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Extreme Bookstores

“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”


-Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Talkstory Bookstore, the Westernmost Bookstore in the United States. Artwork by Kathy Kovala.

If you haven’t figured this out already, I love books. I love bookstores and libraries. I love printed books and I love my ereader. I have spent some of my happiest days trolling through independent bookstores, hoping to find some new treasure. I usually find more than I can carry.

So the bookstores at the edges of civilization are fascinating to me. How do they survive? What little faith I have in humanity grows just a bit when I think about the folks in these places and their bookstores.

A couple of years ago, I went to Kuaui and ran across TalkStory bookstore – which claims to be the Westernmost Bookstore in the US. It’s in Hanapepe Town, 159.588359 W longitude. I bought a lovely book on Shakespeare’s Flowers here. This, of course, made me wonder about other Independent Bookstores in other directions. I haven’t visited most of these, but if I’m ever in these areas, I’m going to check them out.

Chapman’s Bookery, Ferndale, California

The Westernmost in the contiguous US might be Chapman’s Bookery in Ferndale, CA.  124.264175 W Longitude. I may be stopping by here next month…will update if I get there. Update: I DID make it to Chapman’s Bookery, which is in the heart of lovely historic Ferndale. Seriously, if you are in this part of the world, take some time to pop over and check out the gorgeous Victorian houses and the adorable shops. Chapman’s Bookery is a small shop on the main strip and when I entered, I was greeted by an enthusiastic clerk who told me about the super-secret back room with $1 paperbacks. Since she told the next three people about the paperback room, I feel no concern divulging the secret here.  The shop has a nice assortment of popular books, a slight emphasis on Christian Literature, and a ton of fun gifties. (I have to confess I’m a total sucker for the literary-themed knickknacks that you find at Indie shops.)  I found a slim book on the town of Ferndale with great photography at this shop.  I was traveling with my parents when making this stop, and they had decided to wait in the car while I went in – thinking I would only be a minute.  I guess I was more than a minute.  I was deep in the stacks when I heard my mother’s voice in response to the clerk’s pitch about the paperback room, “Oh, I’m just looking for my daughter, I think she got swallowed up in here.”  Indeed. 

Kona Stories Bookstore, complete with bookstore kitty.

Southernmost in the US – this is tricky. I thought it was Kona Stories on Big Island of Hawaii at 19.570912 North Latitude. Kona Stories is a charming bookstore and well worth a look-see, if you can tear yourself away from the beautiful beaches. I bought some lovely locally made cards here, which I’m hoping to frame soon. Don’t forget to say hi to the kitties running about. But Kona Stories is not actually the Southernmost.

Sovereign Tea & Books, in Pahoa, doesn’t go big on advertising.

A recent visit to Big Island led me to discover a small book store even further south, in Pahoa on the Hilo side of the Island. Formerly “Pahoa Used Books and Video,” a recent change of ownership has renamed the shop Sovereign Tea & Books. Pahoa Village is a quirky little row of shops, and worth a visit if you are tired of malls and chain stores. Have lunch at Kaleo’s (my dad swears by the ribs). If you are lucky, one of the local museums might be open. The bookshop isn’t well marked–there was no sign other than a small sandwich sign on the sidewalk. Whatever they are calling themselves, they sell used books and videos and have a 12 seat screening room that can be rented out, and at 19.494247 North Latitude, they take the title for Southernmost. I found a copy of The Night Circus here, which I read on my ereader but loved so much I wanted the printed version.

The “Bookshop” at Cooper Center also serves as a community hub.

An honorable mention, though, has to go to “Bookshop” at the Cooper Center in Volcano, Big Island. Although they do sell books (and have a cute sign that says “Bookshop,”) this was more of a thrift shop situation, rather than a true Independent Bookstore. Still, at 19.443234 North Latitude, it’s the furthest south, and worth noting. I found a copy of Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase, which was the first play I did in high school.

I haven’t visited the rest of these…yet.  Life goals. 

