So We Had a Little Earthquake


Quake wine

(credit:  AP/Times-Standard, Shaun Walker)

A 6.5 earthquake is a big enough deal to make you run, not walk, down the street to make sure that your bookstore is still standing and that your husband is not trapped under a pile of rubble. It's a big enough deal to make you call someone out of the area — a parent or sibling — to let them know that you are okay because the phones are probably going to go down in a minute and you don't want them to fret. It's also a big enough deal that they will then activate the family phone tree so that everybody else gets the news before they see it on TV that night.

Fortunately, however, it is not a big enough deal to cause anybody to lose their house or attend a funeral or wonder if it's gotten any easier to get assistance out of FEMA these days. Most of us didn't lose anywhere near as much liquor as this grocery store did, and things were pretty much put back together 24 hours later. It was amazing how well even the most amateurish earthquake safety measures worked. The earthquake retrofit on our bookstore's 1879 building was done by our elderly landlord who insisted on doing all the work himself. It passed inspection, but the real test isn't the inspection, it's the next earthquake. And it passed.  At home, the thin metal strap held the hot water heater in place, the little bits of putty under the glass lamp kept it from sliding off the table, and every bookcase that was bolted to the wall stayed bolted to the wall.

This one, however, was not.


This bookcase holds about half of my gardening books–everything but the big coffee table books and the more rare or vintage books. For months now I've been meaning to go through them and get rid of the ones I don't need or never read in the first place. Now that they have been conveniently dumped on the floor for me, it's time to sort them into piles and donate the ones I no longer want to the bookstore.

I'm motivated to do a garden book purge in part because I need the bookshelf space, but in part because I just want to lighten my load psychologically. Because we own a bookstore, it's much easier for me to let go of books. I know that I can always get more if I need them. There's something about owning 50,000 books that are all neatly shelved and arranged at the store.  It makes me feel like I can let go of some of the ones I have here.

What do I find myself keeping? Books that my friends wrote. Books with beautiful pictures. A few indispensable reference books. But that's it. The rest of it can go.

Anybody else doing a book purge in the new year? If so, what do you keep and what do you toss?

Oh, and one last thing about the quake: I was driving my car when it happened. It felt like a tire had blown out. The car was wobbling all over the road. I pulled over and watched the glass front of an auto dealership wave like a flag waving in the wind–and then not break. Then I called the bookstore and got no answer. Then I called my mother to tell her I was okay. Then I went straight to Old Town to check on the store, my husband, and our employees — and then we both went home to see what surprises awaited us at the house. It looked like we had been robbed: drawers open in every room, odds and ends knocked off shelves, and a little broken glass, along with all that cracked plaster.

All the while I was snapping pictures and posting them on Twitter. Just, you know, to help get the word out.  An hour later my dad called to say, "I just saw a photo of your office on the Bay Area news!" To my surprise the photos went all over the interwebs and to various media outlets, and I spent the evening fielding calls from TV news producers around the country in between sweeping up.  The next day the reporters were in town with their badges and fancy cameras, but for the first 12 hours, it was just us regular folks with our iPhones. New media and all that.


  1. Glad it wasn’t a serious quake. I purged books last month. Many children’s books went to the goodwill, many went to my little neices and nephews. I kept the best. Donated many of the paperback fiction I had acquired over the years, the ones I had no interest in re-reading, I found lots I did want to re-read which is why book purging takes so long. I now have a stack by the bad to read once again before I decide if they stay or go.

  2. Amy I’m glad you made it through in one piece, and glad the bookstore wasn’t wrecked. (And your home, of course.)
    Funny that you should mention purging books, which I have been doing myself for the past week. I’m letting go of gardening books which I thought would teach me something new, but didn’t, and a big pile of Mexico travel books tht we haven’t made use of yet. (They just hit eBay if anyone wants them.) I’m also letting go of favorite authors, old cookbooks, and the coffee-table books I never look at. The list of the ones I’m keeping is a lot shorter than the list of the ones I’m letting go of! Space is so limited here in teeny-tiny home that it feels good — really good– to free up some shelf space. Now I have a small but interesting collection of ‘forever books’.
    Just curious… what books are you keeping?

  3. I am so glad you and those around you are safe! I try to purge in an ongoing way. This week I got rid of some art project books that I am giving to a friend who just opened an Art Garden for artists and would be artists. Almost all the kids books are gone; even the grandchildren are too old. I was purging cookbooks but then I thought about Julia Child’s collection of cookbooks and books about food that are actually a social history and I stopped, but my collection will be of no interest to Radcliffe or my family. Not most of it at any rate. And I get rid of books at two fund raising book sales locally and I hope I get rid of as many books as I bring home from those book sales. I never give away signed books, or books by friends.

  4. Parting with books is so HARD. But, I’m probably gonna do it. I always find that when I give a book away I wish I hadn’t. I have 10 tall bookshelves full of books, some double-stacked, though, so it is probably time to purge.

