There was a bookstore uptown on gay street Which I visited and inhaled that wonderful odor Of new books Even today I read hardcover as a preference paperback only As a last resort
We get more scene-setting in this stanza, as though Giovanni is giving a virtual tour of Memory Lane.
She recalls not just a random bookstore from her youth but the specific one on Gay Street (in downtown Knoxville). She also remembers the new book smell that lured her in from the street.
This compact memory helps us understand more about the world she loved, where she felt secure and learned some of her best habits and preferences. In this case, the bookstore on Gay Street taught her the love of hardback books.
Giovanni also continues her preference for flowing, natural-sounding language. That means you have to stay alert for those enjambed lines and invisible end-stops (like we see in line 19).
Lines 20-21 might give you a hard time if you don't catch the need for a pause between "preference" and "paperback." You can help yourself by mentally inserting a comma there.
Giovanni is uses an everyday version of synecdoche when she refers to books by the type of cover they have.
Line 20 also uses a special kind of parallelism called zeugma, where two objects are governed by one verb. In this case, both "hardcover" and "paperback" rely on the verb "read," so a less poetic version would look like this: "Even today I read hardcover books as a preference; I read paperback ones only as a last resort."