Southernmost in the Contiguous USBooks & Books at the Studios of Key West in Florida. 24.557723 North Latitude.

Easternmost in the US:  John Smith Bookstore Eastport, Maine.  66.985977   West Longitude.

Northernmost in the Contiguous US:   Northern Lights Book Store in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. 48.118492  North Lattitude.

Northernmost in all the US –another tricky one. Gulliver’s Books in Fairbanks Alaska previously held the title, but it closed in the last year or so.  There’s a Barnes & Noble up there, but I’m disqualifying them since they aren’t an indie shop. I think this title goes to Alaskana Raven Books & Things at 64.843404 North Latitude.

Northernmost in the WORLD? This is my candidate:  Nordkyn Bok & papir AS, in Kjøllefjord, Norway. 70.949873 North Latitude.

Southernmost in the World? Librería Boutique del Libro, Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina at 54.808579 South Latitude.

I didn’t look at Eastern/Westernmost in the world yet, mostly because the idea that they could actually be right next to each other hurts my brain too much too contemplate.

I welcome any corrections on the above – and if you visit any of these stores, send me a picture & tell me about it.

Originally posted as part of an article about The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles.

For the Love of Books – The Last Bookstore

Further Adventures in LA…

“When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”

– Erasmus

This week I took a jaunt downtown to visit The Last Bookstore. California’s largest used book and record store, the Last Bookstore is a bibliophile’s dream. One could (and I did) get lost in there for hours.

Independent bookstores stand, it seems, as some of the last citadels of civilization in a country that increasingly mocks and devalues its intellectuals, like the high school cool crowd that rips you apart for not only completing the assigned reading but actually daring to enjoy it.  Threatened constantly by the corporatization of, well, everything, they eke out an existence by any clever means they can.

I remember when Barnes & Noble opened its first store in Berkeley. We were all terrified that our beloved bookshops, including Moe’s, Pegasus, Cody’s and Shakespeare and Co., would fold with the competition.  Moe’s and Pegasus are still going, But Cody’s, after trying a relocation, closed in 2008 and Shakespeare and Co. closed in 2015. The Other Change of Hobbit, a fantastic bookshop that specialized in sci-fi and fantasy, seems to be gone as well.  If you like, you can blame skyrocketing rents and declining sales.  How many other small shops disappeared or never started, we’ll never know.  Ironically, that particular Barnes & Noble on Shattuck that I remember has also closed.

I have to confess, when I walked into the new B&N back in the day, I was delighted with ALL THE BOOKS! Such a selection! And the trinkets for book lovers – book lights and bookmarks and fancy notebooks and knick knacks… I was entirely seduced.  I never lost my love of the Independents, though I did feel like I was two-timing them somehow.

The vast interior of The Last Bookstore.

Then the Juggernaut Amazon stepped onto the scene, and everything changed again. I resisted the lure of the Kindle for a while but eventually gave in. I can’t lie – I’m a fan.  But the digital world of books likely cost Borders their business and I don’t know how long B&N will manage. I suppose it’s the way of things…and though I love the convenience of my e-reader, and I love that authors have the means to reach readers now without a publisher if they choose, there is something I’ve missed…it’s not the just feel of the paper, but maybe, the space itself. Walking to a bookstore is a little like walking into a sacred space filled with fellow worshippers all seeking their next journey.

Stepping into The Last Bookstore reminded me of so much goodness — such a celebration of books and art. They have nightly cultural events if you’re in the area. It’s a little far for me for regular visits but…I pass by the Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood on my way home from work.  Maybe I’ll just stop by next week…

 

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The info about extreme bookstores has moved here. 

 

 

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Writers also LOVE bookstores. They write about them. A lot.  Here’s a few books set in or about bookshops I’ve read, and a bunch more I haven’t. Get them at your favorite Independent Bookshop. Or on your Kindle, Nook (is that still a thing?), Library… wherever.  As long as you are reading, I am happy.