  5. Happy there was so little damage, and what a beautiful bookstore! Turning damage into a purge is a good way to deal with it (though whoever threw out the complete first edition set of the the Oz books found on the street, undamaged, after the flood here was obviously still in shock).

  6. Good to know the iPhones kept their service here in a disaster; US Cellular too. Verizon users were waving their phones around in frustration in the hours after the quake.

    Seems like older buildings were hardest hit and particularly the multi-story ones. I got lucky, barely anything fell off shelves and nothing broke in my little one-story from the 70’s! The waves slooshing over the sides of the fish tank were very exciting though!

    As for books; I have no trouble culling them and do so every month or so. I can always pick up a new copy again if I regret taking it to the used bookstore.

    The things I have trouble getting rid of are the back issues of Fine Gardening. The spines are easy to navigate by subject and they’re always fun to go back and read and look at the photos, but does anyone really need a foot tall stack of Fine Gardening mags?

    Somehow every month the answer is always “yes”.

  7. I’m down in the Bay Area and we still got a phone call on Saturday afternoon from distant relatives checking up on us. We had no idea there had even been a quake. When we finally got around to searching google for photos, most of them were taken by you!! The photo of your bookstore has inspired me to finally move an unbolted bookcase that lives at the bottom of a stairwell leading to our bedroom. It’s one of those flimsy things made out of laminated particle board, with shelves that would easily fly across the room in a quake, bolted or not. I’d sure hate to have to climb over that mess if I needed to exit the house really fast!! Thanks for the reality check.

  8. Good to hear that it wasn’t the BIG one and that no major damage to people or things occurred.

    I started purging the back office of old sets of plans and a collection of Garden Design and Garden Illustrated magazines that I’ve had since both these magazines made their debuts. Interesting to see the various graphic styles over the years morph.

    But book purging. Now that is REALLY hard.

  9. I think earthquakes are scary. But they were way scarier before I had been through one. We had one while we were up in the backbone of Panama. It was also a 6.5. We only had box wine and it survived as did the plastic waterbottles. Infact the only thing we lost was a horrid china vase that had been left behind by the people we rented from. It was up high where the cat wouldn’t knock it over. I guess mother nature is one big cat? I mean earth shaker.

  10. Glad to know you’re okay. I went through the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and can empathize. I hope you still have some glassware, as every glass in my parents’ kitchen came shooting out of the cabinets and there was not 2 square inches of floor that wasn’t covered with shards. Not to mention the fact my parents had to have 40% of their house rebuilt as one wall in the living room almost hopped completely off the foundation. Good thing the glass lamp was puttied down.

    Glad to read on that power is restored. Hope your water system is working too (we had 8 days without water).

  11. I did a big purge several years back. Gave hort/gardening books away at work (the National Arboretum), some nice titles to our library second-hand shop, and finally composted about 2,000? or so. It was an uplifting and liberating experience. We have a large compost area. I have been buying/accumulating books all my life, probably for about fifty years. Never threw one away….Some books, however, don’t deserve to live. Out of date textbooks and references, bad novels, good books falling apart. I kept between one and two thousand of which probably 1/3 are plant related, 1/4 are poetry and the rest….I just like.

  12. Amy, so glad to hear you are ok.

    One of our volunteers, Suzanne Edney, created a volunteer program at the JC Raulston Arboretum where people can purge their garden books and bring them in as a fundraiser for the JCRA. The donator receives a tax deduction for their donation.

    We have a dedicated space for the books that are sold at a set price ($5.00). The money from the sale of the books is left in an honor system box.

    Each day, a staff member tallies the sales.

    Each week, a volunteer restocks the books (not all are put out at once.) It has been successful so far and very popular with visitors. We are very pleased with the results.

  13. Amy – you’re the first person I thought of when I heard about the quake – glad ya’ll made it through okay. Leave it to you to find the silver lining in the mess left behind. Would love to see what ends up in your “purge” pile !

  14. We were following you on Facebook with great fascination (since we knew–happily–that you were safe). Some great videos.

    This is why I like Buffalo–a blizzard is just another excuse to stay inside and drink by the fire.

  15. So glad you are all right, and that your bookstore and husband are still standing. Yeah, new media and all that. Oh, I’m purging cookbooks. Being gluten free, I don’t need those whole wheat bread making books anymore. Not daring enough to hit the gardening books. Yet.~~Dee

  16. Somehow I ended up with years and years of Garden Gate magazine (ick). After looking through every one (and tearing out a grand total of two articles to keep), they are going to the book exchange table at the Spring Gardening Seminar sponsored by my local Master Gardeners program.
    As for the keepers: Fine Gardening mags, Mrs. Greenthumbs books, People with Dirty Hands, Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home, and the Audubon Society’s bird gardening books will have to be pried out of my composting hands.

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