The best bookstore I’ve never seen: Carpe Diem in Monterey


A bit of heaven in Monterey... if heaven isn't redundant on the Pacific Coast.

Fate does strange things.


Some time ago I had written a short article on an Islamic prayerbook, “Beauty with an Unknown Past” (it’s here).  A Stanford curator found the mystery book in a small bookshop in Monterey.

The article generated some interesting reaction – but the biggest reaction was mine, when I got a letter from the proprietor of the bookshop (who is also a fan of the Book Haven, incidentally).  It turned out to be a long-lost friend, James Bryant, whom I met over three decades ago in London.  And the bookshop is Carpe Diem Fine Books.  With his wife, Mary Hill, he has been running Carpe Diem since 1995, in a charming 1930s Carmel-stone building in historic Old Monterey.  It’s a few doors down from Robert Louis Stevenson‘s house.

Lunch at the Faculty Club followed a few weeks later, with a long chat to swap memories and bring us up to 2012. He had become an eminent bookseller and patron of the arts, while Humble Moi remains a lowly writer, tapping on a keyboard in the blogosphere, into the wee hours.

Later, he sent me photos from Carpe Diem. Wow. I’m a sucker for the Carmel style – the Robinson Jeffers home is still one of my favorite houses anywhere – and this shop epitomizes it.  No surprise, then, that its “discriminating selection” of out-of-print, signed and unusual books in all fields has a special emphasis on the history and literature of California and the West.  (It also has a special collection of signed John Steinbeck books here.)

The AAA magazine Via wrote, “The entire shop … is a bibliophile’s delight.”  A local magazine, Pebble Beach, claimed it was “simply the Best… featuring a constantly changing inventory – from the classics to the unexpected…”

As for me, I still haven’t seen it yet.  But I hope to sometime between September 13 and 16.  You see, the bookshop is just one of James’s ventures.  He’s also one of the founders of the Art in the Adobes Festival, which is featuring a program, “Rediscovery: Monterey Peninsula Artists at Home and Abroad” this year.

Organizers claim that “influential artists, important paintings, and some of the roots of Western U.S. art will all be rediscovered at the Art in the Adobes Festival weekend.”

How good are the paintings?  You can get an idea from Abel Warshawsky‘s Paris Studio, circa 1930, at left  (courtesy City of Monterey).  But stop and browse Carpe Diem’s shelves while you’re there.

See you in Monterey – Insha’Allah.




Tags: , , , , ,

One Response to “The best bookstore I’ve never seen: Carpe Diem in Monterey”

  1. Members in the News: Carpe Diem Fine Books & Nudelman Rare Books « The Blog of the ABAA Says:

    […] Nudelman of Nudelman Rare Books in Seattle, WA recently received some attention in the press. Carpe Diem was written about by Cynthia Haven of Stanford University who dubbed the shop “the best bookstore I’ve never seen”, and Rebecca Rego Barry […]