Author Scott Smith
YOU’VE HEARD THE RAP ON ANGELENOS: They don’t read, unless it’s the trades, the tabloids or—when their agent absolutely insists—the first ten pages of a screenplay. And as if the city’s longstanding literary reputation hasn’t taken enough hits (F. Scott Fitzgerald once called it a “hideous town.”), last year the hometown paper, The Los Angeles Times, shrank its once fine book review section. But if some locals have turned their backs on books, you wouldn’t know it to tour L.A.’s abundance of niche bookshops, which cater to a committed SoCal minority ready to forgo the aroma of popcorn for the simpler pleasures of words on a page.
Larry Edmunds Bookshop
(6644 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 323-463-3273, larryedmunds.com)
Scene: Glitz, glamour, geeks
Action: While tourists swarm the Kodak Theater, home of the Academy Awards show, true cinephiles walk a few blocks west on Hollywood Boulevard to gawk at the shelves of Larry Edmunds Bookshop. The cluttered interior is a treasure trove of showbiz artifacts, like the impossible-to-find cult companion, Film Is: The International Free Cinema, or a pristine first edition of 1981’s The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, a holy text for cartoon aficionados. Founded in 1938, Larry Edmunds houses 20,000 carefully selected volumes, and its current co-owner, Jeff Mantor, obsesses over each one. “I love helping customers find exactly what they’ve been looking for,” he says. “Or even something they didn’t know they wanted.”
Choice find: Jack Nicholson, Face to Face, complete with Jack’s John Hancock
Bodhi Tree Bookstore
(8585 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 310-659-1733, bodhitree.com)
Scene: Insistently serene
Action: Founded in 1970 by aerospace engineers in a desperate search for good karma, The Bodhi Tree, the lush interior of which is redolent of eucalyptus oil, remains a sanctuary from the surrounding city. Visitors sip tea and browse volumes dedicated mostly to inner knowledge and cosmic esoterica. “This really is a magical space, where people try to put aside their bad feelings and put out good feelings,” explains owner Stan Madson, standing underneath one of many photos of gurus lining the walls. The shop’s 30,000 volumes cover the otherworldly spectrum, from Stephan Hoeller’s Gnosticism: New Light on the Ancient Tradition of Inner Knowing and Kim Sheridan’s Animal and the Afterlife to UFOs: God from Inner Space by Nahu and Beginner’s Guide to Zen Buddhism by Jean Smith.
Choice find: Shirley MacLaine’s 1983 New Age classic, Out on a Limb
The Mystery Bookstore
(1036-C Broxton Ave., Los Angeles, 310-209-0415, mystery-bookstore.com)
Scene: Private dicks and potboilers
Action: “Los Angeles is the birthplace of the American crime novel,” observes manager Bobby McCue, which may explain why this store still does record business. Two noir maniacs bought and resurrected the shop, which has become a mecca for Angelenos who geek out on Jim Thompson, Dashiell Hammett, and Agatha Christie. Staffers specialize in certain minigenres (espionage, murder thrillers). Many of Mystery’s customers are “completists,” who collect every book by certain authors; others merely browse the rare first editions of, say, Raymond Chandler’s The Little Sister. Michael Connelly and James Ellroy regularly stop by for readings. The 10,000 books on hand include recent staff recommendations like The New Annotated Dracula, edited by Leslie Klinger, and Rick Riordan’s The 39 Clues.
Choice find: Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, by Victor Gischler
(3524 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, 818-845-0707, autobooks-aerobooks.com)
Scene: American Graffiti–meets– “Pimp My Ride”
Action: This is the country’s largest bookstore devoted to cars. Every Saturday morning, numerous 60-something gearheads roll up in custom rides for free coffee and car talk. Burbank has long been a hotbed of professional racers, vintage collectors, and restorers, explains co-owner Tina Van Curen. Spotted browsing, a familiar-looking regular named Jay Leno—yes, that Jay Leno—says he sees the store as a great place to share ideas with other car owners. Leno, who owns more than 100 classic cars, adds, “I’m old school, and like to look over the books I’m thinking about buying. I can’t find what I need at the chain stores.” In addition to books about everything from Fiat to Zambonis, Aerobooks carries outof-print, small publishers, imports, and collectibles. “It’s important to support independent bookstores,” Leno points out.
Choice find: Besides Leno? How about the new edition of The Unfair Advantage, by Mark Donohue?
The Writers Store
(2040 Westwood Blvd., Westwood, 310-441-5151, writersstore.com)
Scene: Ink-stained scribes, spray-on tans
Action: The walls of this venerable script-writers shop are lined with movie posters signed by the works of locals who created the films (like You’ve Got Mail and Scent of a Woman). The shelves hold just 800 books—all industry-oriented—like Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds, by Michael Hauge, and the shooting script for The Constant Gardener. But the store also stocks script-related software programs and educational DVDs (The Ultimate Filmmaking Kit by Jason Tomaric), as well as such arcane supplies as a script-binding mallet. “Our staff just aren’t sales people, they’re screenwriters and filmmakers themselves,” says president Jesse Douma. Among the shop’s regular visitors are Sofia Coppola and Wes Craven, says Douma.
Choice find: Charles Dickens action figure ($9.95)
(8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 310-659-3110, booksoup.com)
Scene: Fashionably discerning
Action: Down the street from The Viper Room and Whiskey a Go Go, Book Soup is the grandpa of independent booksellers, a multi-specialty outlet catering to writers, actors and well-heeled producer-types. The collection includes volumes focusing on showbiz, celebrity biography, Tinseltown history, art and architecture, graphic and interior design and sex, as well as plenty of fiction. “We have a reputation for going all over the world to get something for a customer,” says Tyson Cornell, marketing and publicity manager for the store. With 60,000 titles stacked floor to ceiling in a tight space, customers might easily get lost but for the—as Cornell puts it—“very opinionated recommendations of our overeducated staff.”
Choice find: Inscribed copy of Pieces of my Heart: A Life, by Robert Wagner