Books recommended by our staff

Everyone has a favorite, and many stores let you in on their choices, but the titles are invariably recent and always in print. But what of the titles that still hold a high ranking in a person's memory years after it's gone out of print, books that hold sway over you 500 titles later? This is a list of staff favorites. Most are in print, some aren't. That is one of the pleasures of visiting -- or working in -- a used book store: the serendipity of finding something you didn't expect, being able to randomly leaf through a book and being pulled into its world and ideas. In keeping with that thought, the books listed below are in no particular order so they can browsed at your leisure, but if you want to want to see the list in a more orderly fashion click here.

A Life in Photography by Edward Steichen.  Steichen did everything brilliantly, shot every subject area and used every photographic process, as he pioneered and refined a distinctive style, only to abandon it in favor of something even more creative.  Worth it just for the anecdotes about shooting the famous and powerful or for his insights into working with Alfred Steiglitz to change the way people looked at photography as art, but if more closely read is as instructive as any book of photographic theory.
The Dada Caper by Ross H. Spencer.  The most inept detective ever tells you all about his encounter with DADA ("Destroy America, Destroy America -- they must have meant it, they said it twice") in a tight narrative where every paragraph is a single perfect hard-boiled sentence.  The first of the Chance Purdue novels, the start of a beautiful friendship.
Oblomov by Goncharov. Oblomov, the protagonist in this novel, is a man who spends so much effort on his grand plans for the future that he has no energy left to execute his grand designs. This novel is so funny you won't believe it was written by a Russian in the 19th century,
The Maxims of La Rochefoucald. These insightful maxims of human psychology are cynical, witty... and true.
Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert. An intelligent person's dream book - a philosophical soap opera.
The Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. All of Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories are well crafted, fun little gems.
Locos by Felipe Alfau. Locos is a series of interconnected short stories featuring the denizens of a slightly disreputable Toledo café. Characters escape their author’s control and crop up unexpectedly each other’s stories to hilarious and amusing effect. If you’re a fan of Borges and Calvino, you’ll enjoy Locos.
At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien. Speaking of characters who escape their author’s control, Flann O’Brien’s surreal masterpiece is a savage parody of everything Irish, including its mythology, its literature, and its pub culture. Impossible to summarize or to put down.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell.  Mitchell’s best book so far. It contains six linked stories, each nested inside the next, and each advancing in time so that we move from the 19th century to the far future and back over the course of the novel. An amazing achievement that shows that the seeds of our ultimate fate were sown centuries ago.
Last Nights of Paris by Philippe Soupault. This is one of the only Surrealist novels that is truly dreamlike. The unnamed protagonist pursues the enigmatic Georgette through the nighttime streets of Paris, only to find that the mystery that surrounds her deepens with every new encounter. A haunting book, beautifully translated by the poet William Carlos Williams.
The Failure of Technology by Friedrich Georg Juenger. First published in 1933, this is one of the greatest—and most often overlooked – critiques of modern technological society.  Juenger demonstrates how technology has crept into every facet of our everyday lives -- distorting our educational systems, stripping away our creativity and alienating us from loved ones.  Juenger also argues that all new forms of technology are always somehow subsumed into the military complex, thus strengthening the war machine.  The Failure of Technology is an important work that carefully examines the negative side of technology in a society that seems to only focus on its positives. 
Homeland Earth: A Manifesto for the New Millennium by Edgar Morin. Translated by Sean Kelly.  (1999, Hampton Press).  Morin, one of France’s leading intellectuals, has written widely on topics as diverse as cinema, religion, anthropology, science and politics.  In Homeland Earth, Morin presents the reader with a truly planetary perspective: historical, political, ethical, ecological and spiritual.  Morin argues that in order to truly progress, we must obtain an authentically integral perspective.  Without this, we will continue to fall sway to fundamentalisms of all kinds, and we will fail to provide a sustainable and peaceful future for upcoming generations.  This is a brilliant work which is a must read for anyone looking for a transformative path beyond the current political, ecological and spiritual crisis.
The Keepers of Light: A History and Working Guide to Early Photographic Processes by William Crawford.  The subtitle says it all, with clear and detailed step-by-step instructions on recreating early printing processes.  More importantly, the formulas and instructions are proceeded by a brilliant discussion about how photographers used these processes and why they still matter.
The Unholy City by Charles Finney.  By the author of the amazing "Circus of Dr. Lao," Finney's hero stumbles upon a massive hidden city, so large that the streets are a mile wide, so busy that newspapers come out every hour, and all he can think to do is get drunk and while away the hours with a con man and two aged, decrepit prostitutes. And then the Tiger arrives....
Shakepeare's Lives by Samuel Schoenbaum.  Everything we know about Shakepeare. Everything we think we know about Shakespeare. Everything that everybody ever speculated about Shakespeare. Through the accounts of contemporaries, editors, actors, forgers, lunatics, and scholars. All sorted out and made plain, with great detail and greater wit.  (It is a coin toss in my affections between this book and "Shakespeare's Sonnets" by Stephen Booth.  Every sonnet exhaustively torn apart and lovingly put back together again.)
Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son. We can all learn from the worldly wisdom Lord Chesterfield includes in these letters to his son.
The Dada Painters & Poets by Robert Motherwell.
Motherwell was a major abstract expressionist painter; in the early 1950s he put together this brilliant anthology of writings by artists, poets, and musicians who were associated with Dada. The contributors range from the absurdist composer Erik Satie to the two-fisted art critic Arthur Cravan, and include Marcel Duchamp, Hugo Ball, Richard Huelsenbeck, Kurt Schwitters, Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, and many others.
Opium & Other Stories by Geza Csath .These stories have the feeling of uneasy dreams, arising out of the author‘s experience of narcotic addiction, and they leave behind a residue of disturbing images and feelings. Csath’s masterpiece is “The Sandman,” a story that perfectly renders the fears and mysteries of childhood.
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis. Maqroll is a brash adventurer who continually puts himself in harm’s way in a series of hopeless quests— but while he breaks laws (and hearts), he never violates his own peculiar code of honor. New York Review Books has done readers a wonderful service by collecting the seven Maqroll novellas into one paperback book.
The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul .  In this book, the French sociologist Ellul briefly presents a fascinating history of technology.  He also critically examines societies that unquestioningly and enthusiastically accept all forms of new technologies.  Ellul argues persuasively that technology is not neutral, but that all forms of technology are inherently ideological and political.  The Technological Society is an excellent work for those questioning the all-pervasive technological world in which we live.
Moral Discourses, Enchiridion and Fragments by Epictetus. Translated by Elizabeth Carter. Epictetus, Roman Stoic (50-130 C.E.) provides an excellent overview of the basic doctrines and beliefs of ancient Stoicism.  Particularly fascinating is the moral philosophy which is clear, practical and often profound.  This is an uplifting and encouraging work which covers many topics such as friendship, freedom, politics and simplicity.  
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. A grand tale of revenge so packed with intrigue and adventure the unabridged version is almost a thousand pages. With Dumas' muscular narrative style one is pulled along through the intricate plotlines-- enough to write another dozen books-- and they end with multiple finales that are magnificent, touching and wholly satisfiying.
Youth in Revolt, by C. D. Payne. Initially set in Oakland CA, then settling in Ukiah in the Redwood forest, this novel is a cross between Catcher in the Rye as written by Charles Dickens. A crazy coming-of-age story with outrageous characters, this book was a cult favorite in the Bay Area and, amazingly, a big hit in Germany.


