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"...aside from its insanely organized shelves, it also offers a smalltown coziness that larger, independent stores lack. Rare is a used bookstore that understands that used-book lovers aren't hoarders and cat collectors, but rather lovers of pop culture and refined culture. Read is the absolute best little place to lose an afternoon and emerge delighted and excited with a handful of treasures."
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“What shall I do with all my books?" was the question; and the answer, "Read them," sobered the questioner. But if you cannot read them, at any rate handle them and, as it were, fondle them. Peer into them. Let them fall open where they will... If they cannot enter the circle of your life, do not deny them at least a nod of recognition.
READ Books Holiday Newsletter
Merry New Happy Hanukamas everybody. Thanks for being our friend and/or patron.
For your entertainment, we provide you with a truish holiday story and gift suggestions below, and a profound respect from our, uh, hearts.
Hanukkahcide: Oy to the World
I never suffered from Christmas envy. Judging from my occupation—newspaper delivery boy—I must have been in 8th grade when I came downstairs that morning and encountered a dwarfish Douglas Fir ornamenting a garish corner of our living room. It had tinsel and holiday shit all over it. My father sat on the couch reading his Chicago Tribune. It was what we, in the 1980’s, called a newspaper.
I pointed at that solitary midget tree. “What the hell’s that thing?”
He grunted. “Mmm. Your mom calls it a Hanukkah Bush.”
“You sure it ain’t a Christmas Tree?” I asked. “Because it’s Christmas morning, and there’s a tree in our house, all decked out in lights and fancy pants tinsel. Ain’t that kind of fucked up? Because we’re Jewish and all.”
He re-grunted, probably turned a page in his newspaper thing. “Your mom calls it a Hanukkah Bush,” he reiterated. “It doesn’t have one of those Jesus stars on top, so, mmm…”
My reaction, which proved to be definitive for the ensuing years, was to get dressed and go to work. Holiday celebrants would eventually want their newspapers that morning, and I was the guy to eventually give it to them since I sure as hell had no intention of lollygagging around my house celebrating some cockamamie religious festival. They can’t make me dance around an uprooted tree.
Through the years, whenever I’ve found myself gainfully employed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, whatever, I was the guy who volunteered to put in the hours. On all the regular days, I was the guy who volunteered to call in sick, oversleep, or have my car “breakdown.” But Christmas, oh boy! Even when sick, I worked.
In December of ‘96, I lurched into Book Soup on the morning of the 25th with this cold, flu, dysentery thing. Not only were they paying time-and-a-half, which was probably about $10/hour, but there was a free lunch from Greenblatt’s in the works, and I was going to put some deli in my mouth even if it was likely to exit the other side simultaneously. When noon staggered in, I ordered me a pastrami sandwich and a bowl of matzo ball soup. A few minutes later, my manager informs me that my order has been downsized to half a sandwich and a sad cup of soup sans matzo ball. Seems that Glenn, the owner, overheard that I was sick, and he keenly deduced that I might try skipping out early. Thus I was worthy of only a partial lunch. Call it the Moe Howard Management Philosophy:
“Why you hit me, Moe? I didn’t do nothing!”
“That’s for what you’re going to do!”
Still I persevere, even after developing into a self-employed, progenitor type. When I was a martial arts instructor, I offered to take my pre-pubescent students on 5-mile runs every Thanksgiving Day. I called them Turkey Runs, because kids like cute shit. Now that I own a bookstore and have no professional excuse to exploit other people’s children, on Christmas Day I take my kids, the ones I legally own, on eight-mile tromps around town. It’s our own little Hanukkah joke. God they love it.
My allegedly perceptive wife thinks me a victim of my environment, as in I’m what happens when you grow up in a home where the mother spends the 48 hours preceding a holiday dinner shrieking at her kids to get ready for the holiday dinner, and the father commences every Thanksgiving meal with a lecture on why the Pilgrims were assholes and genocide is bad, so go ahead and enjoy your damn turkey. While it does make one wonder why we celebrate crappy people with a nerve-wracking meal, I have had the opportunity to participate in holiday festivities with many allegedly stable families that have allowed me into their homes, and I’ve yet to experience anything to turn me to the sunny and joyful side. Sitting around a table staring dumbly at some charred, decapitated bird, it hardly matters whether the father figure is railing against the concept that brought you to the table, or instructing everyone to hold hands and take turns testifying to being thankful for something besides being on the victorious side of a genocide; I’d rather be tramping around in the snow with a bag full of damp newspapers thrown over my shoulder, or sitting behind a counter in some bookstore ignoring customers.
