Rest In Peace, Cody’s

01Sep06

My apologies that this is a bit late to be current news.

The iconic bookstore on Telegraph Street has closed its doors.

In my naivite I’d only perused the shelves of Cody’s Books once earlier this summer, remembering it as the only bookstore to carry a used copy (two, in fact) of Weinberg’s The Quantum Theory of Fields, Vol I. Meanwhile, the rest of Telegraph and Berkeley ponders the significance of Cody’s closure.

From what I hear, Cody’s was one of the staples of Telegraph Avenue since the 50s. Arguably the most famous used bookstore in a city of used bookstores, newspaper eulogies have cited Cody’s firebombing after selling Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and its list of celebrity authors who have come to visit as part of a legacy that played a role in defining Berkeley culture. I’ve always had a soft spot for used bookstores and it’s hard to see them go away.

I had the chance to visit Cody’s upscale San Francisco location, and it’s just not the same. It was all too sterile. Few things can beat being able to sit and peruse a wealth of stories (fictional or otherwise) that have been passed down from readers before you. There’s a smell to used bookstores that you can’t find anywhere else. It goes hand in hand with an ambience of respect for the books as things not to be shelved and forgotten, but shared and passed on.

As and outsider there’s little I can tell you about Cody’s that isn’t readily available in the articles that I’ve listed in the reference section below. Instead, I can only view its closure as a telling case study of the transformation of Berkeley’s southside. Here, again, I am limited as a single observer over a short period of time.

Over my two and a half months at Berkeley, I’d find hints of the degentrification of Berkeley’s southside: an article on rising crime rates on Telegraph discouraging new businesses; an overheard story about a grad student’s Halloween party being disrupted by a shady group from Oakland; a friend who moved to northside because of repeated muggings; Powerbar and Cliff Bar moving their headquarters out of Berkeley; the ever-present conflict of physical bookstores trying to compete with Amazon.com.

As one Harvard Marshall put it, Telegraph has always been the “crunchy” part of Berkeley. It’s always been a place where street vendors, students, tourists, businessmen, and crazies came together. But what will happen if the vendors, students, tourists, and businessmen leave? (Partial answer: one of the crazies decides to run for mayor.)

There’s more to Berkeley than Telegraph. Northside, for instance, is a hippie Palo Alto. Berkeley Hills might as well be a hippie Portola Valley. But Telegraph is as much a part of Berkeley’s heritage as the Bevatron, and deserves at least as much of a fight for its preservation. Of course, any attempt to forcibly change Telegraph would probably run contrary to the spirit of Berkeley (consider, for example, the history of People’s Park), leading to the dilemma today.

The book I enjoyed reading the most this summer (along with Peskin and Schroeder) was Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas. In the autobiographical story, Mrs. Dumas describes the Berkeley as the only place where people knew anything about Iran before the Hostage Crisis. Berkeley has had the reputation of being the most liberal, politically charged city in the nation (arguably the world). It was the mecca of American physics fifty years ago and continues to be one of the world’s flagship public universities. The closure of Cody’s Books is a tiny event in the history of this city, but one that its residents (and anyone who sympathizes with what Berkeley has stood for) should take heed of carefully.

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2 Responses to “Rest In Peace, Cody’s”

  1. 1 hackticus

    Man, that is tragic news.

  2. 2 Jessica

    Hi, Flip!

    I’m a friend of Brendan O’Connor’s and we met a couple of times at Marshall-related fora (I’m hoping to apply.)

    I just wanted to say hello and good luck on your journey!



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