I can't resist buying a book every time I walk past a bookstore. The smell of the paper, the feel of a used book in your hand finding new life, the spying on cute shoppers to see what they're buying. L.A. is by no stretch a literary city, but these bookstores sprinkled throughout town can re"kindle" (ahem) your love of books and reading. This is not a comprehensive guide, just some of my favorites. What makes these bookstores special is that they're tied to their community. Long live the bookstore!
Alias Books has been in business since 1959, nicely stocked with thousands of used and rare books. They focus mainly on literature and academics. I've found some hardcover editions of novels by Carson McCullers and Henry Miller. There's a nice community of regular patrons who gather here for interesting conversation. The store is located around the corner from the Nuart Theater and it's a required stop every time I see a movie there.
In the heart of Los Feliz is Skylight Books, another vital bookstore in Los Angeles run by people who devote their life to books. In addition to the extensive selection of all genres, they also hold events and readings that bring the book-loving community together. I've met several friends bonding over David Foster Wallace, Roberto Bolaño, and even Wilco (the band). For $25 become a Friend with Benefits and receive 10% off any book and 20% off selected best sellers and featured titles. And while you're there, say hi to Franny, the store cat.
Tucked behind an alley just off the busy Sunset Strip is Mystery Pier, an antiquarian bookshop that has amassed quite an impressive collection of rare and first editions of American and British novels and plays - some of them inscribed by the authors themselves. Mystery Pier carries a bit of everything from Shakespeare to Dickens to Joyce to Dr. Seuss. This is a great store for collectors or for those wanting to give a special gift.
Book Soup is one of the most important bookstores in L.A. with a great selection of literature, photography, travel, and most recently Criterion films. They host readings and signings every week by high profile and local authors. Check out the discounted section for surprise discounts on classic and semi-obscure books. The staff is knowledgable, friendly, and eager to recommend - or just talk about - their favorite books. There's a parking lot in the alley behind the store.
Caravan Book Store, located across the street from the downtown library, is an antiquarian book store that deals rare and out of print books. The shop is dusty, somewhat cramped, and it smells of old books. They specialize in early twentieth century American literature. I come here just to gaze at the Hemingway first editions or to chew the fat with the owner, who will proudly show you his collection.
Samuel French is an indispensable theater and film bookshop and publisher in Hollywood. If there's a play that's ever been published, you will likely find it here. They also have a great selection of screenplays, film biographies, criticism, and coffee table books. Grab a complimentary cup of coffee in the "Green Room," kick back on the couch, and strike up a conversation with that cute actor about a Beckett play.
Take a trip around the globe without ever leaving L.A. - that's the feeling you get when you enter Traveler's Bookcase. The bookstore carries all the great travel books (Time Out, Lonely Planet, DK Eyewitness) as well as carry maps, food guides, travel literature, and specialty books like a guide to naughty Paris for women, and a guide to weird London. There's also a nice selection of world photography books.
Counterpoint was the first used bookstore I ever frequented so it has sentimental value for me. They buy books, records, dvd's, tapes, and vhs so their stock changes frequently. I've had some great finds here, including a first edition of Jean Genet's "Our Lady of the Flowers" and an out of print book on Hitchcock's "Vertigo." There's a nice selection of literary criticism and art books, as well as a serious jazz record section.
Sometimes what makes a great bookstore isn't a massive selection, but an owner who surprises you by indulging his own eccentric tastes in art, literature, and politics. Family Bookstore is that kind of bookstore. When I came here they had copies of Laszlo Krasznahorkai's "Satantango," Roberto Bolaño's "The Secret of Evil," and a book on Nan Goldin's photography. They also carry records, films, zines and self-published art-comics. There is a gallery space in the back for local artists exhibitions.
The Last Bookstore is one of the largest, most eccentric, and prettiest bookstores in California. They sell a combination of new and used books and records. I've found a first edition of William Faulkner's "The Reivers." There is an entire section upstairs where every book costs a dollar - which makes it easy to get lost hunting for books. They hold frequent events with authors, poetry readings, concerts, and community gatherings.
Alias Books East my favorite bookstore and the the best used bookstore in Los Angles. It is a carefully curated bookstore, its stock handpicked by the owner Patrick, who has high standards of quality. There's not a single bad book on its shelves. Literature, poetry, philosophy, politics, cinema, art - Alias has an outstanding selection of it all. Check out the WE RECOMMEND section for interesting finds - from the Dada Manifesto to Italian Fascist poetry.
Situated in Mariachi Plaza is this bookstore/lending library that aims to bring the book-loving community of East L.A. together. There book selection changes often, but I found a first edition of Norman Mailer's "An American Dream" the time I went there. They also carry books in Spanish, with an emphasis on poetry.