I was in Los Angeles last week for the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) convention last week which was a lot of fun. I attended three days worth of panels on writing and publishing, got more useful material for my classroom than I expected, and was overwhelmed by the sheer number of quality literary journals on display in the exhibit hall. I knew they were out there, but seeing so many in one big room was intense. I succumbed and subscribed.
Outside of the conference, I made sure to visit the bookstore, as I do no matter where I go. Los Angeles is not famed for its bookstores, but I was near two of its best, Skylight Books on Vermont Street in the Los Feliz neighborhood where I stayed and The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles a short walk from the convention center.
Of the two, The Last Bookstore is probably more well-known. It opened just a few years ago, a strike against the trend, one of the first to announce a possible comeback for bookstores nationally. The place is something of an event.
Located inside an old bank, I think, the first floor has the new books and it’s where you’ll find readings and other events taking place. There was a reading going on the night I was there, since AWP was in town. It’s a big place, though not as big as Powell’s or The Strand. Non-reading nights are probably much better for shopping on the first floor. There’s a separate room for rare books that I didn’t get a chance to really explore. I do have some collections of rare books, but I tend to look for reading material rather than rare books in bookstores. We manage to find plenty of antique books in antique stores.
I was at AWP in large part because my roommate from Yale, where I once spent a summer studying Chaucer thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was attending with the other staff members of The Pinch, the literary journal for the University of Memphis. He found quite a few old 45’s in the record section by I walked away empty-handed.
The upstairs section of The Last Bookstore is called The Maze for obvious reasons. It does have shelves and shelves of books, most at discounted prices, but not the bargains I was hoping for. I was led the believe that there was a terrific dollar book section but I could not find it. However, The Maze is where you’ll find all the creative book arts sculptures along with the art gallery. Several artists have small studios along one side of The Maze.
I enjoyed The Last Bookstore, and I do recommend a visit if you happen to be in the downtown Los Angeles area, but I walked away empty-handed. To be honest, I have more luck finding books at my local Half Price Books.
On the other hand, I was lucky to escape Skylight Books with my pension intact. Located in the Los Feliz neighborhood, just a ten minute walk from the glamorous Hollywood Travelodge where I was staying, Skylight Books has a wonderful selection curated by some people who really know books. Just about every section I regularly visit featured many titles I’d never heard of that I had to have. For me, that is the mark of a great bookstore.
Since, I was staying so close by, and since that area of Vermont Street is full of cool shops and good restaurants, I made several visits and ended up with the small stack of books you see at the top of this post. I concentrated on short story anthologies but could not escape genre fiction entirely. (The bottom two volumes are literary journals I picked up at the conference.)
C.J., who came along for the drive down and continued on to visit a friend of his in Palm Springs, and I picked up several copies of “How To Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety” to give to friends. We probably turned a few heads as we sat reading them in The Punch Bowl a little place around the corner that sells vegan shakes, which turned out to be delicious. We never even knew such things existed before we saw their sandwich board sign on the sidewalk.
So victory goes to Skylight Books. In the tradition of full disclosure, I should say that I really have always preferred small bookshops over large ones. My favorite bookstore ever is still the long gone Tilden Place Bookstore in San Francisco which was so small it would have fit inside my living room.
By the way, “How to Talk to Your Cat About Gun Safety” has many useful tips all cat/gun lovers should know. 😉