The literary landscape of Southern California has long been dismissed by East Coast snobs as an intellectual desert. That’s nonsense, of course, but until recently, anyone looking for a single place to buy books on the region’s writers, history and culture was pretty much out of luck.
No longer. Now there’s L.A. (The Bookstore), perhaps the first full-time haven and bully pulpit for everything Southern Californian.
Opened in November by John Gabree, who was Newsday’s book reviewer for 17 years before he moved to Los Angeles in 1979, the Santa Monica store is situated in a concrete-and-steel oddity built by noted Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry.
Any lit-crit elitist who scoffs at the idea of a literary L.A. gets a vitriolic response from Gabree. “That’s the kind of cut-rate arrogance that New Yorkers and San Franciscans tend to be afflicted with,” he says. “It’s a bad rap born of ignorance, and if anyone else says that to you, you send them here. The proof is all around you.”
There are thousands of books, fiction and non- fiction. There isn’t a topic uncovered, from history to anthropology to the occult. “Sex, Death, God and L.A.,” an anthology of essays by novelists, journalists and critics on the city’s cultural mythology, is a hot seller. “It’s indicative of the books that sell well here, " says Joe Gannon, the store’s assistant manager.
“Los Angeles is supposed to be a cultural wasteland,” Gannon says, “and yet it has produced a number of great writers such as Joan Didion, William Saroyan, Charles Bukowski and Raymond Chandler. Hollywood casts this huge shadow over L.A., but if you look into the deep shade, you will find a rich literary life that Angelenos are now searching to find.”