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An Arts District Without a Bookstore

The L.A. Times Festival of Books attracted thousands of readers, but where is the literary community in North Hollywood?

After almost an hourlong Metro ride from North Hollywood to downtown, waiting 20 minutes for a bus to take me from Union Station to USC, and navigating a foreign campus for the second day in a row, I ran up the stairs to the Bing Theatre minutes before my first panel started. I took a seat near the back, so I could slip away a half an hour later to make it to another panel I bought a ticket for. The room was surprisingly empty, but it was early for a Sunday (10:30 a.m.) and I heard there was a line to get off the freeway to park on campus for the free event. A middle-aged man in front of me turned around when he saw me pull out a notebook and pen from my bag.

“Are you taking notes?” he said.

“Yes,” I answered, hesitantly.

I was unaware that note-taking during a discussion was strange. I was on a college campus, an institution that programs students to copy down everything twice. 

He asked me if I attend the L.A. Times Festival of Books every year, and I told him that I did. He looked down at my lap and noted that I was reading the New Yorker. He was flabbergasted that a 20-something would be interested in reading. And attending a panel discussion. While taking notes. When I told him I was in a couple of book clubs, his eyebrows nearly flew off his face.

I was paging through my magazine, killing time before the panel started, when he turned around again. 

“And you still tweet and text?” he said. 

I told him I did and he searched his brain for other abnormalities. He asked if I was happy, and then if my parents were in good health. He was looking for something that would voluntarily propel me into a life of literature and panel discussions on a weekend. When he couldn’t find anything wrong with me, he turned around, unsatisfied.

At an event with thousands of people in attendance, it didn’t strike me as odd that I was there until I looked around the theatre. Elderly couples, men in Hawaiian shirts, groups of mothers. He had a point. And I was at one of the more decidedly “hip” panels. 

The Festival of Books gives off the deceptive appearance that print is thriving in Los Angeles. In reality, there are few bookstores, and small literary communities that are not linked to the film industry. If the mass closing of Borders bookstores from Sherman Oaks to Hollywood to Culver City doesn’t paint the desolate picture well enough, count all the independent bookstores in the city that sell new books. It’s hard to get past two hands. 

I can name five that have a wide-ranging selection of new releases: Vroman’s in Pasadena, Book Soup in West Hollywood, Skylight in Los Feliz, Small World Books in Venice, and our own Portrait of a Bookstore in Studio City. The first three have a calendar full of author readings and events. In fact, it’s almost a sign of success if an author reads from their new work at one of these three independent sellers when on tour. But where does that leave the rest of the city, namely, the Valley?

North Hollywood’s , which is stocked well and has everything from Shakespeare to Frank Gehry to Ron L. Hubbard. It’s conveniently located across the Chandler bike lanes on a stretch of Cahuenga Boulevard that has, well, not much else. A couple of miles away in the NoHo Arts District, JH Snyder is planning to open a by the end of the year next to Phil’s Diner and a chain gym will soon take over the vacant spot in the NoHo Commons where a market once stood. There are no current plans, however, to erect a bookstore in NoHo or Toluca Lake. 

It is easy to dismiss the publishing industry in favor of e-readers and tablets. Why fill your house or apartment with stacks of bound books when you can download thousands on a silm device that doubles as a social media station? In a bookstore, there are conversations. Customers ask clerks for advice, readers ask each other what to buy, and strangers talk to each other about books they hated or loved. It’s a communal atmosphere that can’t be replicated online. But maybe it’s this kind of purist thinking that made me stand out as an odd character to the stranger on Sunday morning. On Sunday night, one of my roommates gifted our living room with a flat-screen TV donated to her by a family member. The next morning, my other roommate bought a Blu-ray player with a Netflix hookup. After having a 19-inch monitor with no cable in our living room the past two years, I’m curiously intrigued by this new technology. If only he could see me now. 

