Keeping Oakland Awesome


There are so many articles these days about Oakland — how it’s hipster central, how it’s a dangerous hellhole, how it’s the new Brooklyn, blah blah blah…  I read them all and agree with some points, and roll my eyes at others.  I’ve lived here for almost 20 years now, and I can say is that it’s an entirely different city than the one I moved to all those years ago.  Even in the seven years we’ve lived in this neighborhood it seems like it’s become a different planet.  Lake Merritt, which when I first moved here was lovely but dangerous (stories of bodies being dredged from the waters and brutal muggings — I even saw a mugging a few years ago), is now teeming with people with blankets and barbecues.  Neighborhoods that used to be avoided are now filled with electric cars and baby strollers.  Gritty vacant storefronts are now hip boutiques and beer gardens.  On one hand it’s progress — we want our city to flourish, right?  But on the other hand, we don’t want it to go the way of San Francisco and lose its soul to the tech industry, or change too much.  (We want change, but then we hate change.  It’s a vicious cycle.)  Mostly what I’m worried about are displaced families and economic disparity, and I feel like Oakland is starting to bust at the seams with people moving in.  And for every positive step forward, something always happens to set it two steps back.

So regardless of manbuns and baby strollers and beer gardens, Oakland still needs a lot of help.  I love my city and have so much faith in it, but like everyone else, I get frustrated.  But I also feel that I can’t complain too much if I’m not doing anything about it — as a member of any community, you have responsibility to take some action.  It makes me crazy when I hear people complaining about this that and the other, yet they shop online or elsewhere and not locally, so money doesn’t go into the city.  Or they get complacent and think, “It’s not my problem.”  I believe if you live in a city and you want it to be better for everyone, you need to do something about it instead of rant and post links on Facebook.

So last year I decided that I needed to do something more for Oakland.  I love volunteering at The Alameda County Community Food Bank — it’s fun and gratifying and a huge reality scope and check — but all weekend slots get filled fast.  (Which is SO great!)  And I’m not one to protest or march (not my thing), nor am I one to plant a community garden.  (Our plants looks like they’re suffering from the drought, but no — they already looked like that.)  I’d love to tutor kids, but those are all weekday slots and I can’t then…  I was getting frustrated, looking for something I could do.

But then my friend sent me a link to a volunteer job, and it was perfect.  The Bookmark Bookstore, a gem of a little used bookstore run by The Friends of the Oakland Public Library, needed volunteers.  THAT I could do, and do well!  With all my bookstore/publishing/library experience, it was a perfect fit.  And all the proceeds go directly to The OPL, and I am a staunch believer that libraries are important pillars to any community for so many reasons — not just the love of reading, but programs that teach about resume writing and job seeking to homework to world travel and so much more.  One thing that has always stood out to me was that I used to know someone who worked for the OPL, and he would always say that some of the branches were basically daycare for kids after school.  I would much, much rather have kids sitting in a library while waiting for their parents to get home than on the streets and in trouble, perpetuating the cycle of violence.  But because of the lack of funds, Oakland’s libraries are always threatened with closure, and that is an awful thought.  Where would the people go?  Libraries are absolutely necessary to keep Oakland strong and thriving, and to build better minds and cities.

So it’s not much but that’s my little contribution to help Oakland, by working on Sundays in the little bookstore and encouraging people to buy books to help our wonderful libraries, which in turn help our wonderful city.  I just wish more people would come in and shop!  I think The Bookmark is a well kept secret — when I tell people that I work there on Sundays, most people have never heard of it.  So I’m here to tell you about it and to go!  It’s all donation based so the inventory changes all the time, and I tell you — Oakland readers have great taste.  We’ll get rare antiquarian books and current New York Times bestsellers, and everything in-between.  The fiction section is consistently fantastic, the history section is always terrific, there are always a ton of memoirs of truly interesting people, and my personal favorite — the kids’ section — is GREAT.  There are treasures to be found every day — and I should know, because I go home with a stack every week.  (But I don’t feel guilty, because every penny goes to the OPL.) And everything is CHEAP!  All at a great price for a great cause.

I mean, look.  This gorgeous 1963 edition of “Of Mice and Men” for $3?  Come ON.  Treasures abound!


And tomorrow, April 12th, all books are 50% off!!! For more info click here:   So please go in and help support The Oakland Public Library, and Oakland itself.  It’s easy and a pleasure, and one of the best ways I know of to keep Oakland awesome.


The Bookmark Bookstore –721 Washington St in Old Oakland. 510.444.0473 Hours: Mon-Fri: 10:30-4:30 Sat: 10:30-3:30

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