April 3, 2008
Tommywood: Where is a book-loving soul to go now?
(Page 2 - Previous Page)I remember a conversation with the owner of the Book Nook before it closed. He told me that people's habits have changed. Today, the majority of bestsellers are purchased for 40 percent off at Wal-Mart or Costco. The small book that becomes a success because of independent bookstores has become as rare as the independent movie that succeeds by word-of-mouth -- it happens, just not often enough to sustain a business.
There continue to be, and there will be continue to be, great independent bookstores in Los Angeles, from Skylight Books in Los Feliz and Book Soup in West Hollywood to Village Books in the Palisades and Equator Books in Venice.
However, this is the way we live now: If you want to see a busy bookstore, go to an airport. The enemy, as Pogo said, is us. I need only look to my own buying habits. If there's a book that I know I want, either a new title or an obscure one, I will often buy it from Amazon.com or AbeBooks.com. I spend a certain amount of time browsing at Borders or Barnes & Noble, but I can't tell you the last time that I bought a book there because of a bookseller's recommendation (at press time, Border's has put itself up for sale). Times change, customs and behavior changes and Dutton's is just one sign.
I stopped by Dutton's this week, and while I won't go as far as to call it a shiva visit, as I crossed the courtyard I spied two successful TV writers bemoaning Dutton's closing. Seeing Doug Dutton, one woman got teary, talking about how she had grown up with Dutton's and what the loss of the bookstore and its community means to her.
Which brings me to another point. Dutton's, like any good independent bookstore, represented more than a retail enterprise, and its closing affects our quality of life. The question then becomes one of whether we could change the market reality of bookstores. Can we instead protect, encourage, support and value those aspects of places like Dutton's that mean so much to us?
Where will we go to get that sense of community, that feeling of being in a place where books are a valued part of our culture? Where can I take my daughter to imbue her with that same sense?
In a world where the bookstore is less and less viable, where do we go to find like-minded others of all ages who enjoy books and other cultural delivery systems such as graphic novels, comic books, games, videos and CDs? Where can we go to see and hold in our hands not only current titles but also a long tail of widely diverse offerings -- where will we find knowledgeable guides to help us find what we are looking for or make suggestions? Where can we go to see our literary idols?
Perhaps Dutton's closing is a sign of our times. I will miss it, and we -- our community, our city, our world -- are the poorer for its loss. Perhaps the bookstore is no longer commercially viable. But we need not abandon the bookstore experience.
Again, I can only turn to my own experience. I will tell you where I go: To the public library.
Recently I stood at a display case in the Beverly Hills Public Library reading original copies of letters written by Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Last week, I was at the Central Library to hear Richard Price talk about his new novel "Lush Life."
Perhaps when Dutton's closes we need not feel we've lost all we value.
Have you visited the Santa Monica Public Library's new main branch? Not only is it airy and comfortable with plenty of parking, not only is there a great kids area that has books and computers with games, but for those who got used to associating a bookstore with noshing, it also houses a great and reasonably priced cafe.
Stephen Schwartzman of Blackstone Group recently announced a $100 million gift to the New York Public library -- a rare but inspired gift. More often the case these days is the library that is laying off staff and is hard-up to buy new books. Those that thrive do so with community support. It will take more donations and public support to libraries and "friends of the library" groups to keep our cultural communities strong. However, if the marketplace can't support bookstores, and we still believe that books bring people together, we will all have to do our part to affirm the value in people coming together in a place that values books.
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.
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