At our garage sale last January, two days before leaving Key West, we sold seven floor to ceiling bookshelves filled with books. (There are still three or four bookshelves stuffed full in the house so we aren’t totally bereft!) Over the years, we have moved several times between neighborhoods and mostly moved books from house to house. We still have sealed boxes with books packed away in storage from the last move two years ago…

The garage sale was very gratifying. So many fellow Key West bibliophiles lost ALL their books (and clothes and shoes and cds and dvds and, well, everything) in Wilma’s flood and were ravenous for ours. While making the decision to sell our books and get rid of our stuff was extremely difficult, that sale definitely scratched an itch! Particularly when it came to books and cds.

Besides, we had read in guidebooks that San Jose boasted several good used bookstores. So we were not going to be bookless by any means. It would be fun to start anew. I had visions of a used bookstore a la Waldens or Borders: lots of sections, political offerings (Costa Rica is a hotbed of well-educated, well-traveled libertarians, after all), and good cafe con leche. Something more than old novels, like in used bookstores of my past.

You might say I’m a dreamer.

When we found the mall, we were so excited! Walking the concourse, we came upon a lovely chain bookstore, ala Borders. Ala a little bitty tiny Borders Express (meaning no coffee shop). With a little bitty tiny English-language section. We explored the bookstore first thing. Ok, maybe not first thing. The food court was first. What can you do on an empty stomach? Alas, this librería did not scratch our new itch!

Last week, ready to read, we got serious about the hunt and found three bookstores.

Das_books_storeThe first one, Expo 10, is Costa Rican, right down the street from Clinica Biblica on the south side of San Jose. It is STUFFED full of books, floor to ceiling, inside, outside,English_section everywhere. This one was particularly reminiscent of our own Key West used books on Truman, before the new owner took over and made it all neat: boxes piled everywhere, the
old owner (manager?) always at the desk reading a used paperback. I’m sure he put stuff away but you wondered when…

Expo 10 had one room devoted to English books (the room in the photo right… that’s the whole room. I’m standing just outside the doorway.) Not terribly well organized… nor terribly interesting. You’ll find an overwhelming selection of used novels – some really really used – followed by guidebooks, classics, comic books, textbooks, kids books. Anything interesting, we’d read… But the fact that there was an English section at all was encouraging!

7th_street_booksWe left there and made a concerted effort to find 7th Street Books, widely touted as The Bookstore for expats. "Good coffee, good selection of books," they all said. We found it easily. Stayed about 20 minutes.

It’s exactly like a Starbucks with souvenirs and (pricey) new novels and guidebooks. Some quasi-political books, some history of Costa Rica and Central America. Some beautiful coffeetable books. All brand new, wrapped in cellophane. But the bookstore of my dreams, it ain’t. I was disappointed in being mislead by the guidebooks, in going out of my way to7th_street_snacks find a great bookstore and getting a Starbucks instead.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Starbucks. If I were staying in a hotel downtown, I’d be here every morning! The coffee was more than other places, but half the price of Starbucks. And they have the dailies of all the major newspapers printed out from the pdf and available! That was wonderful. If I had a bookstore in downtown San Jose, I’d have to run it exactly as they do to make it work.

Our third find was recommended by a friend. We were in Alajuela on errands a few days later and drove to Good Light Books. A great little spot, very sweet, unpretentious, well organized and easy to find. Nice outdoor patio for reading and sipping con leche. And tons of used books. Still mostly novels, guidebooks, etc. ButGlb_patio a much bigger
selection and we actually found books to bring home. We LOVE that.

Getting books to CR is a challenge. I’ve ordered from Amazon and that works great, although duty adds up pretty fast. Last November, not knowing we were moving to Costa Rica, I paid Amazon $80 for a year’s worth of 2-day delivery. This has turned out to be a very good move, even here. Amazon ships the books to my Miami mailbox (in 2 days) and they ship it here, walking it thru customs.

The minimum duty charge for anything other than documents is $10, based on weight. So hardcovers are out. FYI, Amazon has several fulfillment centers and they won’t put too many books in a box. Last time, I got two boxes with 5 paperbacks each. They were very light so only $10 duty for each box. But I’d also ordered a dvd… turns out that comes from a completely different fulfillment center and was shipped alone. Ack. $10 duty on that slim package. I wrote to Amazon in frustration and they did give me a $10 credit… so my next box of 5 paperbacks will be duty-free! That was very good of them.

But $30 extra to get 10 paperbacks and a dvd. Still better than no books at all, but sheesh. Till now, we’ve been reluctant to ask friends to bring an extra suitcase with books (or sheets – ohmygod, bring your own sheets)… but desperation will win out, I can feel it. Who’s flying in?

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