Here’s where our tale finds its tragic undertones. Las Vegas is a beautiful city—something for everyone, sinner or saint. And there are readers in that simmering jewel too: I saw them clutching real books, with real pages and print. But nothing breaks a former booksellers heart like pulling up to an independent bookstore you’ve heard about to find its windows boarded and its shelves all skin & bones. Sadly this was the case, more than once, for our friends in the Glitter Gulch. However, this is not a submission to the chain-overlords, but a call to action, Las Vegans! (see: lending library suggestions by our amigos at Mellow Pages.)
Contrary to this sad development, I was also able to come across the thriving side of book life by stumbling into the Vegas Valley Book Festival. They had taken over the campus surrounding the 5th Street School, downtown. What’s great to see is the inclusion of youth in these festivals: there were interactive tents with children’s books, arts & crafts, and even an appearance by Mondo & Elmo from Sesame Street.
A number of Young Adult authors were on hand too—taking part in themed panels that were among the more popular tents on the festival grounds.
My personal fave was the Poetry Courtyard, where local teen poets gathered to sound off for Poetry Out Loud. These bold youths brought some thunder, and had the crowd getting antsy in their seats with an energy only poet’s true conviction & confidence can bring out at a reading.
All this is to say Vegas is a book town that will pull your heart strings in a double hitch knot. But don’t try to tell them there’s no book culture, because, as Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) reminds us in Casino, there are “a lot of holes in the desert, and a lot of problems are buried in those holes.”
If anyone ever tells you Los Angeles isn’t a reading town, we can go ahead and dispel that notion post haste. And I’m not just talking beach reads.
My visit started on Sunset Blvd at Book Soup. They’ve (relatively) recently come under the purview of (relatively) nearby Vroman’s (Pasadena), another fine institution. At the Soup, they have a healthy stock of new and backlisted Wave titles. I spoke with a sales associate who told me their buying dept is dictated by the folks over at Vroman’s, but she helps ensure that there’s always a good supply by having our authors on display and staff recommends. Here they had some Madness, Rack, and Honey holding strong among the new releases.
Over in Los Feliz is the formidable Skylight Books. It’s a tricky block to be on: one must decide if Skylight proper or the Skylight Art Annex will be the first to occupy a couple hours of his or her afternoon. I was on the scout, so I popped in to check out their great poetry corner first. Zines, chapbooks, and local poet displays are abounding with cool material. On this trip in, I couldn’t help but notice their supply of Maggie Nelson. Staffer ‘Beau’ has made certain nobody has to go a day without having a copy of Bluets nearby.
Continuing eastward, I got caught up in the middle of a rogue Hollywood set in Echo Park. Ducking and weaving between dressing trailers, I was able to clear the threshold of Stories. Alex is the main buyer you’ll likely find behind the counter there, and he had plenty of great things to say about the Wave roster. He did a full 360 pointing out the displays of Eileen Myles, Maggie Nelson, and Mary Ruefle. I also played a little peekaboo with a copy of Ernst Meister’s In Time’s Rift (trans. Graham Foust & Samuel Fredericks).
While you’re heading over to visit Alex in Echo Park, drop in and check out a happening at Machine Project, where Wave author Anthony McCann occasionally helps founder Mark Allen with classes and readings.
I only had a little time to make a stop downtown at the overwhelming Last Bookstore. I was talking with Katie, one of the lead buyers at the back table, who reassured me the store operates 80/20 (in favor of used books). The bookseller in me was relieved, as the thousands—tens & tens of thousands even—of books among their many-roomed stacks would send any strictly-frontlist buyer out of their gourd. They were intrigued to hear about what’s coming out of the Wave office in the not-so-distant future, and, though I saw none in my short stay, I’ve heard tell of Wave passing through those staggering shelves. Do yourself a favor and make sure your meter is well-plugged before heading in there: these are books to be reckoned with.
Alas, it was time to leave those lovely beaches for the interior. As our namesake suggests, there was a part of those Pacific waves that had embedded a rolling consistency to our Poetry Tour up to now. An undertow just generous enough to keep this wanderer afloat, yet powerful enough to keep me near those pristine-azure horizons as long as I could. But as its tidal song crashes and recedes in perpetuity, the Pacific also stirred in me that youthful refrain: “ever-onward!” I cried. Then I shed a single tear and aimed the car for Vegas, honey!