So, y’know, come into READ Books for your holiday shopping this month and get your gift certificates, sundry Christmas and Hanukkah books, yadda yadda. Or read something else for Christ’s sake. I’ll probably be here, wondering if those Maccabees, when chasing those Greeks out of the Temple, foresaw the Hanukkah bushes and rabid gift giving that it would lead to.
Books You Should Buy From Us & Give to Somebody Else
• The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson
• Wee Gee: An Autobiography by Wee Gee
• Edgeworks by Harlan Ellison
• Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels by Ann Stalcup
• The Stairway to Heaven by Zecheria Sitchin
• I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew by Dr. Seuss (1st Edition)
• The Adventures of Pinocchio by Collodi (Illustrated Hardcover)
• Winnie the Pooh: A Celebration of the Silly Old Bear by Christopher Finch (Illustrated)
Humor & Poetry
• America Again & I Am America by Stephen Colbert (Both 1st Editions)
• Mr. Show: What Happened?! Bt Naomi Odenkirk (1st Edition)
• California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present by Dana Gioia et al…
• The Gamble House Cookbook: Good Design/Good Food by Mark Peel
• The New Making of a Cook by Madeline Kamman
• Fanny at Chez Panisse by Alice Waters (1st Edition)
Art & Fashion
• Where’d You Get Those? NYC Sneaker Culture 1960-1987 by Bobbito Garcia (signed)
• Dreaming with His Eyes Open: A Life of Diego Rivera by Patrick Marnham
• Art of the American Automobile: The Greatest Stylists by Nick Georgano
• Arthur’s Christmas Cookies by Lillian Hoban
• Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories by Latino Authors
• The Chanukah Guest by Eric Kimmel
• Little Tree by e.e. cummings (1st Edition)
• The Story of Hanukkah by Amy Ehrlich (paintings by Ori Sherman)
• Christmas Around the World: A Pop-Up Book by Chuck Fischer
Science & Science Fiction
• Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia by John Clute
• Cosmos by Carl Sagan
If you made it this far, come on in and tell us about it (“Hey man, I made it to the end of your f@#%ing newsletter and…”), and we’ll give you a discount on your holiday shopping. How much depends on how you finish the above sentence.
Jeremy, Debbie, Donald, & Steven
Soon after I moved to Los Angeles, in February of 1992, a lot of other people began to move out of Los Angeles. A less hearty more sociable soul than I might have taken offense, or perhaps even joined that late 20th century exodus from our sorta urban milieu. Just what were these tepid emigrants fleeing? Biblical times, brother: a brief, combustible era of riots, floods, earthquakes, gang violence as depicted on the news and in mediocre films, ostentatious sin manifested in plethoric street drugs and rampant prostitution performed by gals of frequently misleading sexuality. Early 90’s L.A. was largely a depraved freak show, you see, but that wasn’t the only reason I was so enthusiastic about living here. Truth be told, it was even better than it sounds.
If twenty years ago Los Angeles was a cultural smorgasbord, and it was, then I was a ravenous Swede. All of the cultural touchstones that I had begun to seek in college—food, literature, music, film—were in abundance. Sure, this has long been a city protracted all over the place, with many bland neighborhoods to wade through in order to locate the sublime. But the juice was worth the squeeze. A boy who thought Mexican cuisine consisted of ground beef chimichangas and something called an enchirito discovered al pastor tacos, huaraches, and tortas. In L.A., one could (and still can) close one’s eyes, throw a stone, and hit a decent taco. There were neighborhoods in the basin, Westside, and Valley with multiple used bookstores in a single neighborhood, even bookstores that specialized in feminist, sports, and technical books. Used record stores were common enough, and there were neighborhood video stores that carried varieties of foreign, documentary, and obscure films that I’d read about as a film student in Iowa City, but had been mostly unattainable for me in that otherwise lovely college town. To summarize, ahem: “L.A. was a precarious shithole containing everything a boy could want.”
Last month La Canada Video died. Over the past twenty-odd-years, as many other venerable neighborhood video stores closed shop, LCV had been my go to place for films that the local cheapie video stores will never carry. This is where my children were raised on Miyazaki, Kurosawa, and nine jolly hours of Shoah. But now, in a time when consumers opt to spend their money on Netflix and whatnot, LCV’s landlord decided it was time for a precipitous raise in rent, and ultimately LCV could no longer afford to stay in business.
It’s 2014 in L.A., and there are few video stores remaining that are smart enough to carry the abstruse, unconventional stuff. Neighborhoods with multiple bookstores, or bookstores that specialize in specific genres, are near extinction. Sure the ubiquitous state of succulent tacos endures and improves, but aside from that, what the hell’s happening here?
