I don’t remember exactly the order of their closings. It doesn’t really matter; suffice to say they were once here, vibrant and a source of joy to many aficionados, and now most of them are gone. I refer to small neighborhood bookstores – many with wonderful used-book sections. In West Los Angeles there was Papa Bach on Santa Monica Boulevard and Campbell’s and College Book Co., Pettler and Lieberman, and Vagabond Books in Westwood; there was David Morrisey, Krown & Spellman, Moondance, Midnight Special, and Marlow’s in Santa Monica, and Dutton’s in North Hollywood; there was Heritage Books, Book City, Pickwick Books, John Partridge Books – all in Hollywood – and Zeitlin Ver Brugge and Dutton’s in Beverly Hills. And most recently the losses of Other Times Books on Pico in West Los Angeles and, just this month, Wilshire Books in Santa Monica. And probably many more I am forgetting.
A loss for all of us: these were wonderful stores to browse in, to find treasures on dusty shelves, behind boxes, or standing on ladders to reach the higher-up shelves. As many times as I visited each of the above, as many times as I scoured sections of my interests, I invariably found a book I had overlooked or a recent arrival or a book that reflected a new interest.
I remember one Christmas years ago when my then three – or four-year-old daughter Anna opened a present and exclaimed, “Oh, I didn’t know I wanted this!” I often felt that way uncovering some used book. Often, it took the physical act of turning pages to find superb illustrations or chapter headings that captured my attention. Just holding some books touched me so that I knew that this particular book was one I wanted to take home with me. But holding, perusing, or examining was a pleasure in and of itself. You had to be there in the presence of these magical carpeted pages to know whether this or that book summoned you.
Of course, there was another serendipity provided by most of these stores – the owner, manager, and/or salesman who was a true bibliophile and who knew books like Tom Brady knows defenses. These people could tell you which edition, which translation, which interpretation you wanted, and whatever you wished to know about whatever you were seeking. One of the few remaining such stores is Dutton’s on San Vicente where Doug Dutton is such an authority and is eager to help whomever and to talk books and music.
Now comes the turn, the reversal, the counter-theme: the Internet, Amazon, et al. For as convenient as they are, they can in no way replace what we have lost and are losing. They are great sources for acquiring books or searching topics you already know you want to seek. But the courting of a book, the getting-to-know-you processes, are not possible via the Net. Books, like anything of value in life, need to be experienced in person, hands on. And while Borders or Barnes & Noble have huge in-print, current book sections, they do not offer the unique experience of funky, neighborhood used book stores.
So where is all this leading? I don’t know exactly. Partially, I suppose, I’m guilty of becoming the crusty, old curmudgeon who complains that things today just aren’t as good as they used to be. But beyond that, I think this is a plea to support the few used and neighborhood stores that remain. As they perish, one after the other, I believe we all lose something truly irreplaceable and we lose something of our connection to the past… Dutton’s, Sam Johnson Books (on Venice Boulevard), Village Books (Pacific Palisades), the Bodhi Tree (West Hollywood), and most recently, Kulturas Secondhand Books (on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica). These and the few others remaining in Los Angeles warrant our support – they in turn support our history as well as our future.