Indie Bookstore Spotlight: Dark Carnival, Berkeley, CA

ADDRESS: 3086 Claremont Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705

HOURS: Monday - Saturday: 10:30am - 7pm, Sunday: 12pm - 6pm

ON THE WEB: Site

HISTORY: Dark Carnival first opened its doors in 1976, when owner Jack Rems was just 21. Three locations and 37 years later, this self-described "bookstore of the imagination" offers an unmatched selection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Mystery. Rems estimates that the store currently has around 60,000 books, "Unless I'm wrong, which is very possible." Over the years, Dark Carnival has held events with such esteemed authors as Ray Bradbury, Anne Rice, and Douglas Adams. "Philip K. Dick was supposed to come once," remembers Rems with a smile, "But we had to reschedule a couple times...It never worked out."

Dark Carnival also published The Barker, a quarterly magazine that featured fiction and journalism. While now sadly defunct, the archives are still available online.

NEIGHBORHOOD: Just a short walk from the Rockridge BART station, this seemingly sleepy stretch of Claremont Avenue boasts everything one needs for an intensive browsing session. Most important is Dark Carnival's sister store, Escapist Comics, which opened just 18 months ago. Coffee is available from the rightly beloved Semifreddi's Cafe, which also makes amazing baked goods. And if you get hungry after hours of geeking out, Star Grocery offers great sandwiches and as wide a selection of organic/local/handmade "specialty foods" as you could ever expect in the Bay Area.

WHY IT'S AWESOME: Not to repeat myself, but 60,000 books?!? And it's not just the quantity, but the quality of Dark Carnival's selection that is really impressive. Spend a few minutes perusing the packed shelves and you will be inundated with high classics, forgotten favorites, and intriguing new discoveries. If you're overwhelmed, Rems and his staff are always happy to share their wisdom on every sort of theme and sub-genre inside the store.

In fact, Dark Carnival feels like the book fort every nerd dreams about. The deceptively small storefront leads into a welcoming warren of rambling shelves stuffed with new and used books, as well as idiosyncratic memorabilia. This is a place built for comfort, where no one gives you a second look for lying down on the floor while browsing through a stack of prospective purchases. Rems observes that this casual atmosphere belies the store's admirable standards of organization, "I have people come in and say, 'Are these books in any kind of order?'" That being said, there are a few quirks, such as the fact that authors A-J are in one part of the space, with K-Z continuing across the room. "It's a singularity," admits Rems.

VERDICT: Not to repeat myself (again), but 60,000 books?!? A pilgrimage to Dark Carnival is a must for any serious sci-fi/fantasy fan and bookstore lover.


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Header photo by khaosworks

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David G's picture
David G September 11, 2012 - 5:35pm

I'm lucky enough to have been to Dark Carnival and I can say it is everything described here and more. The sheer number of books is mind-numbing and the selection is just ridiculous. There were books here I had never heard of as well as titles I had read and completely forgotten about.

Everything a geek could want in a bookstore. Well worth a visit if you're in the area.