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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on December 13th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 13, Issue 40 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 40

Give the double gift of books

Sometimes the old way is better

BY FRANK GONZALES

This holiday season, thousands of people on the Central Coast will decide to give the gift of books to their friends and families. With the continuing march of new technologies, more and more of these books will be given without any exchange of physical goods and instead will move through the ethereal plane of the Internet and its newest incarnations in Kindles and iPads.

While the positive and the negative consequences of the transition to the digital age of books each have staunch supporters, the decrease in old-fashioned book buying has been unquestionably negative for brick-and-mortar bookstores. The fall of the giant Borders is a good example, but so are the many smaller bookstores that have been permanently shuttered. Bucking this trend, the Central Coast still has a large number of small booksellers who have found success in offering more than the impersonal experience of ordering a book from websites like Amazon.com. Instead of simply selling books, these small businesses know they’re in the business of selling the book-buying experience for both gift-givers and -receivers.

People interested in giving the book-buying experience as a gift, or those givers who enjoy book-shopping themselves, have many options in this area. Perhaps one of the most quintessential of bookshops for this experience is the Book Loft in Solvang. By buying a loved one a gift certificate for this shop, or by browsing its shelves to find the perfect title, the art of shopping for books comes to life for the giver and receiver. The shop carries both new and used books, including all of the bestsellers that just came out, and it also has a good selection of rare, old books for the antiquarian collectors out there. It even boasts specialty books in languages like Danish that pay homage to the store’s location. The Book Loft is fairly large for a small bookstore, taking up two floors, but because every wall and open space is filled with stuffed bookshelves, the shop glows with the coziness of the best small bookstores. Adding to its warmth is the attached Bulldog Café, which brews excellent coffee, bakes amazing brownies and other treats, and has a seating area cleverly placed next to the bookstore’s magazine section.

In addition to the magnetic draw of the bookstore’s atmosphere, its staff add to the experience with their knowledge and passion for the books they sell. On bookseller websites, shoppers are dependent on the mechanical algorithms of search engines to find the books they want. Online buyers also receive recommendations based on their previous searches and purchases. While sometimes effective, this approach can often produce laughable results. For example, while The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are both fantasy books, readers of the former book are often quite hostile toward the latter and might balk at being recommended one of J.K. Rowling’s works. A search engine simply can’t comprehend the complexities of human taste in the way a skilled bookseller can. Through such human interaction with a bookseller, or simply by browsing bookshelves, shoppers might just stumble upon books they’d never see after hours of Internet searches. And once an interesting book comes along, shoppers can peruse the entirety of the book, instead of only the first few pages as on many bookseller websites.

   The icing on the cake for people who’ve received gift certificates to such a bookstore, or to those who prefer to shop for others in such an environment, is that the Book Loft, like many of its analogues, is situated in an area that makes for an ideal holiday excursion. In the case of the Book Loft, its central Solvang home is surrounded by many other shops, bakeries, and restaurants that complement its atmosphere and help to put shoppers in the holiday spirit. The range of opportunities for fun and socialization by going out in person to this sort of an area puts shopping in front of a computer screen to shame. While the ease of online shopping and the seemingly limitless variety of goods that can be found on the Internet have their place, they’re no replacement for the joy of browsing in person and the desire to be surprised. When shopping for books this holiday season, remember that the quest for the right book can be a gift in itself.

The Book Loft is located at 1680 Mission Drive in Solvang.

Contact Intern Frank Gonzales at intern@santamariasun.com.