06 March 2018

Book ’Em, Paulie

A weird thing happened the other day. It’s not a unique thing. It’s not something I’ve never done before—in fact I’ve done it many times. But quite honestly I don’t do it as often as I used to (get your minds out of the gutter here).

I went to a bookstore. And it was almost a revelatory experience.

Now, I have to admit it wasn’t a quirky little independent bookstore. It was a Barnes and Noble. And it was a wonderful experience. The feel of the books. The ability to read the jacket flaps. To see books on display that I might not come across online. And while checking out the clerk had some interesting things to say about one of the books I was buying, A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window.

One of my favorite pastimes is meandering through bookstores. And I'm not a snob about it. I like both the big chain stores and the small independents. Each has strengths and weaknesses. The independents often carry a more eclectic stock or are sometimes dedicated to a single genre, such as mysteries. Their staffs are usually more knowledgeable and well read. The big box stores often have more variety and selection.

L to R: me, Naomi Hirahara, Darrell James and Rochelle Staab
 at The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood
But either way, I look at going to bookstores as a social experience. Even if I say no more than "Hello" and "Thank you" to the clerk checking me out, I have a social experience with hundreds of authors and books. And that “hello” is more than I get when shopping online.

Also, on the social level I’ve met women I ended up dating at bookstores (before I was married, of course!) and have seen authors I like do signings and readings. Check out a James Ellroy event some time if you want to see insanity in motion. And I've done signings and speaking gigs at bookstores myself.

I like bookstores that stay open late. That I can run to when an urge for something in particular strikes at an odd hour—and I keep pretty odd hours. It was a place to go. A destination. Before moving out of the city proper (Los Angeles) to a more rural area, I would often hop in the car at all hours to go find a book to satisfy my addiction. But from here, everything is a trek.

Me doing a reading at Book Soup in West Hollywood
But that's getting harder and harder to do, even in the city as there are less bookstores. And yes, I also patronize Amazon, so in that sense I’m part of the problem. But I also still patronize brick and mortar bookstores when I can. And there is nothing like browsing through one, discovering new books and authors. And that’s what it’s all about: Discovery, with a capital D. Whenever I see a bookstore, I want to go in. Whenever I go in, I buy at least one or two things, hoping to help keep the stores afloat and also just cause I like books. And if you saw our house you’d know what I’m talking about. Books everywhere, including on shelves in the garage.

A scene from the movie Harry and Tonto
 where you can see Pickwick Books on Hollywood Blvd in the background
Before my mom got sick for many years, we would often go to lunch and then to a bookstore together. We’d peruse the aisles, not always the same aisles, and both of us would leave with armloads of books. That’s one of my fondest memories of her.

In the olden days, Los Angeles had a ton of bookstores. Specialty stores and general bookstores. Westwood alone (in West Los Angeles, between Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, home of UCLA and the Bruins for you non-Angelinos) had a ton of bookstores. It was so much fun just walking the streets of that little neighborhood and hitting all of them, and maybe getting something to eat and going to a movie as well.

Westwood also had the Mystery Bookstore, which began life as the Mysterious Bookshop in West Hollywood, the West Coast branch of Otto Penzler’s famous Mysterious Bookshop in New York. Both places were treasures in more ways than one and I’m truly sorry that they are no more. Luckily, while in NYC last April I got to visit the original Mysterious Bookshop and it was an amazing amalgam of mystery books. I can’t wait to go back.

Unfortunately, all those Westwood bookstores are gone now.

Other specialty stores that are still with us include, Larry Edmunds for film and TV books and Samuel French that specializes in theatre books.
Pickwick Books in Hollywood 

Back in the day, on Hollywood Boulevard near Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and definitely worth the trip, was Pickwick Books, three stories of book lovers’ delights. And way back in the day, Fitzgerald, Chandler, Faulkner, Bogart, Marlene Dietrich and many other celebs would haunt this place. Though I’m sure F. Scott wished he hadn’t one time. He went into the store and asked if they had The Great Gatsby by one F. Scott Fitzgerald. The clerk told him, “We don’t stock the work of dead authors on this floor. You’ll have to try upstairs [where used books, bargains and the like were kept].” The clerk later said, “I didn’t even recognize him and it’s been making me sick ever since. Especially since he died shortly after that. Another customer who knew him told me my not recognizing him and thinking he was dead had a catastrophic effect on him.”

