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We here at The Open Bar tend to get addicted to things fairly easily, with serial television being at the forefront of our cravings. While The Killing has been a tremendous disappointment, Game Of Thrones has got us hooked on gathering around the black box (or flat screen) again. With our magazine’s Weird Science themed issue looming and being locked into what will happen in The Seven Kingdoms, the world of fantasy and Sci-Fi has been heavily on our minds. Perfect timing then that this week’s Book Clubbing has us going back to the Bay Area with Charlie Jane Anders, who introduces us to Borderlands Books, a haven for lovers of all things fantastic.
A good bookstore should be part of the community in a meaningful way. But a truly great bookstore is one that’s a major part of the local community but still feels like a unique, separate place, all its own. True to its name, Borderlands Books in San Francisco manages to play a vital role in the local scene but it still feels like its own amazing pocket universe. Borderlands is a science fiction and fantasy bookstore, but it’s a great model for how to run a terrific independent bookstore in general.
Possibly the first thing you notice about Borderlands when you walk into the store is how airy and spare it feels, with just a few rows of well-fashioned wooden bookshelves and a classy-looking carpet on the hardwood floors. Unless the cats are roaming about, in which case your first thought is, “Holy hell, those cats are naked!” Borderlands, for as long as anybody can remember, has had one or two sphinx cats in the store: hairless, bony creatures which look both lovely and a little bit… alien. Currently, there are two sphinx cats: Ash and Frost, both named after characters from the Alien saga. Sometimes, during bookstore readings, the cats come out and peer over your shoulder at all the commotion in their realm.
Borderlands has a lot of in-store events, from author readings to the tongue-in-cheek Emperor Norton Awards, celebrating creative lunacy (Full disclosure: I won one of those a few years ago.) And they sell books at a lot of local offsite readings and conventions, and help to support a local reading series, SF in SF. But equally important, they support a lot of local independent publishers, and part of the fun of browsing around the store is discovering yet another odd little book from a small press. It’s not at all unusual to find the heads of local small publishing companies milling around the store, or even working
behind the counter.
Lately, Borderlands has opened a cafe two doors down from the bookstore, with much the same feel of open space and hardwood floors and fixtures. Where the bookstore is a mellow, easy-browsing experience, though, the bookstore is a full-on, community space. It’s not at all unusual to find two separate writing groups tearing people’s novels to shreds at different tables. And at all the other
tables, a slew of authors stare into the word vortices on their computer screens, trying to finish a novel or short story. Between the two halves of Borderlands, every stage of the book creation process is represented. People writing, critiquing, publishing and of course buying books – all under the more-or-less benign gaze of two hairless cats.
Charlie Jane Anders writes about science fiction for io9.com, and she’s hard at work on a fantasy novel. You can find her work in the McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes, Best Science Fiction Of The Year 2009, Sex for America, and other anthologies. She’s also contributed to Mother Jones, the Wall Street Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, ZYZZYVA, Pindeldyboz, Strange Horizons, and many other publications. She organizes the Writers With Drinks reading series. She wrote a novel called Choir Boy, which won a Lambda Literary Award and was a finalist for the Edmund White Award.