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Best of Olympia 2012 Retail: Best Bookstore - Orca Books

Weekly Volcano readers name Orca Books best bookstore in Olympia

LINDA BERENTSEN: She'll help you find exactly the book you're looking for. Photography by Patrick Snapp

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It's no exaggeration to say Orca Books is part of the reason I moved to Olympia. When my family was desperate to lure me to the Pacific Northwest, one of the first places they took me was Orca. Two years later, when my novel Lightfall was published, I held my first reading there. I've sold a reassuring number of books at Orca, but probably bought even more.

With Orca having been voted "Best Bookstore" in this year's Best of Olympia Readers' Poll, I asked Linda Berentsen, the shop's owner, what separated Orca from other bookstores. "We're the biggest one," she says, "the biggest independent, anyway. We don't specialize in any one thing. We're a little bit of all the bookstores put together."

Not to argue, but I think her store's particular charm is the depth of its inventory. In dozens of trips to Orca, I've probably never bought what I came in intending to buy. On this particular morning, in fact, I believed I was hankering for witty Rucker-style sci-fi, but I walked out instead with an early Shakar anthology and an autographed(!) Jennifer Egan novel - all for less than 15 bucks. Orca's prices are so cheap, even my Volcano writing gig can cover them!

The biggest seller last month was Feyland: The Dark Realm by Anthea Sharp, a local author of YA (young adult) fantasy. Orca loves local authors. "We try to do an event for anyone who asks," Berentsen says. "Sometimes they're a big success, sometimes they're not, and that's the way it goes. We have a big signing coming up (for) Ryan Boudinot."

Boudinot worked at Orca before he moved to Seattle and his novel, Blueprints of the Afterlife, earned raves from the likes of Tom Robbins. "He's one of our own," Berentsen sighs, proudly waving a copy.

I asked Berentsen the same question I always ask fellow bibliophiles: What's your favorite book? This inspired a five-minute reverie. Berentsen literally has a list of 25 favorites saved on her iPhone for spur-of-the-moment recommendations, but choosing only one was beyond her abilities.

"The book I would like to read again, for the first time," she manages, "would be Gone With the Wind. I was 13. I read that book in three days."

Our favorites come from that age, don't you find?

My all-time favorite? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Yep, Orca has a cheap copy, but why stop there? Just get lost in Orca's magical stacks.

Oh, and while you're there, pet Henry, the impressively chilled-out store cat. He misses you.

[Orca Books, 509 E. Fourth Ave., Olympia, 360.352.0123,]

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Comments for "Best of Olympia 2012 Retail: Best Bookstore - Orca Books" (2)

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Deborah Johnson said on Feb. 22, 2012 at 4:57pm

I am so, so sorry to share this, but Henry-the-Orca-cat was killed this past week. Orca posted on its Facebook page on Feb. 17: "We are deeply saddened to inform you all that our beloved store cat Henry passed away yesterday evening. He slipped out in the night and was found early this morning by a kind neighbor across the street. He came to us from Feline Friends in October of '07, and we are all so grateful to have spent the last 4+ years in his charming company. We miss him terribly." :(

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Carv said on Feb. 22, 2012 at 11:44pm

Yes, I was very sorry to hear this, particularly in light of the timing. My sympathies to everyone at Orca.

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