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Monday, March 23, 2009

Last Visits to a Literary Oasis—Stacey’s Bookstore in San Francisco

Here’s a glimpse of a once bustling bookstore slipping into history. The shelves are half empty, today books are 40% off the retail price. Tomorrow, the shelves will be all that’s left to buy.

During my first attempt at a “last” visit to one of my favorite lunchtime haunts, I bought a C.S. Lewis book telling the story of his radio talks broadcast during world war two that were eventually published as Mere Christianity.

After another week or so, I was back again, for a second “last” visit. This time three books left with me, the first a classic autobiographical work by William Styron: Darkness Visible, A Memoir of Madness. Next came The View From a Monastery, The Vowed Life and Its Cast of Many Characters by Brother Benet Tvedten. Then sixty years of poetry by a Poet Laureate, Donald Hall: White Apples and The Taste of Stone, Selected Poems 1946 to 2006. The last came with a CD of the poet reading selected poems which I look forward to listening to on my iPod during our Sea Ranch vacation.

I almost didn’t return for a third and “final” visit, as the sight of the now mostly empty shelves was slightly depressing. Then to my delight I found one more book in the basement. Surprised by Hope by the New Testament scholar N.T. Wright became my last book from Stacey’s Bookstore. Two weeks ago the very last book was sold at the store, and only brave booksellers who need more shelves were searching through the remains as another literary oasis passes into history.

After 85 years of bookselling on Market Street in downtown San Francisco, Stacey’s Bookstore will close in March, 2009. Sales have dropped 50% since 2001, and a shaky economy and a 15% year over year decline for last year’s final quarter combined to bring this favorite haunt of browsers to the end of its run as a full service bookstore.

In the store’s heyday there were Stacey’s bookstores in Palo Alto, Modesto, Richmond, Cupertino, Los Angeles and San Bernardino. Stacey’s San Francisco store has always carried a wide-ranging selection of books. While Stacey’s built its reputation around technical books for professionals, the San Francisco store always carried something for everyone. Three floors of opportunity for booklovers meant the store was always a popular lunch-hour retreat. The remaindered books, conveniently organized and displayed with blue and white “Stacey’s special value” stickers in the basement were an especially powerful magnet for bargain-hunters.

Stacey’s former customers are now exploring downtown San Francisco’s lanes and alleys, searching out alternative oases where we can browse and buy the books that feed our minds and strengthen our souls.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Three Practical ways to Pray

Frank Laubach’s Prayer, The Mightiest Force in the World, presents many helpful suggestions on how to pray. Here is a selection that you can try:

PRAY with pencil and paper at hand

“When God sends a thought, write it down and keep it visible until it can be carried into action. Pray for individuals by name. Vital prayers always suggest things to be done. Indeed, prayer and action must be mates, or both are weak. The mightiest men and women on earth are strong in prayer and strong in deeds ” (pages 74-75).

Flash Prayers
“Everybody in every ordinary day has hundreds of chinks of idle wasted time which may be filled with flash prayers ten seconds or a minute long.” Here are (selected, and modified) illustrations of such moments:
• Upon awakening in the morning
• Dressing
• Asking the blessing at table
• Leaving the house
• Driving or walking to work
• Between appointments
• Preparing meals
And a hundred more chinks of time all day long until crawling into bed and falling asleep (pages 75-76).

Pray for Others

“Far from making one tired, this prayer for others is the finest tonic I know. When you are utterly tired from work or study, walk out into the street and flash prayers at people. Your nerves will tingle with the inflow from heaven. Prayer ‘is twice blest, it blesses him that gives and him that receives’” (page 78).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Will The Chronicle Survive? Will Digital Papers Soon Replace Newsprint?

As a Bay Area commuter, most of my work days for almost 24 years have started with the San Francisco Chronicle as a regular morning companion. In the early days Herb Caen's column was a favorite morning read. Lately, Jon Carroll's column has provided many wry smiles. Sports, Business, then the front pages, then Bay Area and World, finishing up with Datebook, Food on Wednesdays, and what used to be Wine on Fridays.

Recently the sections and layouts have been modified but my reading habits have followed their usual trails. Last Friday, I had to take this newstand photo as the news is not so good these days for the Chron. Will it still be on the stands next week, next month, next year? After more than 140 years of publishing daily news and entertaining features, the paper has been losing $50 million a year and the Hearst Corporation must now find ways to save or it will be the end of the Bay Area's major daily newspaper. Founded in 1865, the Chronicle ranks as the daily with the 12th largest circulation in the U.S. But like so many traditional newspapers, its future is now in question. Will all of our major papers be replaced by digital editions this year, next year, or sometime in the next decade or so? Will the Chronicle survive as an online resource?

On the same day that I shot the Chronicle in the newspaper vending machine, some online research pointed me to a moving video that tells how the Rocky Mountain News, another major urban newspaper, reached the end of its long life. All who love journalism will appreciate the story as told by those who worked for the paper. And commuters may have another reason to move their daily news reading habits online. Click here