Viewpoint: Lamenting the Loss of Village Books and Treasuring Diesel Bookstore 

Village Books fought for its survival on Swarthmore after Amazon started selling books. Resident Tom Hanks supported owner Katie O’Laughlin, by signing autographs on items that people had purchased.

Columnist Bob Vickrey, in an August 7 email to Circling the News, wrote: “Lisa’s stirring up some ‘good trouble’ in town with her letter to the Palisadian-Post.”

In her letter, Lisa Kaas Boyle wrote that when she was in law school in the 1980s, antitrust was still a thing, but now “we’ve surrendered to the giants.”

She explained, “An example of the harm is the Amazon bookstore in Palisades Village. Our very special independent bookstore, Village Books, could not compete with Amazon’s online sales. After Village Books died, Amazon opened a store on the very same street in the Caruso village. Jeff Bezos earned $13 billion in just one day, personally. If Amazon can dominate the market, how about creating a fund for independent bookstores to survive?”

It’s Boyle’s opinion that the Amazon store on the corner of Sunset and Swarthmore “is not a bookstore.”

I have to agree.

After a meeting at Edo Little Bites last week, I walked into Amazon looking for a book. In my defense, I usually browse our branch library or buy a used book at the Friends of the Library store inside the library. I read every day, and with the Covid-19 shut down, I had found myself completely out of books.

The moment I walked into Amazon, the clerk attentively asked, “Return?” I told him, “No, I’m looking for a book.” He seemed so puzzled that someone would ask for a book that he went to the next customer, who had a return. The shelves are miserable, but I finally found a mystery—and if I had anything else to read that night, I wouldn’t have purchased this book. Of course, if you are an Amazon Prime member, you receive a major discount (an inducement that helped drive Village Books out of business).

Boyle remembered, “Village Books was magical. The store had midnight book parties for each Harry Potter book as it came out, with costumes and poster contests.” I recall covering those events for the paper and marveling at how the line of people (adults and children alike) waiting to purchase J.K. Rowling’s book when it finally went on sale at midnight.

When my kids needed a book for a school report, they would always find something—and it helped that all the employees had all sorts of suggestions.

Village Books owner Katie O’Laughlin offered book suggestions to readers.

The store’s owner, Katie O’Laughlin, was involved in the town—she had floats in the Fourth of July parade and would visit local schools and organizations to alert everyone to interesting new books. Two or three authors came to the store every week to talk about their latest work, and shoppers would talk about books with one another as they searched the shelves. The store was more than magical, it was an entity with a warm heart and a good soul.

Boyle wrote, “I miss having a real bookstore in my community so much. Amazon is generic and soulless. It’s like McDonald’s taking over health food stores.”

Then she put out a plea, “If you buy books online, please do so through an independent bookstore. There are a few still holding on and they need our support!”

The closest independent bookstore is Diesel in the Brentwood Country Mart, which I visited two days later. Although the store is still closed to in-person shopping, I walked up to the window and told a staffer that I wanted paperbacks and that I liked mysteries, but I didn’t have a title or author in mind.

Salvation! I was soon transported back to what I loved about Village Books. Within five minutes, the two men working in the store made several recommendations and I bought three: “Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk, “I.Q.” by Joe Ide and “The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn.

I had not read Tokarczuk, who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature. This book by the Polish author is an unconventional murder mystery with an animal-rights slant and an “old-lady” as the heroine. At the start of each chapter, there are epigraphs and quotations either from “Proverbs of Hell,” “Auguries of Innocence,” “The Mental Traveller” or the letters of William Blake. The first paragraph starts, “I am already at an age and additionally in a state where I must always wash my feet thoroughly before bed, in the event of having to be removed by an ambulance in the night.”

Ah, it was an absolutely filling read and I can’t thank the clerks enough for the recommendation. I look forward to the remaining selections.

It made me realize that, left to my own devices at the library (when it was open), I’m missing out on recommendations at Diesel. It’s well-worth making the drive over there.

My writer friend Debbie Alexander wrote a letter to the Post last week and praised Diesel as “a fantastic treasure. They have managed to stay open through the pandemic servicing local readers.

“I found the ‘Vanishing Half’ by Britt Bennett there last week. That book is the Los Angeles Times Book Club selection this month,” Alexander wrote. “I find myself getting most of my reading material there to help keep them in business.”

Visit: dieselbookstore.com or call (310)  576-9960. If Mia answers, her voice may sound familiar: she was a friendly and knowledgeable employee at Village Books for many years.

Books can be purchased at Diesel Bookstore. Currently, customers are not allowed in the store.

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2 Responses to Viewpoint: Lamenting the Loss of Village Books and Treasuring Diesel Bookstore 

  1. Gail Kim says:

    If you must buy your books online and want to help support local bookstores, check out http://www.bookshop.org.

  2. Julie Hanson says:

    If purchasing a book online is the only way to go, I suggest trying Bookshop.org which supports independent booksellers.

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