The Spell of Books in The Last Bookstore, L. A.

The sign in front of the building in downtown Los Angeles was intriguing. On the glass window was written: “We buy and sell books and records”. Peeping through the window, we could see an array of books in shelves in a big hall. Naturally, we had to enter.

The first thing that strikes you when you enter The Last Bookstore is the size of this place-22,000 sq ft spread over two floors. Located in a heritage building—in what once housed the Citizens National Bank and is now known as the Spring Arts Tower—we are in a place where books are a passion.

The white columns inside rise 25ft to the vaulted ceilings. Original marble tile floors feature the sort of uneven wear that makes the place more charming. The cashier’s desk catches our eye. The base is supported by books.

This is the third avatar of The Last Bookstore, which was started in 2005 by Josh Spencer, who used to sell books, CDs and other stuff on eBay from a building in the Old Bank District When he moved the store to its current location, two bookshops in Los Angeles had announced closures that same month, and down-town’s Metropolis Books went up for sale.

Spencer didn’t go into this business with any strategy and he’s aware of the risks. “People look at all this,” he told Los Angeles Downtown News, “and think we’re rolling in the dough. They don’t realise I’ve used all the debt I can, from everywhere, to open this. We’re doing okay, but not great”.

He added: “Whether we last will depend on if the community supports us. Right now, they’re supporting us.”

We walk into the Arts & Rare Books Annex, anew addition. Specially created for books on arts, architecture, photography, design or about anything related to arts, there is a gold mine waiting for you here. The coffee table books on arts are sold at throwaway prices. Thrillingly, we see a first edition of Lolita and one of The Jungle Book! Collectors’ items such as these come with a hefty price tag.

One of the great things about the place is the way the books are arranged. It is beautifully done, like any good library in America, and finding a title is not difficult. At many places we see the sign: “If you could not find it, ask us for it”. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable.

We come to the central hall. Stray beams of light come streaming through the tall glass windows. Chairs and couches are placed in the centre of the store, though a sign warns: ” Please note: we are not a library. I hour time limit for chairs & couches. No sleeping. You damage the books, you buy them.”

This message, however, doesn’t detract from the store’s warmth and larger message: that all are welcome.

We continue our browsing. We pick up the 1935 edition of the classic The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections by A. Edward Newton for $3! (It sells at $33 on Amazon.) We had to resist the temptation to buy more than once as we were mindful of the flight back to Bengaluru after two days.

Walking and browsing inside the store is a treat We look up to see an astonishing installation, ‘A Wave’, made of books. Hung from the ceiling, it is fabulous.

We take the stairs to the first floor which has books on history, politics, sports and other subjects. Even as we climb up, we notice another fascinating installation: a printed paper roll hung from the ceiling in an uneven pattern.

But the best is yet to come. As we enter the floor, we see a hole with books neatly arranged around it — here’s your photo opportunity! There is a book kept for you to read when your picture can be clicked from the other side of the hole. Then we pass through a ‘Tunnel of Books’. Yes, it is indeed a tunnel created by books arranged overhead!

We walk down and head straight to the records section. Stacks of vintage LPs of all the famous musicians you can name! We hearken to the sight of the beautiful Self Portrait by Bob Dylan. We also notice old LPs of a few Bollywood movies.

As the name suggests, The Last Bookstore maybe one of the last of its kind. With books being sold online, many bookshops have closed their shutters. As Spencer says, it is the love of the people which is sustaining his passion. A passion for books. By a book lover for other book lovers of the world.