Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Love, Los Angeles: Skylight Books

I visited Skylight Books on N. Vermont Ave on a warm, breezy Tuesday evening after I had just finished reading Simon Van Booy's short story collection Love Begins in Winter. I didn't know how much I needed to read work like his--stories that shatter your heart and then very calmly and tenderly, piece it back together again. I don't want to call these fairy tales, but they have that frail spirit of bringing into fruition what you didn't think was ever possible. His stories are emotionally honest--lines press at the deepest part of your psyche and you think how true they are, how they pinpoint the most fleeting moments of recognition.

Once I finished reading, I wanted more stories. I wanted more secret entryways into the lives of people I didn't know--strangers flitting past me on downtown streets into the muddle of their own tragedies. I wanted to reach out and brush my fingertips against theirs, maybe sit on a park bench and hold their hand for awhile. Short stories make this possible. And now that I had finished a collection that had been a companion to me for weeks, I needed something to replace the void.

I looked up independent bookstores in LA and Skylight Books came up over and over again--reviews said what I wanted to hear: the people at Skylight know their books. I wanted to walk in and ask someone to give me a book they were passionate about. In my mind, it played out like a scene from a movie: I walk in, brow knitted with sweat from the dizzying Los Angeles heat and the clerk at the front desk offers me a deep, knowing nod. Soon, we're mired in passionate conversation about words and stories and the power of forging onward and upward and then there it is: their eyes light up like signal fires, fingertips brush against my elbow, they lean in close--and urgently press a book into my hands.

It didn't happen quite like this, but my experience at Skylight Books was more than fulfilling. Located on a quiet street lined with dimly lit restaurants bursting with flushed diners who spill happily onto patios late into the evening, the store has a communal vibe. Open late (everyday 10am to 10pm), it really does feel like the "neighborhood bookstore" where you stop off to pick up a book as if you were picking up a jug of milk from the dusty convenience store on the corner.  Their calendar boasts readings, signings, and discussions almost every night and I felt a little forlorn that I didn't live in LA so I could be a member of their "friends with benefits" club that offers discounts and access to special events. 

One of the gentlemen at Skylight spotted me staring blankly at shelves of books and when he asked if he could help, I pounced. I'd been waiting for just the thing. When I told him I wanted to discover a new short story collection, he spent the next ten minutes combing through the store putting together a reading buffet for me. He piled the books on the table  and went through them explaining his choices and giving me mini histories on each author. He shared collections he was currently reading, gave me a sense of writing styles, and shared authors he hadn't read, but heard great things about. He offered collections from the canon, newly launched books, as well as local Los Angeles writers. And to think that when I'd walked in, the first thing I'd looked for was a computer terminal so I could conduct my own antisocial search. Such a hermit.

From the buffet, I purchased Aimee Bender's Willful Creatures and Haruki Murakami's Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.  Bender's stories have so far succeeded in creeping me out and making me cry (in that disconcerting, oh my goodness the ants are eating my skin from the inside kind of way)--and I suppose this is both a good and bad thing. I have to give it a fair chance before I wilt away completely. I'm looking forward to Murakami's work and am grateful for Skylight's helpful and diverse suggestions.

Read on, minions. Read on.

Mythical Skylight Cat


I must say that the best thing about this bookstore is that it has its own cat. She preens and stalks about like she owns the place. I think she probably does own the place. Isn't every bookstore owned by a cat?


  1. Oh man, I envy your bookstore experience!

    When I was little, I used to dream of someone giving me a library, like Belle in Beauty and the Beast. Or a bookstore of my very own...ahhhh...

    Is Bender's book horror? Can I borrow Love Begins in Winter?

    1. I wouldn't say horror exactly. It's magic realism and experimental. One of the stories features a tiny man in a cage. It horrifies in a way that blood and guts can't conquer. Really disconcerting. But that's powerful, too. I just don't know how I feel about it, yet.

      And, of course you can. I have two of Van Booy's collections and am thinking of getting his novel. I love his narrative voice.