Our latest ‘My Favourite Indie’ comes from Sara Gran, author of six critically acclaimed novels, including City of the Dead and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway. The third novel in the Claire DeWitt series, The Infinite Blacktop, is set between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and it’s to the City of Angels here, to her neighbourhood bookshop – Iliad Books.
Los Angeles is a labyrinth of a city; the streets aren’t straight and dead ends proliferate. The doubled and tripled street names will make a fool of you if you let them. You ought to have your clews in order if you want to get around. So it’s fitting that the best bookstore in the city isn’t nearly its best known. Even I – obsessive book collector, writer, former bookseller and aspiring publisher – likely wouldn’t have visited Iliad Books if I hadn’t lived near it for five years. Those five years were the worst of my life. Thank God the best bookstore in Los Angeles was half a mile away. And it was a walkable half-mile, rare in Los Angeles: there was even a neat little path, a paved-over trolley rail, to take me there. Who needs public transportation, or a good life, when you have books?
Here is what going to Iliad is like: it’s on a corner in an odd, unattractive building in a shabby, semi-industrial neighbourhood. The most beautiful thing around is an auto parts store about a quarter- mile down Cahuenga that arranges and displays car components in an unusually orderly way. Observe it. Appreciate it. Move on.
You get to Iliad. There is a strange mural outside. Admire it or ignore it, as you please. Outside the store are boxes of free books. Not joking. There’s always at least one free book worth taking, usually a few.
Now go inside. Check out the strangely excellent selection of fliers on the shelf by the door. You’ll likely find at least one event, maybe a book sale, you actually want to attend. On a banner day, you might find a copy of the Turner Classic Movie magazine. You don’t want to miss a viewing of 42nd Street, even if you own three copies of it on various formats. Not the same.
Enter the store. A sign reminds you to watch out for the cats, Zeus and Apollo. They’re good cats; smart, friendly, unobtrusive. The staff will offer help, but will not try to converse with you. No awkward conversations unless you’re into that kind of thing (I am) (sorry).
There are multiple new arrivals sections: check them all. I used to work at the legendarily huge Strand, in New York, where I sorted through thousands of books a day: believe me when I say Iliad has a vast selection of unusual and interesting books. Nearly my entire lock-picking library comes from Iliad, much of my psychoanalysis shelf, and at least two shelves of my detective fiction.
There is a drug section, a sex section, an oddities section, a generous art category, an aisle of cookbooks, and extensive shelves on magic and witchcraft: these people get what’s important in life. I’ve bought well over a hundred books from here.
Now that the worst five years of my life are over and I’ve moved to the beach and have a couple of weeks until my next book comes out, maybe I’ll even have time to read a few. Visit soon, and let me know how you like it.
The Infinite Blacktop by Sara Gran is available here.