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LAist Interview: Robyn Kamimura

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Book people are the luckiest people in the world because they get to read what they love while on the job. So we envy Robyn Kamimura, the assistant Promotional Director at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena. She organizes book signings for authors and gets to meet and greet the celebrated and the strange everyday. Robyn contributes to the books column in the Arroyo Monthly magazine. She also writes a kick-ass email newsletter for the store. You can sign up for her weekly dispatches here

While you are at it, check out Vroman's Blog.

Age and Occupation:
24. Assistant Promotional Director @ Vroman's Bookstore

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How long have you lived in Los Angeles, and which neighborhood do you live in?
I've lived here all my life, except for my years at U.C.S.D. I currently live in Pasadena.

Why do you live in Los Angeles?
This is where I grew up, so no matter where in the world I move to now, I'll always consider Los Angeles my real home. Of course, like any L.A. native, I've got a love-hate relationship with the city, but I've gotten used to all the chaos. And, really, when you live in the suburbs (or my Pasadena neighborhood; it's pretty calm around here), there's nothing that bad. What we call "news" these days only shows the negative side to situations. Just stay out of Hollywood & West Hollywood on weekends, at least late at night if you scare easily; lots of people and lots of traffic.

What are your favorite books this month?
It’s always so hard to pinpoint my “favorite” books, but I can tell you what I’m currently reading. I always read multiple titles at the same time, so what I’ve got on my nightstand (and also scattered on the couch & in the car) are Casanova’s Women: The Great Seducer and the Women He Loved (set to come out in October), Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die, The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific, and a graphic novel called The Left Bank Gang.

I also finished a book recently that really surprised me. It’s called World War Z by Max Brooks (Mel Brooks’ son), and it’s a story about zombies infiltrating the planet, so it wasn’t really something that appealed to me at first. Books like that usually aren’t my cup of tea, but upon the recommendation of our Merchandising Manager, Anne (who’d heard it was pretty good from a friend of hers, and I always trust her judgment), I picked it up and started reading it. I only finished about 45-50 pages that first night, but let me tell you, that was the first book in years that has actually given me nightmares…and I absolutely loved it! It’s surprisingly well-written, extremely intelligent, and it’s definitely not at all cheesy. Brooks addresses issues in such a well-informed way (everything from military procedure to psychological breakdowns of human behavior to actual environmental consequences of a mass world war) that you find yourself completely enthralled with the story from first page to last. He really knows how to pull you into the situation and make you feel like you’re experiencing it all firsthand. His descriptions of zombie encounters are absolutely eerie and bone-chilling…I’d definitely recommend this to horror lovers (although it's not your typical horror book), sci-fi/fantasy-esque fans, and general fiction readers. Basically, it's a great, well-written book.

What's your favorite part of your job at Vroman's?
Being around all the books. Vroman's is my childhood bookstore, so that's where my mom used to take me for, literally, entire days. We'd end up staying there for hours, because I just wouldn't put books down. I remember starting & finishing stories while still at the store, then proceeding to spend as much - or all - of my money on as many books as my allowance could afford. Then I'd go home and read until bedtime, and like any avid childhood reader, I'd read some more, only under the covers with a flashlight. I think I must've burned out hundreds of batteries, because I'd fall asleep and wake up the next morning with a book lying next to me and the flashlight still on or flickering.

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What book signing event sticks out in your mind and why?
Something that really sticks out in my mind is the signing we had with David Sedaris last June (2005). He's got an enormous following, and he sells out UCLA's Royce Hall every year, so we knew it was going to be huge. Months and months of planning & preparation went into it, and as expected, hundreds of people turned out on the night of. He kicked off the event by chatting with the crowd for a bit, then he held up a basket and explained he was touring in the country with no credit cards or cash, and that he was taking tips. I thought he might've been joking, but sure enough, he placed the basket on the table people actually dropped cash in as they got books signed. At one point, a girl walked up and, speaking in a rather soft voice, described a fundraiser she was doing for her school (I think she might've worked there, but I'm not positive), and to my amazement, David got out his checkbook and cut her a check for $500 on the spot. It was great! I was really impressed by his random generosity, and she looked absolutely thrilled. He wouldn't even let her drop money in the basket. Talk about magnanimity!

What makes a good book signing event?
Happy authors and happy customers.

What's the craziest thing you've seen someone do in a bookstore?
Well, I've seen a lot of crazy people, but I can't really think of any crazy stunts anyone has pulled. People have pretty much "behaved" at signings (luckily). There are always going to be a few "interesting" people at bookstore events everywhere.

Are you a writer? Where will bookstore clerks shelve your work?
I write, but I haven't had anything published (book-wise). I'd love to be able to say I'm an author one of these days, though. Maybe I'll even have a signing at Vroman's. It'd probably end up a non-fiction title, although I'm not against writing fiction. I used to write short stories & poetry a lot more when I was younger, but lately, my focus has been on politics, spirituality, pop culture, and current affairs.

What's your favorite movie(s) or TV show(s) that are based in LA?
Well, I know that Memento was filmed in and around Southern California (although I'm not sure if it was filled directly in L.A.), and I looooove that movie, but I can't think of anything else I really like that's filmed here in the city. My boyfriend loves L.A. Confidential & Chinatown, but honestly, I haven't even really seen those all the way through. Every time he put them on, I'd get distracted by a book, or a writing idea, or I'd fall asleep. I still want to see them, though.

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If you could live in LA during any era, when would it be?
Definitely the 1960s - 1970s. The Age of Aquarius had just begun...there was extreme political turmoil, civil unrest, literary geniuses on the rise, and all types of amazing music floating around.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
My home. If I need to get away from anything (anything at all), I'll go home.

If you could live in any neighborhood or specific house in LA, where/which would you choose?

Hands down, the Venice canals. The houses there are way out of my budget (and probably will be for the rest of my life), but they're gorgeous, spacious, and very peaceful. Plus, I've always wanted to live near the beach. I adore the beach, the water, and especially the wind. They're close enough to the beach to walk to, but far enough away from the weekend crowds on the Venice boardwalk.

People stereotype Los Angeles as a hard place to find personal connections and make friends. Do you agree with that assessment? Do you find it challenging to make new friends here?
Depends on where I am and whom I'm with. There are just some people you really come alive around; they just seem to have this energy for both of you to bounce off of, and then there are just those people you don't really feel as energetic around. I'm a talker all the way around, so I try to stay as friendly as possible with everyone I meet, but yeah, in a city like L.A., I can see how it might be hard.

What is the city's greatest secret?
Paru's Restaurant in Hollywood (it's on Sunset near Normandie). It's this great little Indian restaurant (completely vegetarian) with amazing dishes and a really friendly host. The interior is incredibly ornate, totally done up in traditional Indian decorations. It's beautiful! I'd recommend ordering the Punjab glory and tanjore'll walk away stuffed and happy.

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What do you have to say to East Coast supremacists?
Get over it.

Do you find the threat of earthquakes preferable to the threat of hurricanes and long winters?
It's only because I grew up here that I prefer earthquakes over hurricanes, tsunamis, and especially tornadoes. I'm spoiled by the weather here, so I'd probably be miserable if I had to endure a really hard winter, but I do occasionally wish I could see the four seasons here, especially autumn. The changing leaves are so beautiful; I'd love to go to New England one of these days during the fall season.

Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
I don't even want to think about it, but I guess if I had to choose somewhere, it'd be nice to be surrounded by my animals & loved ones. But I'm really hoping that that day never comes. Crossing my fingers...