If you’re ever traveling between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, make a little jog off Highway 101 at Ventura and head 16 miles north to the tiny city of Ojai. Most people stop here for the city’s New-Age veneer, mountain vistas and almost-too-precious Spanish-style shopping arcade.
But that’s just the icing on the cake. For me, it’s Bart’s Books.
Basically, the owners of Bart’s books just removed the doors and windows from an old ranch house and put books everywhere they could fit. Inside rooms, under protective eaves, in what was probably an old porch or carport.
What makes it wonderful is a combination of things. First, all the books here are great. No junk. There are no trashy diet books for 50 cents with the cover half torn off. Or ghost-written biographies of flash-in-the-pan celebrities for a quarter. You’ll find Carl Hiaasen, Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Franzen, Steven Hawking, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut, Kinky Friedman, Christopher Moore. (My favorites in the fiction and science-fiction sections.) Brian Greene, Richard Dawkins, Roger Penrose, Christopher Hitchens in the various non-fiction areas.
Even better, most books sell for about $7, making it easy for me to indulge in my one substance abuse problem: buying more books than I can possibly read. Mass-market paperbacks are even less. I found Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye for $1.50.
My cherished section is the employee favorites, which recently moved to the right of the cashier desk. To the left is the Most Requested and Recently Published sections–also good places to look. Don’t forget to check them out. And inside, to the right of the front desk, is a small section of new books and first editions (cookbook too).
Second, as opposed to another great used book store up the road which I love (The Phoenix in San Luis Obispo), everything at Bart’s books is rigorously shelved in alphabetical order. No piles of books on the floor to rifle through in order to find something.
There’s even a decent kid’s section.
What makes it all come together is the fact that it’s mostly outdoors. And right in town. While you browse in the eternal sunshine of Ojai, you can hear red-tail hawks calling or woodpeckers hammering away in the treetops. There’s the requisite, resident cat, Pygmy (short for Pygmalion) that saunters throughout the store and likes to nap on the front desk.
302 W. Matilija
Ojai, CA 93023