Ten Ethnic Book Stores You Can Visit in Los Angeles
The shuttering of at least 200 Borders stores in the coming weeks, with 21 closing in Southern California, might leave bibliophiles across the country with fewer chain options, but it opens up opportunity for independent book sellers to revitalize their businesses after book giants like Borders once contributed to their demise.
In a city like Los Angeles, which boasts districts like Little Tokyo and "Tehrangeles," ethnic bookstores serve as richly curated cultural portals into literature, history and art that often go unnoticed outside of the cultural communities they serve. Here's a lineup of ethnic bookstores in all corners of the city that could benefit from some civil support and will add flavor to your reading list.
Chock full of Japanese stationary and an incredibly extensive manga collection that boasts hard-to-find copies of stories in their original form, Kinokuyina's 30-year run in L.A.'s Little Tokyo district has earned it a place in the heart of Japanese culture aficionados, with over 50% of their clientele being non-Japanese, according to owner Kyoichi Ishikawa. The chain bookstore, which also has locations in Costa Mesa and other U.S. cities, imports most of its stock from Japan. It has a modest Children's Book Corner, a variety fashion magazines like 25ans and titles from Japanese-Americans including Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology by Jeff Yang and Amy Chua's parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka #205 213-687-4480
2. Libreria Mexico de Echo Park
Libreria Mexico de Echo Park, a 40-year-old bookstore coyly wedged between supermarkets and pan dulces carries titles like Twilight, Harry Potter and Dan Brown's latest novels translated into Spanish, along with commendable sections on medicine, religion, sexuality and cooking. While interest in the store's music section has declined due to the internet, according to manager Eduardo Muñoz, two containers full of LPs featuring the likes of prominent Spanish pop singer Camilo Sestos add more than enough charm to the humble store.
In addition to carrying a section of out-of-print titles like Pride and Prejudice and Robin Hood imported from Mexico City's prominent publishing house Editorial Porrua, Libreria also has colorful yarn and embroidery thread for sale amongst the literature and posters of Mexican public figures like revolutionary general Vicente Guerro.
1632 West Sunset Blvd.
3. Siam Book Center
While it caters almost exclusively to a Thai-speaking customer base and, occasionally, travelers prepping to go overseas to Thailand, Siam Book Center (L.A.'s first Thai bookstore according to its website) is worth a visit, if only for how aesthetically pleasing shelves full of books in Thai script look. Sitting in a strip mall on Hollywood Boulevard, the store has an array of cookbooks, aisles of sing-along karaoke CDs and even a manga section, though not as extensive as Kinokuyina's, featuring series like Moon Phase. Siam also carries copies of The Guitar Express, a monthly guitar magazine with tabs and chords of popular Thai songs, as well as Bride International, Thailand's first bridal fashion magazine.
5178 Hollywood Boulevard 323-665-4236
4. Abril Bookstore
Originally located in Hollywood's Little Armenia district, Glendale's Abril Bookstore has been the cultural heart of L.A.'s Armenian community since 1977, where it evolved from a magazine to become a center for Armenian and English language books, holding in-store appearances from celebrated authors and running a monthly book club and a publishing service. With the recent passing of the store's founder Harout Yeretzian, his son Arno continues to run Abril, which features works from authors like Orhan Pamuk and Mark Arax, along with a sturdy selection of postcards of Armenian miniature art and music and films with Armenian subject matter like Sergei Parajanov's Color of Pomegranates. The bookstore recently hosted its first music event with Armenian-American DJ Bei Ru and is preparing for an appearance from Skylark Farm author Antonia Arslan.
415 E Broadway # 102 Glendale, 818-243-4112
5. Libros Revolucion
Run by an all-volunteer staff with shelves reused from the recent demise of a Borders, Libros Revolucion defines itself as a Revolutionary Communist Party bookstore, carrying the likes of The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther and Ngugi Wa Thiongo's Dreams in a Time of War, a memoir of experiences growing up in a British-occupied Kenya. Based on the philosophies of RCP's Chairman, Bob Avakian, Libros Revolucion ties together Chinese, Latino, African and other cultural literature with a political edge, focusing on ethnic and national oppression. Relying on donations to keep afloat, it also carries feminist prose and a used book section, with titles like Creek Mary's Blood, an out-of-print book detailing several generations of a Creek family. Eric Drooker, animator of the graphic novel HOWL, a poem by Allen Ginsberg is slated to appear in the bookstore on March 20.