There were also used book stores (and still are). Down in Long Beach was Acres of Books, a mere 12,000-square-feet. I went there several times but it was a bit of a drive. Closer to home and one of my faves was Book City on Hollywood Boulevard. Partly because of the books and partly because they had one of my favorite pix of the Beatles outside (see pic). They would order hard to find books for me and always came through. And in West Hollywood was the very independent George Sand Books. A small store that held a lot of readings. And even as I put the polish on this piece another one bites the dust: http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-caravan-last-chapter-20180301-htmlstory.html 

Book City in Hollywood
Even most of the mall bookstores are gone. Dalton’s and Walden. And Crown Books. It was always good when I had to go to a mall for one reason or another to be able to duck into a bookstore and pick up something.

There’s still bookstores, of course, though maybe not as many. But hopefully things will shake out and people will want the human and tactile experience of going to bookstores.

Small World Books in Venice Beach
I was thinking about including a list of now-gone bookstores, but for many of you, especially outside of LA it wouldn’t really mean anything. Suffice to say there’s a ton of them. But there’s also a bunch (both new and used bookstores) still around, so if you’re in LA you might want to check them out. But remember L.A. is very spread out and even though some places might seem close to one another they might not be. And if I’ve left any off this list, I’m sorry, it’s not intentional:

$10 or Less Bookstore – Tampa Ave., Northridge
Angel City Books and Records – Pier Avenue, Santa Monica
Barnes and Noble – various locations
Book Soup – Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
BookMonster – Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica
Books on the Boulevard – Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks
Bookstar – Ventura Blvd, Studio City (owned by B&N)
Chevalier Books – Larchmont Avenue, Hancock Park/Los Angeles
Eso Won Books – Degnan Avenue, Leimert Park (Los Angeles)
Gatsby Books – Spring Street, Long Beach
Iliad Bookshop, The – Lankershim Boulevard, North Hollywood (near Universal Studios)
Larry Edmund’s – Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood
Last Bookstore, The – Spring Street, downtown L.A.
Mysterious Galaxy – Balboa Avenue, San Diego
Mystery Ink Bookstore – Warner Ave., Huntington Beach
Mystery Pier Books – Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood
Open Book, The – Soledad Canyon, Canyon Country/Santa Clarita (Los Angeles County)
Pop-Hop Bookstore, The – York Boulevard, Highland Park (Los Angeles)
Samuel French – Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
Skylight Books – Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz (near Hollywood)
Small World Books – Ocean Front Walk/the Venice Boardwalk, Venice Beach
Vroman’s – Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

So, tell us about your city’s bookstores (now and then) and your favorites.


And now for the usual BSP:

I’m happy to say that my story “There’s An Alligator in My Purse” has been selected for the 2018 Bouchercon anthology, Sunny Places, Shady People, edited by Greg Herren. I’m pleased to be included with fellow SleuthSayers Barb Goffman and John Floyd.

Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


  1. Paul, congrats on the story in the Bouchercon anthology! (Fitzgerald got some posthumous respect when a theater he used to sit in and write in Minneapolis was named the Fitzgerald Theater in his honor.)

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Is that theatre still there? And there used to be a nightclub in Venice Beach called F. Scott's that I'd go to some times, named after him. I'm sure there's other places too. But I'm also sure it's probably more fun for the person to be recognized while they're around to enjoy it :-) .

  3. Congratulations on your story.
    Seems to me that you have another story waiting in the LA area bookstores!

  4. Thanks, Janice. And I'm sure there's a great story in those bookstores, or even a million of them ;-) .

  5. Great post, Paul--as always! And congrats to you, Barb, and John on getting selected for the Bouchercon anthology!

  6. Thanks, Art, on all counts! And I hope you're doing better weather-wise.

  7. Whenever I travel, I always search for used bookstores. There's nothing like it- the smell of old books, the feel of them, the weird things you find tucked into the pages. I found a whole set of original documents about the League of Nations, once. Another time, a paper doll from the late 1800s. Love them.