Books by Title
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis
At Swim-Two-Birds, by Flann O'Brien
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Dada Caper by Ross H. Spencer
The Dada Painters and Poets by Robert Motherwell
The Failure of Society by Georg Juenger
Homeland Earth by Edgar Morin
The Keepers of Light by William Crawford
Last Nights of Paris by Philippe Soupault
A Life in Photography by Edward Steichen
Locos by Felipe Arau
Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son
Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
The Maxims of La Rochfoucald
Moral Discourses, Enchiridion and Fragments by Epictetus
Oblomov by Goncharov
Shakespeare's Lives by Samuel Schoenbaum
The Sherlock Holmes Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Technological Society by Jacques Ellul
The Unholy City by Charles Finney
Youth in Revolt, by C. D. Payne
Books by Author
Arau, Felipe. Locos
Chesterfield. Letters to His Son
Crawford, William. The Keepers of Light
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Sherlock Holmes Stories
Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo
Ellul, Jacques. The Technological Society
Epictetus. Moral Discourses, Enchiridion and Fragments
Finney, Charles. The Unholy City
Flaubert, Gustav. Madame Bovary
Goncharov, Oblomov
Juenger, Georg. The Failure of Society
Mitchell, David. Cloud Atlas
Morin, Edgar. Homeland Earth
Motherwell, Robert. The Dada Painters and Poets
Mutis, Alvaro. The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll
O'Brien, Flann. At Swim-Two-Birds
Payne, C. D. Youth in Revolt
Rochfoucald. The Maxims
Schoenbaum, Samuel. Shakespeare's Lives
Soupault, Philippe. Last Nights of Paris
Spencer, Ross H. The Dada Caper
Steichen, Edward. A Life in Photography