Books about Bookstores

The Bookshop on the Corner – Jenny Colgan

The Bookshop – Penelope Fitzgerald

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

 

This is me, trying to convince myself I can’t take them all home.

Still on my to-read List:

How to find Love in a Bookshop – Veronica Henry

A Novel Bookstore – Laurence Cosse

The Bookshop of Yesterdays – Amy Meyerson

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores – Jennifer Campbell

The Bookshop Book – Jen Campbell

The Bookstore –  Deborah Meyler

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore – Matthew Sullivan

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap – Wendy Welch

The Last Bookstore in America – Amy Stewart

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History – Lewis Buzbee

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend -Katarina Bivald

Words in Deep Blue – Cath Crowley

The Bookshop at Water’s End – Patti Callahan Henry

The Little Bookshop Of Lonely Hearts – Annie Darling

84 Charing Cross Road – Helen Hanff

The Bookshop Book – Carol Ann Duffy

A Very Special Year – Thomas Montasse

The Bookshop On Rosemary Lane – Ellen Berry

Shadow Of The Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Bookshops – Jorge Carrion

The famous “Book Tunnel.” Upstairs and halfway back.

 

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

– James Baldwin

Adventures in wonder-land: The Brewery Artwalk

Adventures exploring Los Angeles continued…

Saturday, October 13, I went to the Brewery Artwalk.  The Brewery is the largest live-work art colony in the world, located on a 16-acre-compound that was once the Edison Electric Steam power plant and then a Pabst Blue Ribbon Brewery.  More than 350 artists live and/or work there, and during the Artwalk more than 100 of them open their homes to strangers to share their work. It’s really extraordinary. The last building I wandered through was a true labyrinth and I’ll probably have nightmares as my subconscious brain tries to map out where all those staircases went.

The view of downtown from a 3rd story catwalk.

The details:  If you do decide to go to a future one, I suggest getting there reasonably early, and stay until you feel full.  You really can’t see all the exhibitions in one day (and believe me, I REALLY tried). There are simply too many things to see. The crowds are not too bad, though they got bigger (and slightly more inebriated) as the day went on. Disability access is non-existent (these are residences and do not fall under the same ADA requirements as businesses).  Wear good shoes — you’ll walk a lot and there’s a lot of uneven ground. They have a “Beer garden” in the central area, which serves a bit of food as well as booze, and you’ll want to make sure you have a bit of cash with you.  The Artwalk is free, but the food/beer and other things may be cash only. You can park for free in the UPS lot across the street. If your kid is stroller bound, leave them at home (see nonexistent disability access above). This is not a sanitized-for-the-suburbs-kid-friendly type experience — nor do I think anybody in their right mind would advocate for that — so use your best judgement about bringing your young ones.  More details here: breweryartwalk.com.

Alright, now the details are out of the way, let’s talk about the art! I’ll be mulling over the things I saw for months.  I’ve included links where I can to share, but to be honest, it’s never the same as seeing things in real life.

My first stop was Dystopian Studios which is a funky post-apocalyptic space and artist Kevin Flint had steampunk coffee dispensers on display.

Mural by Andre Miripolsky

I wandered by Andre Miripolsky’s studio whose work is arresting and undeniably engaging.  I had one of those “OH I GET IT” moments looking at his work.  Randi Hokett creates pieces by growing minerals on canvas, and these I loved. I would hang these in my living room and adore them forever.  Todd Westover  has a floral series that are amazing and will probably wind up on scarves or handbags one day (if they aren’t there already.)  Burton Gray is worth looking into and reproductions of his work are also reasonably affordable. He has one series of sad robots:

“My Robots reflect the effect of social media on the psyche. The build-up of emotional experiences with no corresponding tactile memories (nothing linking to taste, smell, touch or sound to sight) leads, I believe, to a sense of alienation.

Check out the “Norm” piece.  I also particularly liked the Christmas Fantasia from his Fantasia Series.

Kinetic Sculpture by William Sandell

I almost missed it as it was down a corridor and out of the way, but William Sandell’s space was worth the detour. Very creepy and oddly familiar — a familiarity which may be explained by his art direction in films. His kinetic sculptures are both intriguing and disturbing.  