The case of La Canada Video illustrates the pitfalls of a landlord with funny ideas about maximizing profit. When the Chipotles and Starbucks move onto the block, it must be a chore for some landlords not to dream of renting all their property out to deep-pocketed restaurant chains. This in conjunction with L.A.’s perpetual obsession with “the hottest new neighborhood” – as Eagle Rock was momentarily ordained a few years ago, York Boulevard today, and some other ephemeral star tomorrow—one will observe more starry-eyed landlords demanding the sort of rents that will clear a block of many unique, low-overhead businesses. Seizing the pen on the other side of the rental agreement, there will always be those looking to move into the next big neighborhood, be they corporations or other deep-pocketed interests, who will titillate the myopic landlord by outbidding the smaller fella, and ultimately drive all the rents up.
Speaking of myopia, hows about us consumers? What the hell’s up with us? Sure it’s nice enough to be able to order whatever you want on your computer or TV or computer TV without leaving your home, if isolation and convenience are your hobbies. Maybe Starbucks makes a nice cup of Joe; I wouldn’t know. Netflix, my college son tells me, supplies access to a number of excellent television shows that he otherwise cannot find.
But then, he lives in a college town without a decent video store, as I live in a major metropolis progressing toward the same fate. His college town has one small used bookstore and a Barnes & Noble that sells more university apparel than literature. The university runs free buses to the closest Walmart in order to encourage that kind of student commerce. The corporations are beginning to descend on the college towns, much as they are reshaping the cultural space of previously idiosyncratic metropolitan neighborhoods. What do all these corporations have in common? They look bland, offer bland products, and pay crappy wages so that a few people get egregiously rich. And many of us are spending our money in places that are counterintuitive to our best interests.
There is a price to pay for convenience, repercussions resulting from how and where we spend our dollar, and sometimes saving a few bucks ultimately means losing a lot more. If we do not want our neighborhoods to be defined by the blandness of Walmarts and McDonalds and whatnot, if we want to have access to variegated, diverse culture and not just what Netflix and Amazon and Apple chooses to promote, if we do not want our children and their children to be working for the corporations that are swallowing up the independent businesses, we need to stop funneling our money to these non-people. Go buy a birthday present from an independent pottery store or an art gallery, drive a few miles to a video store or a bookstore that takes the time to curate inventory. And take your damn children with you, or borrow somebody else’s damn children, so that they know what it’s like to live in a real neighborhood and interact with real people.
There are still places in America that fiercely cling to their independent ways, that challenge corporate hegemony and encourage the idiosyncratic neighborhoods with their independent book, record, and video stores, as well as countless other cultural mileposts. If every other city succumbs, there will always be your Portlands, Berkeleys, and Austins.
But me, I don’t want to live in those places where it’s too damn easy to walk onto any damn street and see a hundred damn places that are ridiculously cool, god bless’um. I’ve always preferred Los Angeles’ cool-crappy patchwork of here’s an interesting neighborhood, here’s a bland one, let’s see if we can discern between one and the other, because that’s a formidable challenge. Challenges are good for the soul, discerning is excellent exercise for the brain, and Los Angeles’ charm lies in its dual capacity to reward and repulse. We have to fight to keep the repulsive from swallowing up the rewarding, and fighting, when one has a purpose, is the best kind of fun.
We will be CLOSED on Mon. 7/21, Tues. 7/22, & Thurs. 7/24
BUT the store will be OPENED by a substitute on Wed 7/23 (11-5) & Fri 7/25 (12-6).
Wanna guess where we’ll be?
Here’s a picture of us next week:
We will be OPEN 4th of July, until we ain’t.
We will be CLOSED on Monday 7/7 & Tuesday 7/8 in order to accommodate a nice film crew.
We will be OPEN all weekend if you need anything.
Like a book. Peanuts. Fistfight.
PIONEERS OF EAGLE ROCK
Book Signing with Eric Warren & Frank Parrello
Saturday, May 10th @ 6:00 P.M.
Free Reading Friday Night 4/25 @ 7:00
READ Books & The Women Group Present:
SLUT CHURCH by Emma Koffroth
READ Books will be taking a rare day off on Monday, January 6th. Our vacation shall conclude at midnight of the same day. We’ll be back on the 7th.
Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business is READ Books current Book Club selection. Canadian literature! We will meet in January to discuss the book and eat Canadian food, whatever that might be. Let us know if you want in.
Next Book Club Meeting is scheduled for the evening of Saturday, October 26th. We are currently reading Victor Villasenor’s tasty sounding Burro Genius. If you would like to discuss this book while eating Mexican food, all you got to do is ask. En Espanol.