Celebrating Literary Los Angeles

This week's California Book Club newsletter.

zyzzyva covers

ZYZZYVA is based in San Francisco, but the literary journal’s latest issue—its 119th since it was founded 35 years ago—shines a light on Los Angeles. “While L.A. is internationally appreciated as the center of storytelling through film and television, it sometimes seems incongruously overlooked as a major hub of literary culture,” ZYZZYVA editor Laura Cogan said in an email. “As this special issue celebrating L.A. writers and artists demonstrates, there is—and has long been—an enormous diversity of literary talent at work here, across all forms.”

The 312-page issue features the work of 23 contributors, including David L. Ulin, Alta’s books editor and a selection panelist for the California Book Club. ZYZZYVA is one of the partners of the book club. Ulin is the author of a book about walking in Los Angeles titled Sidewalking; in this issue of ZYZZYVA, he’s written an essay on driving in L.A. Other contributors to the issue include Michelle Latiolais, Wendy C. Ortiz, and Nina Revoyr. And there’s this: the journal shows off L.A. with two gorgeous neon sign covers—at night and during the day.

You can buy the issue here.

once upon a time bookstore
Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times

End of a Chapter?

Once Upon a Time Bookstore, the nation’s oldest children’s bookseller, almost closed in 2003. And now the future of the store, opened in 1966, is again in doubt—this time because of the pandemic, which is threatening so many independent bookstores. Will the help of some book lovers, including Jimmy Fallon, be enough to save it? The Los Angeles Times has the story.

skylight books
Skylight Books

Free Books for Kids

How invested is Skylight Books in its community? Partnering with “guerrilla philanthropists” Punk Rock Marthas, the independent Los Angeles bookseller has been raising money to donate hundreds of books to underserved schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. There are still a few days left to pitch in to the virtual school book fair before the November 7 deadline. The goal is to raise $20,000. You can donate here.

city lights books
San Francisco Public Library

Picturing California

City Lights Bookstore has been famous for generations, but few color images of the store exist from its earliest days. This rare photograph, however, shows the wedge-shaped shop circa 1958, five years after it was opened by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and the late Peter D. Martin. The store was smaller than it is today (a travel agency occupied much of its current space), and it was painted mustard yellow. Thanks to Ferlinghetti’s efforts, Adler Alley is now a pedestrian walkway named after Jack Kerouac. In the photo, the store is festooned with signs that read “STOP THE BOMB TESTS.” A veteran of World War II, Ferlinghetti said that being in Nagasaki days after the atomic bombing of the city made him an “instant pacifist.” One can also see a hand-painted sign for A Coney Island of the Mind, Ferlinghetti’s poetry collection that went on to sell one million copies. The collection is still for sale in the store today, of course, and its author is 101 years old.

california book club bookplates

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John McMurtrie edits for McSweeney’s Publishing and the literary travel magazine Stranger’s Guide.
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