LABornAndRaised May 03, 2011 at 07:55 AM
I too would love to see a bookstore here, but alas that would be hypocritical of me since I'm reading this article from my phone.
Ray Newton May 03, 2011 at 01:24 PM
They should have made the now closed Howes Market into a Borders or something like that instead of a 24 Hour Fitness....we have gyms and dance studios all over the place....
Chris May 03, 2011 at 02:06 PM
A bookstore is desperately needed in the area and it would fit in nicely in the NoHo community. Any possibilities of one opening in the near future?
zapple May 03, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Great article Tiffany... so glad you got assigned to our Toluca Lake area instead of the previous person... You are so much more positive! Too bad Illiad doesn't come back to the mainstream of NOHO instead of being relegated to the bowels of North Hollywoods lesser traveled and less desirable area. We had Portrait of a Bookstore in Toluca Lake, but evidently the rent was too high..Tujunga Village has been really smart with their property owners being reasonable to the boutiques...
Ashley V May 03, 2011 at 05:07 PM
Great article, Tiffany! Too bad Zapple always has to put down people with her comments. She just can't say a "positive" thing without including a MEAN-SPIRITED put-down toward another human being. There's a woman with some emotional and inferiority issues. Too bad people with her meanness sully a place like North Hollywood.
Proud No Hoan May 03, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Ashley! You're so right! I really cringe when I read Zapple's self-serving comments! Funny how she thinks she's being complimentary. Then she adds these other topics with a personal agenda. Such a strange bird.
maria muse May 03, 2011 at 06:37 PM
I was so upset when I saw they were putting in a 24 Hour Fitness in place of the How's. A Fresh and Easy market would have been perfect! Its true we have dance studios! Gyms, pizza and hot dog places everywhere! I want to see Lankershim turn into something that resembles Vermont ave in Los Feliz, or even Main St in Ventura! We need a market, a movie theatre and, yes, a book store/ record store! I know this sounds arrogant, but I wish I could pick and plan out the shops. I mean, those apartments already have a gym, now they don't have a market. Not cool! Come on NoHo, where is the bloody art, anyway?!
Jonah Fitzsimmons May 03, 2011 at 08:03 PM
@Zapple, I invite you to actually drive off of Cahuenga Blvd., away from your lofty perch in Toluca Lake and really make some kind of concerted effort to investigate the area surrounding the Iliad Bookstore. Do this before you merely glance at some run-down stretches of Cahuenga Blvd and describe it as "bowel-ish". While the houses are not encrusted with gold and jewels, this area is certainly no lesser traveled, and many residents actually enjoy living in this central, and fantastically more affordable location that is definitely within the confines of "mainstream NoHo".
Laura May 03, 2011 at 09:01 PM
As someone who just moved to the bowels of North Hollywood's less desirable area, I am thrilled to be a block away from the Iliad bookstore (and Hallenbeck's General Store up the street). We'll keep Iliad, thank you. Lets have more good stuff open on Cahuenga!
kelly May 03, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Iliad is the best! We live in West Hollywood and trek there at least once a week!
Jean Jeunet May 03, 2011 at 10:58 PM
I like your user name.
Jean Jeunet May 03, 2011 at 11:00 PM
LOL. Touche! Though we all have to admit that zapple created a very lively discussion.
Kimberly King-Burns May 04, 2011 at 04:14 PM
adore illiad, and encourage y'all to wander a few blocks east on magnolia (between cahuenga and hollywood way) where a few secondhand bookstores still prosper. and tipples apparently needs another cocktail: the illiad is hardly in the bowery ... drive or bike around much? i love that our local community supports the mom-and-pop stores!
Laura May 04, 2011 at 06:45 PM
Thanks, Kimberly! Good to know.
zapple May 05, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Thank you Ashley.. that was a good wake up call for me. I don't think I put down any other human being. I happen to be a fan of the Illiad, and the General Store and I do know that stretch of Cahuenga very well... I was happy to see the Illiad get a nice new home, and the put down was intended for the land barons who evidently raised the rent on the Illiad at their previous home. Everyone knew where to find them on Lankershim for all those years, and it was a shame that they had to move. The have established a nice and much needed bookstore . My bad choice of words when I called the area the bowels of North Hollywood... I have lived in the bowels of North Hollywood most of my life, so I know this area well... and had no idea it would be misunderstood that way. Thank you for your psychological evaluation of my emotional and inferiority issues.
David Rivers May 06, 2011 at 07:14 AM
The ironic part about all this is that houses near Cahuenga are quite expensive. As soon as you go east of cahuenga, the prices head towards a million and higher. Not exactly a bowel of any kind.
Miguel Figueroa May 06, 2011 at 12:57 PM
Great article;their is the North Hollywood library which is where I did my reading growing up; also surrounded by a massive park. I've been to the used book store on Cahuenga and Chandler, I agree we could have used a bookstore instead of a gym.I have to say Lakershim has improved compare to a decade ago;but as far as the NoHo District concept goes,it is milking the hell out of those that can afford it.I have found my little piece of heaven all the way deep in the bowels of North Hollywood and it's really affordable.
Jeff Heise August 26, 2011 at 06:26 PM
Maybe Goodwill can open one of their experimental bookstores in NoHo-they have one in Culver City-why not in the valley.

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