden.


Scientists say there is a link in the brain between music and language and math, i.e., those who are talented musicians tend to be facile foreign language speakers and good at math. I can understand the music and language part, but while I like the idea of math, I can't say that I was ever a particular whiz at it.  Maybe if you think of math as another language this makes more sense, although I doubt that even Einstein himself would ever be able to numerically express something as obtuse as the ugly man sits in the garden.


But my mom could. In Arabic, no less.


Of Course we're open on Memorial Day

As you may have noticed, we take precious few holidays off here at Readers' Books, and while I firmly believe in honoring our fallen heroes, in my heart I also feel that if they were still alive and had their druthers, they would much prefer to spend that day lying in a hammock, reading a good book.  Or reading a good book to their grandson. And reading good books is why we're still here. 


I've been watching old episodes of "Madmen" on television, which is a pretty unnerving trip down the memory hole of the fifties and sixties, and even though it's not nearly as violent as some shows, I find myself tensing up at the unapologetic racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism that was so prevalent back then. And that's without even mentioning all the smoking and drinking and bad hairdos-oh my God. I remember those things, of course, from my youth, which is why I was never much of a fan of that period. And the ugly dialogue is there because it's meant to mimic the larger, more turbulent American universe at the time: the civil rights marches and sit-ins, the cross burnings, the fire bombings, the labor unrest, the fear of Communism and the Bomb, the open discrimination against anyone who wasn't born white, male, and Protestant.


And it's tempting to compare that era to what we're living through today. I mean, things are arguably not so great now: there's the Bomb out there, though it no longer seems quite so menacing as it was then, and I guess there's still Communism, although what's going on in Chinese department stores and Russian oil fields these days suggests that raw capitalism is the real force to contend with. And, despite some obvious glass ceilings still to crack, blacks, Jews and women have made undeniable progress.


What's interesting now is that Cliven Bundy, the rancher who was briefly a cause celeb in the Republican Party, has become persona non grata as a result of his remarks about the "Negro." What's interesting is that Donald Sterling, the wealthy owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is being drummed out of basketball and publicly shamed for his remarks about black people, remarks made in private, no less. What's interesting is that Robert Copeland, the 82 year-old police chief of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, has resigned because he used a bad word to describe out President, which caused a public fire storm.


I am all for free speech, but it seems to me that our growing sensitivity to race and sex and ethnicity is, on the whole, a good thing. It's a sign, if nothing else, that we're no longer willing to tolerate loose and hateful talk; more importantly, it's a sign that we've come at long last to recognize that words-like guns in the wrong hands-have consequences, and that for too long we have used them to hurt one another. It may also be a sign, although it is probably too early to know, that as a nation, we're starting to take a step or two back from the polarizing hatred of the recent decades.


That would be wonderful, if true. At least we're not headed down the path of the fifties and sixties anymore. That way, as we know from experience, leads only to madmen.


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