5726 Hollywood Blvd.,
6. Kovcheg Russian Bookstore
A 30-year-old bookstore that has gone through various ownership until Victoria Urevich and her husband purchased it four years ago, Kovcheg caters not only to L.A.'s Russian speaking community, but to the film industry. Hollywood producers have been known to frequent the store, renting books and asking Urevich's help in finding authentic Russian settings for various scenes. With CDs and DVDs of nostalgic Russian theater and opera productions set amongst translations of L. Ron Hubbard's novels and the Diary of Anne Frank, Kovcheg also attracts passersby who come to browse titles and buy traditional Matryoshka dolls. If you're interested in acquiring some authentic Soviet Union World War II medals while you get your fix for Russian history and literature, Kovcheg has you covered.
7508 Sunset Blvd.
7. Ketab Bookstore
L.A.'s premiere bookstore for all things Iranian, Ketab's extensive collection of literature has earned it the title of the largest Persian bookstore outside of Iran. The shop also includes Persian-language films, a bustling music section and handcrafts. Its parent company publishes books and a free weekly newspaper that has kept customers coming back year after year to its store, located in the Iranian Diaspora populated neighborhood of Westwood. Founded by Bijan Khalili in 1981, Ketab's shelves are filled with titles like The Arts of Persia, The Last Shah of Iran and numerous books on Persian poet and mystic Rumi. Iranian films like The Stoning of Soraya M, which has garnered interest in wider circles, are also on display. With nostalgic symbols like glossy photos of the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and his family sprinkled throughout the store and iconic imagery from recent political demonstrations in the Islamic Republic adorning the windows, Ketab is a complete portal into Persian culture and history.
1419 Westwood Blvd. 310-477-7477
8. Solomon's Hebrew & English Bookstore
A one-stop-shop for all things Judaica located near the iconic Canter's Deli, Solomon's has a modest book collection that includes Kabbalah for the Lay Man, Jewish Holidays in Song and L.A. resident and lawyer Eli M. Kantor's Chosen for What?, which documents how his father survived the Holocaust. Open since 1948, Solomon's vast array of paintings, knick-knacks and collectible items will probably leave you wandering in the store longer than you planned, but make sure to visit the CD collection on the counter, which includes hard to find Yiddish songs and gems like Jewish Jazz from The Jon Simon Ensemble.
447 N Fairfax Ave. 323-653-9045
9. EsoWon Bookstore
A robust, intellectually-stimulating bookstore in Leimart Park featuring African-American and African literature, EsoWon has played host to a number of well-known figures including Maya Angelou and most recently, Spike Lee. EsoWon's inviting atmosphere, complete with stained glass art from local artist Ramsess has also seen the likes of Barack Obama - once in 1995 where only about five people showed up for the L.A. stop in his book tour for Dreams of my Father, according to EsoWon co-owner James Fugate, and in 2006 for Audacity of Hope. Its extensive section on African-American history is the heart of the store, but fairly new titles have done quite well. Tom Burrell's 2010 novel Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority has sold close to 200 copies, along with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.
4331 Degnan Blvd.
10. The Korean Book Center
Tucked away on the first floor of the Koreatown Galleria, The Korean Book Center has a large portion of its store devoted to children's literature, including classics like Animal Farm and The Little Prince, in Korean that sit with other beautifully illustrated workbooks and material from the Japanese educational method Kumon. The Center, originally opened in 1977, also carries sections on Buddhism, Christianity and the art of Korean cuisine. The store features Korean-American authors like Janice Y.K. Lee, whose novel The Piano Teacher has received critical acclaim from the likes of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Fashion magazines like Ce'Ci, imported directly from Korea, are frequently purchased items at the store, even though its enormous weight and import fees price it at $27.
928 S. Western Ave #151
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