On a block of North Vermont Avenue, between the Dresden Room lounge and the Los Feliz Theater, you will find Skylight Books, a shop with some of the country’s most intriguing window displays. They aren’t especially flashy or artfully composed, but they’re reliable evidence of Skylight’s wide-ranging, inclusive, curatorial spirit. On a recent visit, among the few dozen showcased books were H. Melt’s poetry collection, There Are Trans People Here; Akwaeke Emezi’s cerebral, surreal novel Freshwater; and Memorias de un Abedul, the Spanish-language version of Memories of a Birch Tree, Daniel Cañas’s children’s book about persisting in the face of adversity. To encounter the inviting, collective effect and not be beckoned inside is to perhaps lack curiosity about humanity. Mary Williams, Skylight’s general manager, says, “We really do try to have the book that you’re looking for and also something that you didn’t know that you wanted.”
This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of Alta Journal.
Skylight has been a hub for booklovers of all kinds since 1996, when its store-opening celebration included Wanda Coleman, John Rechy, Hubert Selby Jr., and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Visiting the shop, and sitting inside on the circular, polished concrete planter at its center, feels like placing yourself at the vanguard of Southern California literary life (an impression that intensifies if one factors in the space’s previous decades as Chatterton’s Bookshop, an important venue for Los Angeles poetry). The planter contains a ficus tree, its slender, leafy branches stretching across the diamond-patterned rafters and pressing against the store’s high, eponymous skylight.
Throughout its existence, Skylight Books has maintained a robust in-store reading schedule that has welcomed, with equal enthusiasm, renowned locals such as Susan Straight or Janet Fitch, touring luminaries such as Joyce Carol Oates or David Mitchell, countless emerging authors promoting debut books, and MFA writing students giving their first public readings. For many, seeing one’s name neatly written in chalk on the sidewalk signboard of upcoming events is a rite of passage, an indication that one has truly made it.
And for audience members, to find a seat in the three rows of folding chairs or a spot against the rolling shelves of self-help and Eastern philosophy stock (pushed to the side to accommodate as many standing-room-only folks as possible) is to partake in one of the city’s best, ongoing book parties. Readings occasionally include Franny, the shop’s current free-roaming cat, employed since 2009 (rest in peace, Lucy), and are regularly hosted by the inimitable Noel Alumit, novelist and longtime employee. Favorites among the hundreds of events he’s hosted? “A posthumous tribute to Toni Morrison,” Alumit recalls. “She had just died, and the community needed to mourn her.” And a gathering with British novelist Jeanette Winterson. “It was her first literary event in Los Angeles, and I had the opportunity to introduce her!”
When visiting, be sure to also allot some time to stop by the Arts Annex, Skylight’s adjacent storefront, formerly Colonial Drug & Surgical Supply. The Arts Annex’s stockpiles of comics, graphic novels, and art books, some distributed in the United States exclusively by Skylight, will surely inspire giddy, sugared excitement.•
1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, skylightbooks.com
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