Discover a new favorite book, join a book club, and maybe even do some karaoke at Los Angeles’ new wave of bookstores.
A few years ago, the legendary Powell’s Books in Portland released a perfume designed to evoke the smell of the bookstore. The fragrance has notes of wood, violets and the lovely and unusually precise word biblichor, the special aroma of old books. The reality of the fragrance is what it is – mostly sweet and floral – but more important is the image it conjures up. The best bookstores are cozy and mysterious, familiar and surprising, with endless potential for discovery.
Los Angeles has plenty of independent booksellers, including favorites like The Last Bookstore, The Iliad, and Chevalier’s. But in recent years, a new wave of bookstores has been growing, stores that eschew the traditional “one of everything” mindset and focus on specificity, curation, and point of view. There are themed bookstores, bookstores that double as event spaces, bookstores that reflect their neighborhood, bookstores that draw inspiration from a specific person—whether that’s a store owner, a historical figure, or both—and more.
Like the niche-ification of the internet and culture at large, these new and emerging bookstores provide a space to discover books, ideas, and expert-led perspectives, things you might never have found on your own. . They can also be a safe haven for pure geekery, a place to dive deep into your favorite category or cause. To help you on your way, we’ve compiled a list of some of LA’s best new bookstores, focusing on curated shops with their own distinct perspectives.
Pasadena is famously a book-friendly city, with royal bookstores in the form of the legendary Vroman and its own literary association. Now it also has one of the most exciting new bookstores. Octavia’s Bookshelf is owner Nikki High’s homage to sci-fi master Octavia E. Butler, herself a Pasadena native. The shop’s name hints at High’s inspiration, the titles she imagines Butler would have on her shelves, with a focus on BIPOC authors. The storefront is small, but the collection is impeccably curated and the space is cozy and welcoming for readers of all backgrounds.
Vertical integration can be a beautiful thing, especially when it gives independent creators more control over their products. North Figueroa’s new bookstore is a great example of the concept, a storefront built in collaboration between two publishers, Rare Bird and Unnamed Press. North Fig features titles from those print editions, of course, including a lot of compelling literary fiction and memoir, but it also features a collection of other books. They emphasized serving the needs of the local Highland Park, Glassell Park, Cypress Park, and Eagle Rock communities—there’s plenty of fiction from other independent publishers, other general interest titles with a focus on California history and literature, and plenty of Spanish-language books.
Speaking of vertical integration, there’s another new combined publisher and bookstore on the other side of town. Zibby’s Bookshop is the brainchild of Zibby Owens, Sherri Puzey and Diane Tramontano, and is the physical home of Zibby Books, a literary press that publishes one featured book a month. That system is designed so that each book receives the full attention and resources of the press. Owens is an author, podcaster and book influencer, and has become a global mogul with a magazine, podcast network, events and educational platform. The store has a unique sorting system, built around the feel of each book – many shelves in the store are labeled by interest or personality type, such as “For Foodies” or “For Pop Culture Lovers.” On their webshop, you can browse books that make you cry, run away, laugh, lust, or tremble. There are recommendations from Owens and staff, sections for local authors, family dramas and books that have just been selected. If all of this seems a little overwhelming, you should probably avoid the section dedicated to books that upset you.
Inglewood native Asha Grant opened The Salt Eaters Bookshop in 2021 with a mission in mind—to center stories with protagonists who are Black girls, women, women, and/or gender nonconforming people. Over the past year and a half since it opened, it has also become a community hub, a place for Inglewood locals and people from all over the city to stop by, to see what’s new and discover incredible works in the black feminist tradition. They also host regular events such as readings, discussions and parties.
Luckily, legendary downtown bookstore The Last Bookstore is hyperbole, and owners Josh and Jenna Spencer have even gone so far as to open a second store, Lost Books in Montrose. Instead of the technological whimsy of the book tunnel at The Last Bookstore, Lost Books has a tunnel of plants that welcomes you into the store, which opens in summer 2021. They sell those plants in addition to books, and coffee and vinyl, making Lost Books a lovely destination and a fun little place a surprise in the strange foothills of the city not far from highway 2.
Ok, this one messed up the criteria a bit – Stories have been open for almost 15 years. But over the years, the store has become a pillar of Echo Park community life, hosting readings, discussions and events, their coffee tables functioning as a de facto office for about half the neighborhood every afternoon. After the tragic recent death of co-owner and Echo Park fixture Alex Maslanski, it seemed like the store’s future was in doubt, but thankfully, after a brief hiatus, co-owner and co-founder Claudia Colodro and staff were able to pull together to reopen and maintain the beloved cafe and bookstore strong.
The name itself makes it clear what you’re aiming for at Page Against the Machine – groundbreaking progressive books, with a collection centered around activist literature, socially conscious writing, and a lot of political history. The plot itself is small, but the ideas are big, with fiction from writers like Richard Wright, Colson Whitehead and Albert Camus alongside zines about gentrification and compendiums of different kinds of mushrooms. They also hold regular readings and discussions.
Boyle Heights has its own small but mighty combination bookstore, art gallery, gathering space and small press at Viva Padilla’s Re/Arte. Padilla is a poet, translator, editor, and curator, and as a native of South Central LA and the child of Mexican immigrants, she has focused on Chicanx and Latinx art, literature, and social criticism. Re/Arte’s collection has a wide range of books, from classic Latin American literature to modern essays and everything in between. Re/Arte is now also the headquarters for incessantly, a literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, and essays by black and brown writers. Community-focused events are always happening, too, from regular open mics and zine workshops to film screenings and more.
Most bookstores host events, but a few hold events as regularly as The Book Jewel, a two-year-old independent bookstore in Westchester. Their calendar is so full of readings, several different book clubs, signings and meet and greets that sometimes there are multiple events on the same day. The store also hosts a bunch of family-focused readings, with regular Sunday morning stories often followed by an author talk. It fits in nicely with the relatively unassuming (but not exactly quiet) suburban neighborhood, and it’s no coincidence that the story time coincides with the Westchester Farmers Market, which takes place right outside.
Most bookstores lean toward coziness, aiming to be a retreat for some quiet reflection or perhaps a quick sotto voce chat—not so at Reparations Club, a lavish and modern concept bookstore and art space on Jefferson. Owner and founder Jazzi McGilbert and her staff have built a beautiful and vibrant shop full of art by black artists, including books, but also records, candles, incense, clothing and all kinds of fun things to discover. There’s a perfect space to sit and hang out for a while, and they host a variety of wild and fun events from readings to happy hours, panel discussions to karaoke nights and more.
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