The Book Den: To borrow a famous phrase from Omar Khayyám about vintners, what could booksellers buy that is half so precious as what they sell?

On the heels of giants Borders and Barnes & Noble closing their downtown Santa Barbara bookstores in 2011, Eric Kelley’s The Book Den is going strong, celebrating its 80th year on Anapamu Street, just off State.

“We suddenly became the largest bookstore downtown,” Kelley told me. It’s already California’s oldest used-book store, tracing its history back to 1902, when Ernest and Thomas Angel opened a bookshop in Oakland. Later owner Max Clemens Richter moved it and 40 tons of books to Santa Barbara in 1933 to property owned by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which is still the landlord. Kelley has owned The Book Den since 1979.

Eric Kelley, owner of The Book Den
Sue De Lapa

After the demise of the two chain outlets, Kelley, a bibliophile with a good head for business, quickly added shelves of new books to his used-book inventory. It’s now half and half, plus his Internet market.

“I would love to be in the 900 block of State Street, but could I afford to pay the rent?” he asked me. He’s staying. Tourists find the shop at 15 East Anapamu Street, but many locals still haven’t realized that The Book Den is now a full-service bookstore.

You can find out-of-print books and used classics as well as hot-off-the-press hardcover fiction, including the mystery novels of our own Sue Grafton and some of the nonfiction I spotted: The World of Downton Abbey (about the hit TV series), The I ♥ Trader Joe’s Cookbook, and the much-discussed In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, which I’m deep into, a nonfiction account of a naïve U.S. ambassador sent to the horrors of Hitler’s prewar Germany.

Although about a quarter of the book business is in e-books, Kelley said, “I don’t think print books are going away anytime soon.”

I hope not.

Where’s Leo? After Leonardo DiCaprio backed out of his much-ballyhooed appearance at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival at the last minute, disappointing fans, I noticed a tribute in the SBIFF program that said of DiCaprio, “He says what he means and he means what he says.”

Stolen Strad: There’s a story behind Joshua Bell’s upcoming Granada Theatre concert, and not just that he’ll be playing a 300-year-old Stradivarius. Or that he paid nearly $4 million for it. (I hear they aren’t making Strads anymore.)

Here’s the odd story: Julian Altman was a young, average-talent fiddle player in New York in 1936 when his mother told him to steal a Strad owned by Polish virtuoso Bronislaw Huberman while Huberman was out of his Carnegie Hall dressing room. (Mom thought Julian deserved the best.) So he did, disguising it with shoe polish and scratching out a meager living for about 50 years, according to the N.Y. Daily News. After Julian died in 1985, the whole story came out, and the violin was headed to a German museum. Bell was horrified. The Huberman Strad deserved to be played. Bell played it and loved its warm richness of tone. He sold his own 1732 Tom Taylor Strad for $2 mill and saved the Huberman, as it’s known. That’s what you’ll hear on Wednesday, February 20, thanks to UCSB Arts & Lectures.

Wrong Curry: With Bishop Thomas J. Curry in the news as having resigned over the church’s molestation cover-up scandal, a TV camera team marched up to a San Roque Road home, shooting as it went, and then knocked on the door and asked for Bishop Curry. Oops. He doesn’t live here, they were told by very upset residents. Wrong Curry. (He lives in that big building up the street ​— ​at least for now.)

Kibosh on Obama: Some things never seem to go away. Last year the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), after being short-handed for several years, ruled that News-Press owner Wendy McCaw violated federal labor law when she fired eight newsroom union members. But then a three-Republican federal circuit court panel in Washington, D.C., put the kibosh on the decision. It ruled that McCaw’s First Amendment rights had been violated. (Never mind the out-of-work journalists.) Then, last week, the same court ruled that Obama’s three NLRB appointments while Congress was in recess (misbehaving children still get a recess) were invalid. Presidents have been making these recess appointments for many decades without anyone saying anything, until now. So, are we back to square one with new NLRB appointments (lotsa luck, Barack), or will the NLRB appeal to the Supremes, as seems likely?


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