  8. Super congrats, Paul!
    Two fave bookstores: Sleuth of Baker Street in Toronto - one of the last mystery books stores in Canada. And Different Drummer in Burlington - lovely old Victorian house with several floors of new books. Love our independents.

  9. As I’m also a devotee of bookstores (and libraries) this post is near and dear to my heart. Back in the early nineties my friend Linda met every other Thursday at the Soup Plantation in Brentwood, then went next door to Dutton’s to spend 1-2 hours browsing. I thought about opening a used bookstore, but that never happened.

    I don’t spend enough time in bookstores now. And, while I still read paper and ink books, I often read ebooks now---mostly a concession to my aging eyes. I don’t think I’d have managed War and Peace without my Nook.

    The Little Bookshop is a charming indy bookstore in Richmond that just opened about 2 years ago. And The Fountain Bookstore is in a historic part of Richmond on a cobblestone street. I’ve had two book launches there. Paul, I’ve been in every one of the LA stores you mentioned and loved them all.

    I could go on and on about bookstores, but maybe I should just write my own post. Thanks, Paul. Congrats to you, John, and Barb on your Bouchercon stories.

  10. I share your love of bookstores and regret the demise of them in malls which gave me a place to go while the wife was shopping. Back in 1971, when I was in Basic Agent school at 14th and I Street, I'd roam D.C. on weekends off to find bookstores. That's where my collection of Chester Himes paperback novels about Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones in Harlem got started.

    Congrats to you, Barb and John on getting into the B'con anthology.

  11. Your post was painful to read, Paul. I watched half a dozen bookstores die around my area and it's hard to do. I was the assistant manager at a Walden's years ago for a year and a half. It was in the Glendale Galleria. We had the distinction of being the second most profitable store in their chain. The top grossing one was in Washington, D.C. People actually bought books back then. Real books. It was wonderful. I heard a rumor that people are going back to actually reading real books, not e-books. But then again, if people are reading, we are half way there to seeing bookstores come back. I can dream, can't I?

  12. Paul, the theater is still there; it's the one they used to do "Prairie Home Companion" out of!

  13. I stand corrected---the Fitzgerald Theater is in St. Paul!

  14. Wow, Eve. I hope you bought that book and the Leage of Nations documents. That is so cool. I also like going into bookstores in cities I don’t live in. Makes me feel at home.

  15. Thanks, Melodie. I’ve been to Burlington (I assume you mean Vermont). It’s where my dad’s from and some of his family is still there. So maybe if/when I go back I’ll be able to check out Different Drummer. And if I ever get to Toronto Sleuth of Baker Street will be on the agenda.

  16. Thanks, Maggie. And I used to go to Dutton’s too. I wonder if we ever crossed paths without knowing it. I still prefer paper books, but I also read about 50% on ebooks these days. And if I’m ever in Richmond I’ll have to check out those stores, hopefuly when you’re doing a launch at one of them. I’ve also wanted to open a bookstore-café forever, but I think it’s one of those dreams that probably won’t be fulfilled.

  17. Thanks, R.T. And I did sort of the same thing as you, wandering various bookstores here and there. It’s how I got much of my David Goodis collection when virtually nothing of his was in print anymore.

  18. I hope your dreams come true, Gayle. It would be nice to see bookstores come back. Maybe they are to some extent. And I’ve also seen a lot of them bite the dust, but hopefully that trend will slow.

  19. Thanks for the updates, Jeff. And for the link on Facebook. I’ll check it out.

  20. A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing book stores. We had a local chain called Book Stop that I spent more than a little time and money in. I landed in one in the afternoon. When to my surprise they announced they were closing, I looked up to find it was nearly 10p and dark outside. I’m not sure which was worse, explaining to my girlfriend that I lost six hours out of the day in a book shop, or that she believed me.

    Both Book Stop and Borders offered sofas and armchairs, which I sank into for hours at a time. I doubt I ever left the stores without half a dozen books. Months after Borders pulled out chairs and couches, it closed. Barnes & Nobel bought out the large 2-storey Book Stop east of downtown. They yanked out the sofas and overstuffed chairs. My attendance trickled off until I realized I haven’t visited the store in years, one I’d practically lived in, one I used to drive out of my way to camp there. It no longer felt welcoming.