Other things of note for me:  Joyce Aysta’s popup laser-cut cards, Patrick Haemmerlein’s collages, Jill Sykes nature-inspired works. Two artists featured at wallspace:  Scott Froschauer with his “Word on the Street” series, which is on view in Glendale, and street artist Plastic Jesus (aka the LA Banksy).  Rob Silverman Photography featured a dramatic series featuring his Pez dispensers (which lined a shelf near the ceiling of his room) called “Pez on Earth.

Another favorite for me was Bruce Dean.  I particularly liked his paintings, and on display was a series of illustrations called “Presumptive Bestiary,” which featured mythological creatures, and which I hope will one day be available as a collection in a book (I imagine a beautifully designed leather covered volume featuring these lovelies).

There were so many other experiences  – ynot.dog who will make you custom doggie bandanas and t-shirts that fit you or your dog (so can match!). The room with the wall full of 1-foot square hearts, the space with dozens of tv monitors surrounding a lone tree. The laser cut wood designs from the artist whose name I couldn’t find anywhere. The room dedicated to creating “A Band of Voters,”  focused on getting young college-age people out to vote; the Human Being Society (which I am still unsure if this was art, or a cult, or something else entirely, but apparently I’m a lifetime member, I even got a card to prove it); the Hipcooks people who run social cooking classes; and the artist (I’m so sorry I didn’t get her name!) who had tangled up all sorts of cords into what looked like a piece of fabric and draped it over an ironing board (my visceral need to untangled those cords was intense).

I always find it difficult to describe my experience with art, because art taps into something beyond words, and when you do find some way to describe it, it seems to reduce the experience somehow.  If I had to attach a word to the day, it would be “wonder.” Wonder at the work, wonder at the people who create it in a country that is so ridiculously unappreciative of them, wonder at the generosity of opening one’s home and work to strangers, wonder that this exists at all, wonder that we can’t exist without it.

 

Treasures

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

As of this past August, I have lived 20 years in Los Angeles.  

That’s longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, including the Bay Area, where I grew up.  I have no idea where the time went. Okay, that’s not strictly, true, I can account for what I’ve been up to these 20 years, but sometimes I feel like I’ve just arrived. 

The other day I came across some photos of my 22-year-old self while I was travelling.  I wonder what that girl would have thought of my life now? Probably she would be disappointed. That girl had high hopes and high expectations; she worked hard but hadn’t yet realized the world doesn’t reward adults for being good or talented, only for being useful or unscrupulous.  She had been sheltered and protected, and her new wings were weak from lack of use. She was full of judgement and a bit of arrogance in the way young people often are, sensitive and highly emotional, and had not yet learned to laugh at her foibles. Or how to forgive herself. (She was also very critical of herself, which hasn’t changed a bit.)

The year after I left college was a difficult one.  I had wanted to go on to graduate school, but hadn’t gotten accepted to any that I wanted to go to, so I decided to wait a year and apply and audition again. It was probably the first year of my life I didn’t have a plan for. I was substitute teaching, and living with my boyfriend at his father’s apartment to save money. While I remain grateful that I had these options, they weren’t exactly ideal. That was the year I discovered the delight of spending an entire day curled up in a chair reading a book. By the time summer rolled around, I had plans to go up to the Dell’Arte school in the fall. My boyfriend had a gotten into a summer stock theatre (at a company I wouldn’t get hired by for two more years). I decided to travel to Europe.

My family didn’t travel much when I was growing up – we were a large tribe and with my brother’s disabilities and all the young children it would have proved extremely difficult – but I had saved up for years to go. So, at 22, I grabbed my younger sister, my guidebook, and off we went.  

These were the days (gasp) just before cell phones and internet, and travelling to Europe cut you off almost completely. You could make some very expensive long distance calls, but otherwise, you were on your own.  My poor protective parents had a hard time with this. I loved every minute of it.

