Pittsburgh is one of my favorite places to visit. There is just something romantic about a city where three rivers meet and old stone homes are being restored. To me, Pittsburgh radiates the energy & excitement of a city “becoming”. So much urban revitalization is happening that I could spend days walking around the residential neighborhoods and taking it all in (which is what we usually end up doing!).
Another thing in Pittsburgh’s favor – it has great independent book shops. One standout is the Caliban Book Shop located at 410 South Craig Street in the Shadyside neighborhood. The shop is clean, tidy and has a wonderful selection of used books. Their card states that they specialize in Rare & Scholarly books – which they do. I spotted some fabulous 20th century first editions and signed copies. Some were out of the ordinary, like the signed copy of Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton that had me mentally budgeting for the next month in a desperate attempt to justify buying it. (Alas, it was not to be). I’m sure it wasn’t the most valuable book in the shop, but it’s one I don’t come across every day.
What really sets Caliban apart in my eyes is the quality of the inventory not housed in a glass case, which is made up of the inexpensive and rare finds that are the stuff of a bibliophile’s dreams. They carry books, all in amazingly good condition, that are out of print or by authors that are off radar for the majority of the public. Of course you can find books by Michael Chabon, John Gardner, Italo Calvino and Stephen Millhauser –all standard stock in the “better” used bookstores. But Caliban also has a surprisingly nice section on Urban Planning. I came across several books by less well known publishing houses and by international authors. The New Arrivals shelves, directly across from the front desk, were a pleasure to browse through. It’s obvious that the owners, John Schulman & Emily Hetzel, are buyers with discriminating tastes.
Below is what I left with:
- Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden by Gertrude Jekyll (hardcover with protected dust jacket)
- 3 Jack Vance Paperbacks (Caliban has a nice 1950’s sci-fi pulp collection – which is a don’t miss housed in a basement room. It also seems to be where they keep their less expensive trade paperbacks).
- The Dead Girls by Jorge Ibarguengoitia (paperback)
- Sunset at Dawn: A novel of the Biafran war by Chukwuemeka Ike (paperback)
Any criticisms? I found their Art section a little weak. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. And a few small tables with chairs would have been convenient to sort through my selections before heading to the check out. Then again, they may be on to something. If they provided tables and chairs, I’d probably still be there.