Bookstores and libraries have always been my safe havens. As a kid I spent long afternoons at our local library, where my mother would leave my sister and me while she ran errands. There, I browsed the shelves for new finds to borrow by the armful. Of course, there were certain books that I didn’t dare bring home–Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Forever by Judy Bloom–for fear my parents would take them away, deeming them too mature for a grammar school kid. Those books I read right there, at the long wooden tables in the adult reading room, where the librarians let my sister and me linger since we’d proven ourselves to be polite kids who read quietly, passionately, voraciously.
And of course there was our local bookstore, A Novel Place, owned by a family friend and housed in a tiny storefront on a block of quaint shops (the Corner Store in the middle of the block that sold chalky gum balls alongside baseball cards and Pop Rocks; the greeting card store that carried as many crystal figurines as it did cards; the local pharmacy where the pharmacist knew everyone in my family by name and medical history). My sister and I would ride our bikes to the bookstore, chat with my mom’s friend and her co-owner nephew before we’d start our search through the shelves, occasionally settling on the floor of the cramped aisles to read a few pages from a book one of the owners had recommended. They always knew what my sister and I liked, always handed over our purchases in a shopping bag with a handle to twine around our wrists for the bike ride home, where we’d devour the new books, ready within a day or two for more. Always more.
My nine-year-old son has inherited my love of books. He reads every minute he can: at meals, in the bathtub, on car rides. Our favorite afternoon haunt is our own local library branch, a beautiful, space-agey structure where we both indulge our book gluttony. We have one rule: he can only take out twenty books at a time (even though the library’s limit is thirty). He grumbles, but he knows his bookshelves are already packed to overflowing with his own books. There’s only so much room in our tiny house for more.
We used to hang out in bookstores too. Rarely small independents, since those are scarce in West LA, but there was a small Borders up the street that we started frequenting when my son was barely walking. It had a great kids’ section, with plush toys as well as tactile kids’ books positioned low enough for my son to pull down with his chubby hands and stroke the thick baby book pages.
Then Borders closed its doors. But there was still a Barnes & Noble nearby, where my son’s elementary school held its annual book faire (the school doesn’t have its own library, an unfortunate trend in many schools these days). B&N wasn’t nearly as cozy or welcoming, but we still made special treks to purchase titles we couldn’t put on hold at the library, or just to peruse the shelves and make new discoveries that we wouldn’t have found without being able to roam a store full of books.
Then the B&N closed. And now we mostly buy online. Which bothers me, especially as a writer. I want to support brick and mortar bookstores. I want my son to experience the joy of scrutinizing shelves, slipping books from their slots and feeling their covers, reading their pages, before making his choices. But we rarely travel to the far-flung independent bookstores scattered around LA. Time is precious. He’s got hours of homework; I’ve got hours of work. And so we settle for online purchases.
But this past year I rediscovered the glorious indie bookstores throughout Los Angeles when I attended the readings of several friends with new books. And so I’ve gotten cozy at one of my favorite bookstores, Los Feliz’s Skylight Books (recently voted one of the 10 best U.S. bookstores by USA Today) with its tree growing in the middle underneath a skylight and its welcoming proprietor who encourages tweeting during readings to foster an expansive sense of community and excitement about readings and books. I’ve visited Pasadena’s Vroman’s (also on USA Today’s 10 best U.S. bookstores list), Southern California’s oldest bookstore, with its stately, expansive rooms and elegantly arranged books, a bastion of LA’s literary world. Plus Book Soup on the Sunset Strip with its tightly packed shelves and staff of book enthusiasts whose excitement about everything literary is infectious. And there’s Diesel, much farther west in the Brentwood Country Mart, where the bookstore devotes its floor space to books, books, books, and holds readings outside in the Mart so that passersby can stop and listen and then explore the store.
And now I’ve made a new discovery through my friend, Mandy Campbell Moore, a fabulous writer whose work I reviewed on Writeliving Blog and on this blog. Recently Mandy founded a reading series called Cirque Salon at Book Show, an independent bookstore gem owned by Jen Hitchcock. LA Weekly named Book Show the Best Zine Shop Los Angeles of 2014, calling it “a wonderland of electric print art.” Book Show just moved from the artistic and eclectic east side community dubbed Frogtown to a more established neighborhood in Highland Park in order to generate more foot traffic and keep the store afloat.
I’m pleased to be part of Book Show’s first Cirque Salon Fiction Reading on Saturday, November 8th at 7:30 pm, where I’ll be reading with Toni Ann Johnson and Désirée Zamorano. Please join us and experience this quirky, lovely bookstore for yourself.
So no more excuses. Books are too important. Bookstores are too important. I’m going to make the time and introduce my son to LA’s wonderful world of independent bookstores so that he can experience the excitement of discovering a great new book among a warm, enveloping sea of paper and ink.
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