We travelled around for six weeks, staying in hostels and cheap hotels, spending the entire day going to museums, historical sites, plays. I had made a plan using my trusty guidebook, and sometimes we stuck to it and sometimes we didn’t.  We were careful of our safety, but bold in ways neither of us had been before (no, we didn’t go off with the drunken Welshmen we met on the ferry to Ireland, but we did go parasailing at Nice). Time and money were limited, so we saw everything we could, and didn’t waste a moment. 

I have lived in a few places in my life, and the one regret I always have is that I didn’t see more of what that place had to offer.  I was busy with school or rehearsal or work, and then I was exhausted, or I was short on cash or nobody wanted to go to something with me or a hundred other excuses and time passes and I leave that place with so many things undone. But seeing these things in your world changes you, and it’s not just limited to being in a foreign country (though that changes you in beautiful unique ways as well). You experience the rest of your everyday life differently.

I’ve made a list (there I go, planning again!) of things I’ve wanted to see and do in Los Angeles but just haven’t gotten around to yet.  I’m going to put on my travelling mindset and get to these places over the course of the next few years. I’m going to let myself be a tourist in my own town sometimes, and go on my own to the things when no one else wants to go with me.  

I had my first adventure this past Saturday.

I went down to Olvera Street’s  Dia de los Muertos Art Walk. Olvera Street, also known as El Pueblo Historical Monument, Calle Olvera, and La Placita Olvera, is one of the oldest sections of Los Angeles, a block or two of an historic “Mexican Marketplace” with adorable vendors, cafes and several historical sites (I walked through Avila Adobe,  billed as the “oldest house in Los Angeles” )  The Dios de las Muertos Art Walk made the place crazy crowded, but everyone was pleasant and having a good time, and there were so many interesting things to see. I caught the Aztec Dancers performing. I’d like to go back on a “regular” day – there are tours you can schedule and maybe I’ll do that. I love the Dia de los Muertos holiday, but as a non-Latina, find myself cautious about how to respectfully embrace a holiday not part of my own cultural traditions.  It was bit like travelling to a foreign country – everyone was speaking Spanish and many performers were not even bothering with English, which was fine–it made my brain wake up to try to figure out what was going on. Alas, my high school Spanish has never been terribly helpful though I do manage to catch a few things here and there.

Olvera Street is directly across from Union Station, and as I didn’t want to wrestle with driving and parking down there, I took the Red Line from North Hollywood.  It was my first time taking LA Metro (another adventure!) and my first time seeing Union Station. The LA Metro works like any other metro system in the world, is not complicated, and most other riders were super nice. There were the usual shady things going on, homeless folks sleeping in cars, some crazy folks talking to the air, but mostly just normal folks going about their business.

Union Station is pretty amazing – first, it’s HUGE. And historic and beautiful.  I got off and immediately exited the wrong way which put me on the opposite side of the station from where I needed to go, but getting lost meant I saw the East side of the station where there is a gorgeous fountain and glass ceiling – not just any ol’ glass ceiling – this glass ceiling is epic. A lovely security man laughed as he directed me and a couple of other women who took the same wrong turn through the underground passage towards the West side of the station. This was the historic side where there are chandeliers and wood panelling and you have the sense you are no longer in a city where things are built with cheap building materials and held together by spit, but in a city that actually built substantial structures for the public once upon a time. There are nice restaurants there as well. Free tours are offered the second Sunday of every month at 10:30 am. I’d actually like to do one of those – maybe the next adventure that takes me in that direction will give me a reason to get there on a Sunday Morning.

I’m no longer that 22-year-old girl who had the time to gad about for a summer. I’m older, wiser, a bit more careworn, and fully capable of protecting myself. I have more obligations, but my need to see and experience my world hasn’t changed. I’m still the girl who likes to hurtle her body through time and space, whether in the dojo, on a ballroom floor, or riding a roller coaster. I’m still the girl who likes to get lost and discover treasures as I navigate my way back to terra firma.