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Books, Etcetera with Lynn Carey: The New Rakestraw

Danville’s beloved Rakestraw Books reopens in a new location on Hartz Avenue.

In this economy (and are those three, most-used words in the language, these days?) there is nothing more heartwarming than to see stores do well. With the growing number of people using devices such as Kindle, I’m especially happy when bookstores do well.

On April 1, my friend Lori Erokan and I wandered into Rakestraw Books in Danville. They’d been open in their new location for 1 ½ hours. The best comment I can come up with was actually from another customer, who said, “I’m overwhelmed, Michael!”

Michael is owner Michael Barnard, who actually started working at the original Rakestraw in the Livery and Mercantile on April 1, 1985. The previous owners opened Rakestraw on April 1, 1973.

The opening of the new store last week was the 36th year of the store’s existence. And it was in no way an April Fool’s joke.

This store, in the old Valley Pioneer building on Hartz Avenue, is 50 percent larger than the previous store in a strip mall. It’s bright and airy, with the front wall entirely windows. The old institutional wall-to-wall blue carpets have been removed, and the new floors are covered with lovely Tabriz rugs. The walls are painted in assorted primary colors. The green room is for kids in grade school. The blue room is mainly books for younger kids. Chairs are scattered here and there throughout the store. (I always wonder about chairs in bookstores, because you want them to be inviting, but not inviting enough to sit down and read the entire book. But at Rakestraw, they seem just right.)

This new store on Hartz Avenue reminded me why I love bookstores so much. On every table or shelf, there’s the possibility of a new discovery. It’s easy to navigate, with tables and shelves highlighting favorites. A small table with outdoorsy books also has an old pair of hiking boots on it. A “staycation” books table has a beach towel. On a large country table several books are show-cased (some on a ladder) because the authors are coming to Rakestraw. It turns out Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher gave the table and a lovely hutch to the store when she sold her house. Rakestraw has all kinds of fans.

About 40 customers helped them box up books and move them from the old store to the new one in the days before the opening. On Wednesday, both Michael and his mother, Julie, were still figuring things out. A phone guy was there, and the sound of construction was still heard from the back (where there is a parking lot). Some of the walls were still being painted as more and more regular customers popped in to check out the new digs.

The mother and son weren’t too busy to give suggestions of favorite books. Michael is talking up Zoe Heller’s The Believers and Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Julie loves Little Bee by Chris Cleave and THE buzz book of the season, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. (Note to self: READ THAT BOOK!)

As always, I couldn’t leave empty-handed. I bought the new Paisley Hanover Acts Out by Cameron Tuttle for a niece. And I asked Michael his opinion on what I should get for a nephew’s birthday. I told him my nephew is turning 16 and plays lacrosse, is interested in screenwriting and I’ve already given him the DVD of State and Main. (It’s David Mamet, and seriously one of the funniest movies about the movie business ever … and highly inappropriate for a boy his age, which I think was 14 at the time. I wrote on his card to hide it from his parents and watch it with his friends.)

Without missing a beat, Michael handed me a galley copy of Either You’re In, or You’re In the Way: Two Brothers, Twelve Months and One Filmmaking Hell-Ride to Keep a Promise to Their Father by Logan and Noah Miller. These twin boys decided to make a film honoring their father, a homeless man who died alone in a jail cell. They wrote, produced, directed and acted in the film (along with 11 Academy Award winners). The book is the story of how they did it, without any money. The movie is due out in the fall. You can read more about it here. Either You’re In or You’re In the Way... was, of course, a brilliant choice. I’ve been hearing about this book and the movie for the last year or so. Author Tess Uriza Holthe (When the Elephants Dance) emailed me about them, as they live in Marin County near her. The book comes out at the end of April (right when my nephew’s birthday is), and the brothers will be at Rakestraw in May.

But I wouldn’t wait that long to visit Rakestraw. Go soon, it’ll make you happy.

For 12 years, Lynn Carey has run the Times Book Club, which now appears in the Contra Costa Times and Oakland Tribune newspapers. For the past 17 years, she's lived in Lafayette with her husband, Lamorinda Sun columnist Mike Zampa, and their two teenagers.