    I admired a small book store in Dublin, Ohio. They ladies who ran it understood the art of making visitors comfortable. They’d broken up the long, narrow premises into chambers. The first was separated from the second by a small bench and chairs in a garden motif, and then near the back, another garden-like sitting area invited one to sit, sip, and read.

    Another wonderful place was a multi-storey store complete with bookstore cats in Strathcona, an arty suburb of Edmonton, Albert, Canada. Besides new and used books, they carried 1950s issues of Mike Shayne, Black Mask, EQMM, and AHMM, as well as Playboy. (Just reporting the facts, ma’am.) THAT was a bookstore!

    Congratulations to you, Barb and John!

  21. That’s a great story about getting lost in time in the Book Stop, Leigh. And you should be glad your girlfriend believed you. And I better quit on that one while I’m ahead and before I say something I shouldn’t ;-) .

    And that’s too bad about the B&N changing the store they bought. I think ambience is important, but the most important ambience is just the books. The store in Ohio sounds like it has/had ambience plus. That sounds like a great place. As does the one in Edmonton. There’s still some places like those around, but I guess it’s harder and harder for them to say afloat, which is a true bummer.

    And thanks for the congratulations. I wrote a pretty off the wall story and had a fun time doing it.

  22. Denver Book Mall, West Side Books, and Capitol Hill Books in Denver... Strand and Mercer Street Books in New York... Green Apple Books in San Francisco...

  23. Thanks for all the recommendations, Joe.

  24. I love that you and your mom used to leave bookstores with your arms filled with books. A love of reading is one of the best things a parent can instill in a child. Good blog!

    And thanks, Paul and everyone, about the Bouchercon anthology. I'm honored to have one of my stories in a book with those of Paul and John and so many other fine writers.

  25. Paul I agree that there's nothing like being in a bookstore and being able to physically open a book and browse. I managed a bookstore for a couple of years (Waldenbooks then Borders Express) and it was great but a lot of hard work. Books are heavy! My favorite brick and mortars that I visit on occasion are Small World in Venice, Mystery Ink in HB, and Barnes & Noble in Manhattan Beach. I have had a long time fantasy of owning my own bookstore; maybe someday, when I am independently wealthy. ;)

  26. Thanks, Barb. Yeah, those times with my mom are some of my best memories of her. And we did it fairly frequently for a long time. Wish we still could.

    And congratulations on your Bouchercon story.

  27. Evelyn, I also have/had a fantasy of owning a bookstore – well, a bookstore/coffee shop/café. Maybe we can pool our resources and go into biz together. And on the shore would be a good place :-) . And, of course, we'd have a huge section just on the Beatles (Evelyn will get this).

  28. I love the title of your short story, Paul - congrats to you! And yes, being a former Angeleno, I remember and miss so many lovely bookstores. But the area I live in now (Santa Barbara) has five(!) bookstores which are going strong, including the wonderful Chaucer's and The Book Loft. Nothing quite like the feel and scent of books. Great post!

  29. Paul - of course I bought that book! And learned a lot about the League of Nations. Still have it.
    BTW, Jackson Street Booksellers, The Mystery Bookstore, and the Bookworm in Omaha are all worth a stop. (A few years ago, I cleaned out Jackson Street of every Maigret in French that they had. I'm hoping they've gotten a few more...)

  30. Thanks, Lida. I had fun working on that, it's pretty off the wall. And yes, there used to be a ton of really wonderful bookstores, but I’m hoping there’s a renaissance of sorts. And Santa Barbara is a beautiful place, but not that big. So the fact that it can support five bookstores is terrific.

  31. I should have figured you bought the book, Eve. That is such a cool thing. And some day if I get to Omaha I hope you’ll give me a tour of all those bookstores.

  32. Yes Paul, by the ocean would be a perfect location for a bookstore/café/coffeehouse. And of course it would have the most complete selection of books on The Beatles of any store anywhere. :)

  33. Great article Paul! I grew up going to Bob's Bookstore in Highland Park. Bob was a bookie who ran his biz out of the store. My older brother would go in dressed in a long Army surplus jacket and shoplift like crazy. He ended it up with just about every Doc Savage book written. You can't experience that shopping online.


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