When a friend tells you about a bookstore she wants to go to that includes such features as a tunnel of books, you drop everything and free up a few hours on your calendar as soon as possible. Such was the case when a couple friends from my book group mentioned that they wanted to go to the Last Bookstore in Downtown Los Angeles. None of us had been there before, so the three of us made plans to meet up there last weekend.
As you will see, this post is going to be more about the pictures than the words because the Last Bookstore is a visual feast for readers. Those of us who love reading often find ourselves staring down at the pages in front of us, but this is the kind of place that begs you to tear your eyes away from the book in your hands and look at the way books can be art. One of my friends even commented that it was hard to browse for books because she was so distracted by all the things to look at throughout the store.
Much of the inventory is made up of used books and records. Even though there are clear sections by genre in the downstairs area, I think it would be a challenge to show up at the Last Bookstore with a specific book in mind. It’s the kind of place where a book finds you rather than being the kind of store where you go to find a book on your list. This is precisely what makes this place feel magical.
I must admit that I sometimes see art made from books and feel a bit of sadness that those books can’t be read like a book normally would be. Those books had to be taken apart to make that art, but there is also a certain kind of beauty in books being repurposed into art. Being at the Last Bookstore and discussing this topic with one of my friends helped me see that. It’s as though the art becomes a new way to read an old story.
The upstairs part of the store includes small shops for local artists and the Labyrinth of Books. Although the lack of organization in the Labyrinth may drive some crazy, I quite enjoyed the varied selection from shelf to shelf. Some shelves are organized by color, and some are just a random assortment of books. Did I mention there is a section in the Labyrinth where books are $1 each?
Walking around upstairs made me forget the rush of people walking around the Downtown LA streets on a Saturday afternoon. This bookstore looked like a place out of a book. Here dusty books and squishy, old chairs were right at home and welcome. The shelves were filled with books that felt like the kinds of places Jasper Fforde‘s Thursday Next could go–places one could walk into and get wonderfully lost for days. I’m pretty sure that if a hopeful reader were to walk through the tunnel of books in the right state of mind, perhaps she could find herself transported to any fictional world she wanted to visit.
I managed to leave the store with a few books that caught my attention, including an interesting find called The Serial that was on a shelf in the $1 room. You can see the cover below. The story and illustrations inside are every bit as awesome as you think they would be. This book needs to be judged by its cover. If you are curious about the book, it has its own Wikipedia entry. I’m looking forward to flipping through its pages with a glass of cheap wine on a rainy night in the near future.
The Last Bookstore first opened in 2005. It is a new store in a time when news of bookstore closures is far more common than news of openings. Perhaps its success lies in the way it creates an experience of browsing without a real clear idea of what the browsing reader wants to find. With more and more bookstores closing, it seems we are losing the old experience of happening upon an interesting book in the course of perusing a store’s shelves. Online browsing just isn’t the same as scanning shelves and grabbing a book that catches your eye.
If you live in the LA area or are planning a visit, make sure to schedule some time for a stop at the Last Bookstore. Allow a few hours because this is not the kind of place you should rush through.