Gossip Rags Aren't The Only Things We Read: In LA, Local Bookstores Make the A-List

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Photo by jchristopherrobinson via Flickr

Tinseltown, Southland, The Entertainment Capital of the World, El Lay, The City of Angels, Hell-A, La La Land —LA has its share of nicknames, but none seem to give our city due credit for the wealth of literature housed among these trafficked streets. Thanks to an unfortunate reputation as a not-so-literary city, LA local bookshops are often and unduly overlooked. But, forget what you might have heard (or haven’t heard, for that matter). Our local bookstores are big, small, specific, general, used, new, and all-around unique. Here are some of LA’s best independent bookstores:

Skylight Books: Los Feliz’s flagship bookstore cherishes its “eclectic clientele,” thanks to their seamless blending of rare ‘zines, bestsellers, and experimental fiction. Sells local chapbooks and throws killer readings. Likely on the shelf: Nog by Rudolph Wurlitzer. Open daily 10a-10p.

Book Soup: Self-ascribed “bookseller to the great and infamous,” Book Soup has amassed over 60,000 titles in their well-stocked labyrinthine shelves. Has a soft spot for university and foreign presses. Likely on the shelf: Exercises In Style by Raymond Quenau. Open daily 9a-10p.

Vroman’s: Founded in 1894, SoCal’s oldest and largest carries bestsellers, classics, and cult favorites. Grab espresso from in-store Zeno’s cafe and find the wall of staff picks. Likely on the shelf: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Open M-Th 9a-9p, Fri and Sat 9a-10p, Sun 10a-8p.

Libros Revolucion: LA’s beacon info shop boasts hand-picked titles of literary and political dissent with a strong focus on Latino works. Dedicated to communism and combating the new world order. Likely on the shelf: Imprisoned Intellectuals edited by Joy James. Open Tue-Sun 12p-8p.

Diesel, A Bookstore: Diesel sells books, both new and used, and sports a smart staff of Cal-Lit disciples. True literary gods frequent their events. Likely on the shelf: Naked by David Sedaris. Open M-F 10a-7p, Sat 10a-6p, Sun 10a-5p.

Portrait of a Bookstore: Good things come in small book-stuffed stores. Wander through Studio City’s Aroma Café and soon enough, you’ll find this majestic shrine of books. Likely on the shelf: The Collected Stories by Grace Paley. Open Mon-Sat 9:30a-10p, Sun 10a-10p.

Libros Schmibros: LA’s lending library/used bookstore combo bestows great reads to Boyle Heights. Want to contribute to LA’s book scene? They welcome volunteers to help compose bilingual bookmarks and catalog inventory. Likely on the shelf: Wuthering Heights [hardcover, circa 1974] by Emily Bronte. Open M, W, F, Sat 12p-6p.

Stories: “A place where you can use the word opus—ironically or not!” Echo Park’s bookstore/coffee house has great local readings and an eclectic book selection. New and used books and java from Cafecito Organico = LA lit heaven. Likely on the shelf: LA journal Slake, Issue 2. Open Mon-Thurs 8:30a-8p, Fri-Sat 8:30a-10p, Sun 10a-8p.

The Last Bookstore: Downtown’s Last Bookstore offers some of the best deals in book buying and makes for great in-store discount sales. Plus, they’re “best friends with Friends of the Library” and help libraries get cash from their donated books. Likely on the shelf: Brave New World [in top condition] by Aldous Huxley. Open Mon-Thurs 11a-8p, Fri-Sat 11a-10p, Sun 1-5p.

Iliad Books: North Hollywood’s used bookstore is sure to make any bibliophile blush. Iliad has 5,000 square feet of raw book-space and over 100,000 books. Oh, and you might recognize the storefront from Lethal Weapon 3. Likely on the shelf: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams [signed by cover artist Al Hirschfeld]. Open Mon-Sat 10a-10p, Sun 12p-6p.

Brand Bookshop: The ultimate book-browsing afternoon starts and ends here. Get lost perusing the used books in their legendary stacks. Extremely knowledgeable staff and the prices are unbeatable. Likely on the shelf: Vintage copy of Watt by Samuel Beckett. Open Mon-Thurs 11a-8p, Fri-Sat 10a-10p, Sun 11a-7p.

Alias Books: With two locations for eastside and west-side Angelenos, Alias Books is a small used bookstore that provides ample opportunity to find a rare art book or obscure title, and learn a thing or two from their staff. Likely on the shelf: Vintage edition of Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski. West: Open Mon-Sat 10a-11p, Sun 11a-11p; East: Open daily 10a-10p.

Read Books: Founded by schoolteachers, this Eagle Rock bookstore claims to stock only quality books without “filler.” They feature a weekly story-telling program for kids, signed books, and first editions. Likely on the shelf: 1st edition of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Open Mon-Thurs 11a-6p, Fri-Sat 11a-7p, Sun 11a-5p.

Small World Books: Their motto? “The book you want is the book you should have.” Located on the Venice Boardwalk, Small World Books has a lovely, uniquely curated selection and a cafe. Stop in during Venice’s Art Crawl and score a seed-bomb from their revamped gumball machine. Likely on the shelf: Stoner by John Williams. Open daily 10a-8p.

Eso Won Books: President Obama, Spike Lee, and Bill Clinton have read at Leimert Park’s iconic African-American bookstore. Boasts bestsellers, local authors, and a great selection of political titles. Likely on the shelf: Bathwater Wine by Wanda Coleman. Open Mon-Sat 10a-7p, Sun 12p-5p.

Counterpoint: This indie-core shop is stacked with dog-eared paperbacks and vintage records. Channel the early-90s vibe and comb the stellar fiction section. Likely on the shelf: Our Ecstatic Days by Steve Erickson. Open Mon 11a-9p, Tues-Sun 11a-11p.

The Bodhi Tree: The metaphysical bookstore of LA. The shop’s cozy book-filled chambers feature East and West religions, spirituality and new age titles. Grab a strand of mala beads and a free cup of tea. Likely on the shelf: Be Here Now, Be Now Here by Ram Dass. Open daily 10a-11p.

Metropolis Books: Downtown bookstore Metropolis exudes LA noir. Browse local classics and bestsellers in the heart of the old bank district. Likely on the Shelf: Ask the Dust by John Fante. Open Mon-Sat 11a-6p, Sun 10a-4p.

Believe it or not, this list is hardly complete. While it might be breaking news to some, many locals know that indie bookshops are essential to LA’s unique neighborhoods. Would Los Feliz be complete without Skylight, The Sunset Strip without Book Soup, Boyle Heights without Libros Schmibros? So get out and explore LA’s literary hotspots and support our local bookstores in fostering the less publicized, but more compelling culture thrumming at Los Angeles' core.

Shop local! Have a favorite LA bookstore? Tell us about it below.