A Love Song for the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles

9 Jun

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO – Catalysis Projects’ Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo waxes passionate for the charms and magic of The Last Bookstore, a pleasure dome of literary delights in downtown Los Angeles.

Consider this a love song for the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles – but wait, it’s not what you’re thinking. This is no tragic love song for the disappearing anachronism of the Los Angeles bookseller. No. This is a joyful, jubilant falling-in-love song for a used bookstore called “The Last Bookstore,” – a funhouse xanadu, a valhalla nirvana that despite all odds is located in Los Angeles, rather than belle epoque Budapest, Barcelona, Mexico City, or London. It’s the boulevard of dreams-come-true that invites us on an expedition of cerebral stimulations.

If somewhere within you dwells a misrecollected pink, this will tickle it.

If there is a seventh gear for jubilation, here is where you shall shift into it.

Look at it this way: Gertrude Stein has brought you to a magical attic of succulents, birdcages, faux-taxidermy wooly mastodons, where the tufted charms of Henry Miller’s seductively tattered Chesterfield seduces you to recline, indolent, whilst dragging on a contraband Chesterfield – you are wrapped in a rapt ardor amidst the precise sort of hazy spectral ambience that drives a Bronte to orgasm. Now it’s yours. If you can’t hallucinate your way through the halcyon literary lexicon of 1930s Paris, Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Saigon or Prague, you can come here.

A lifetime could vanish happily amidst these spendiferous stacks of books. You’ll emerge, bespectacled and blinking, equally conversant with antimatter spaceships orEdwardian ghosts. You will have books in your hand, and you will feel transcendent.

And even better for me, it’s downstairs from my studio, on the ground floor of the inimitably noir-ish Spring Arts Tower, a 1923 structure by the renown architect John Parkinson located at the corner of 5th and Spring, in downtown Los Angeles…a semi-hidden gem of a building dense with affordable artist studios. I ask you: how often is a writer’s studio located directly above three thousand ingeniously-curated, spookily perfect used books that is also an enticing timespace portal to various mecca of literary avant-garde culture? Never. Now you understand why this is a love song. A very ecstatic love song.

If you live anywhere near Los Angeles, do your body, mind, heart and soul a favor – hie thyself to the corner of 5th and Spring downtown, and enter the wonderland that is The Last Bookstore. It is a phantasmagoric delight for the eyes, the cerebral cortex, and the human heart.

The space itself is monumental in design and execution with an eye for quirky, sultry, brooding steampunk magnificence, with a kick of lighthearted quirk.

This is a place to dwell for hours, if not days, fully enthralled.

Waiting for you are thousands of books in angled cases. They lurk and waltz and careen and impose themselves upon your best self beneath an ornate vaulted 1920s ceiling, where the visitor would be unsurprised to see the Hindenburg, Poe’s

hanging bats, or Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling.

At each stack, I expected to haggle with Borges over a book of Margaret Bourke-White photos. Or flirt with Mina Loy about Patti Smith’s Horses CD.

This is an Angeleno pantheon  to that uncommon variety of epic literary grandeur we find only in our fantasies. This is less a bookstore than a portal into a transcendent palace of literature, a resplendent temple to the word. Its ambiance befits a cathedral to the written word – commerce seems an afterthought (which is why all of us must visit it, with a few dollars in our pockets).

The Last Bookstore presents a dazzlingly shabby, majestically mythical old world intellectual playfulness that so often seems to elude Los Angeles. Go here when you feel that all hope is lost. Go here when you feel you were born in the wrong time, the wrong place, with the wrong dreams and impractical ambitions that lean more towards poetics than plastic surgery scars. This is a place to forget what’s irrelevant and remember why you were born: there’s a suspension of mundanity happening here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more than a little magic going down. Something holy and enchanted.

In this cranial pleasure dome there is more to love than what meets the eye: the curation of the books themselves seems to inspire paranoia in every visitor: how did they know about my favorite books? My first five minutes yielded works by Jack Spicer, Mallarme, Anne Waldman, Paul Celan, and even the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti‘s works…in Italian. My beating heart henceforth shakes the building.

A few hours later, my studio assistant returned bearing a stack of vintage classic horror stories and fairy tales. Later that evening, the filmmaker leaving my studio after helping me on some video installations reported bliss at discovering a trove of beloved children’s books that would later leave his nephews in paroxysms of delight.

We were all experiencing literary paroxysms of the most delightful kind.

Please, my dear ones, bring your raw and bleeding heart in your hands, the nooks and crannies of your long-forgotten chimeras that say, why isn’t there anywhere to go in Los Angeles where I can simply read a book, and feel my skin shiver with delight in the polysyllabic written word, in goose-fleshed jubilation that our cave dwelling ancestors once learned to put grunt to charcoal and sketch out some marks with meaning. Words. We have them here, they abound and resound. They’re at The Lost Bookstore, on sale cheap. Go. Go. Go.

Learn more about Quintan Ana Wikswo here, or read her most recent short story here, in Gulf Coast journal.

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3 Responses to “A Love Song for the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles”

  1. Josh June 10, 2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Thank you for loving our dream, Quintan. You’ve entered in, and then some.

    (And I hesitate to mar the beauty of your words with a mundane fact correction, but the retentive detail-manager in me that made the store what it is won’t let me leave it: we actually have around fifty thousand books rather than three thousand!)

  2. Jeremy June 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Very disturbed to find out this store uses a non profit they created “booksforpeople.org” to get books for free from people donating books to their non profit that goes to be sold on personal online accounts for profit as well as their store which is for profit. Sad to know that they aren’t a honest store 😦

  3. Renee Reynolds July 17, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    Thank you so much for this. The approach, topic and presentation are germs of hope; splendid all.

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