IF YOU WANT TO GET TO KNOW A PLACE, visit its independent bookstores. A microcosm of the surrounding community, nowhere has its finger on the pulse of its residents quite like a bookstore. Booklegger is no exception. A cornerstone (its door opens literally on the corner of Second and E streets) of Old Town Eureka, Booklegger has supplied Humboldt County with carefully curated new and used titles for more than 40 years. Encased in the sweet smell of aging paper, the tidy aisles of Booklegger are a labyrinth of new and familiar worlds. Handwritten signs point to a large selection of fiction, graphic novels, poetry, YA and kids, history, gardening, art and more. One would be hard pressed to find something that didn't spark their interest. Still, a bookstore knows its clientele, so Booklegger is stocked up on natural and local history, foraging and local field guides — Humboldt County must-haves.

At Booklegger's helm is Jen McFadden, an articulate, kind and, of course, well-read individual with a passion for connecting patrons with the right book. She is backed by staff with extensive knowledge of a vast spectrum of genres and subjects, some of whom are writers themselves. "The ethos of this place is that we want to support people in whatever they want to read. We are absolutely delighted to learn about what people want to read, so we can bring that in," she says. "We already have a point of connection with everyone who comes here because we all like to read." Behind McFadden stands a wall of photographs, concert tickets, long-forgotten notes and other ephemera found wedged in the books exchanged for trade — not such an unusual exhibit for a used bookstore — an altar to the many hands through which Booklegger's wares have passed, a tribute to kismet.

On a warm fall afternoon, with her capable daughter Sophie behind the counter, McFadden sits down to share a few recommended titles by local authors.

The Blacksmith Princess by Rowan Mallory is written under a pen name by a Booklegger staff member. It is a YA fantasy novel that is a retelling of Jack the Giant Slayer with a woman protagonist. "It is extremely clever and funny," says McFadden. It has been one of the most popular books in our store since it came out. It has a feminist slant, friendship themes and lots of world building. People are going to want to revisit this novel." They are in luck, as a sequel is in the works.

Wake Turbulence by Stilson Snow is a mystery set in a town in rural Northern California that, according to McFadden, "sounds suspiciously like Eureka." The novel centers around a "washed up" astronaut and ex-Air Force Investigator who is asked to look into a potential murder. What he uncovers is bigger and more perilous than he could have anticipated. "[The novel] is really suspenseful and twisty ... and features a lot of people with unusual paths like the kind you meet in Humboldt County." Booklegger hosted a signing with Snow over the summer.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HOLLY HARVEY
  • Photo by Holly Harvey

The Hurricane Blonde by Arcata local Halley Sutton is a feminist noir thriller that follows a former child star as she becomes entangled in investigating the murder of a young Hollywood actress. The protagonist must grapple with Hollywood's not-so glamorous underbelly and all its dangerous secrets. "It's been extremely popular. We just cannot keep this in stock."

Both Sides of the Bluff by Jerry Rohde. "I highly recommend Jerry Rohde for local history. He has written extensively about Humboldt County before and after white settlers." A household name in Humboldt County, Rohde is a historian, ethnographer, archivist, researcher and teacher. His other titles include Southeast Humboldt Hinterlands and many, many more.

Shift Happens by Margot Genger is a memoir about an "unlikely long-haul truck driver with a complicated history. It takes place in the 1970s and is an account of that experience [as a truck driver] and all the characters she meets along the way," says McFadden. "It's so original and very compelling." Genger is a Humboldt local and a regular at Booklegger.

Hiking Humboldt books by Michael Kauffman, along with "some of his other natural history books are such great resources," says McFadden. "These have been a great addition to the local canon. He and Backcountry Press have gone out of their way to make the books accessible. Hiking Humboldt Kids is bilingual. I really appreciate what they have done to make nature accessible to the local community."

Humbook Two by Barry Evans, the latest collection by local writer, engineer, science enthusiast and all-around fascinating guy. This latest book contains essays on all things Humboldt, from flora and fauna to the linguistics of local Native languages, to the history of the area and its people. With contributions from his wife, Louisa Rogers, and the aforementioned Rohde, it will show you new sides of Humboldt County, whether you are visiting for the first time or a long-time local.

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