After our visit to UCLA, my family decided it would be interesting to visit a bookstore in LA. I scoffed at the very notion: Los Angelenos do not read. They watch movies, they write screenplays, but they do not read. And, therefore, I insisted, an LA bookstore is a chimera. Nonetheless, they used Yelp and GPS to identify a highly-rated bookstore called The Last Bookstore, and I reluctantly agreed to see it, though absolutely sure it would be mediocre at best.
This snooty San Franciscan is hereby schooled. The Last Bookstore is a real Los Angeles bookstore, a good one, with the unique character and personality of LA, which, even I will admit, is not all bad.
It was housed in the very downtown downtown of LA on Spring and Sixth Street. It reuses an old space — perhaps a former back — which it shares with some independent 3D artists who have small studios on the second floor.
The first thing that caught my eye was the creativity of the interior design. Possibly inspired by the artists, and possibly by the vast collection of available books, employees had built a desk out of old books, as well as some other sculptures:
So it showed the imagination and reinventiveness of Los Angelenos. And it showcased Los Angeleno’s knack for being accessible (thus making it easier for them to get you to pay them.) The entire top section, that which wasn’t housing artist studios, was called The Labyrinth, were all books — thousands upon thousands of them — were all only $1 each. It was a true treasure trove. Organization was haphazard — the children’s books were more or less in one section, but books were also organized in one area by color alone. And, having to express themselves however they could, the employee-artists built a book tunnel you could run through, or not:
For a $1, there were few books I could refuse if I had even the least interest in them. And back downstairs, the more expensive books weren’t very expensive either. I picked up a trove of $2 cheesy 1960s paperbacks with cool covers and titles like Psychic and Strange People, my favorite kind of fluff. A hardcover book of women prisoner’s hard life stories compiled by a favorite author was my most expensive purchase, and it was only $5. Kelly found a Mary Poppins book, and Peter bought almost $100 of stray ephemera from essays to pop culture.
Oh, and did I mention there was a stage in the bookstore as well? Because in Los Angeles, nothing is only what it seems. I assumed the stage was a great place for author readings, but they have a number of small concerts there, too, by bands like the Skatellites, and lectures, such as an upcoming one on opera (who knew Los Angeles has an opera?!)
In contast, though I love our local used bookstore, Recycle Books, it has a character suitable to our area that’s in stark contrast to Los Angeles. Just the name is more serious, while the Los Angeles bookstore hints at a pop apocalypse. All the books at Recycle Books are carefully sorted into their categories, but they’re a lot more expensive than similar books at The Last Bookstore, and there are no $1 books — there’s no books at even double that price. Instead of art and artists, there’s a cat which likes to peer down at the patrons from above. The math and science categories are far better stocked at Recycle Books than at The Last Bookstore, but the Last Bookstore has a lot more books, as well as the promise of getting truly lost in a labyrinth of them.
I dream of The Last Bookstore now and the books that eluded my grasp. And so, oh, help me, I want to go back to LA to see its bookstore again.