Los Angeles is home to a multitude of specialized bookstores, from those oriented towards horror and mysteries to others with more practical focuses, like cookbooks. Follow columnist Clea Wurster as she explores the many niche literary interests the city accommodates.
Ghost figurines, skeletal goblets and records entitled “Deadtime Stories” crept spookily from the shelves of this week’s bookstore: Dark Delicacies.
A morose red facade, coupled with the gothic font above the door, distinguished the shop from its bright and cheery surroundings and reminded me of a dingy tattoo parlor. Behind the window near the door, a skeleton sat among posters announcing “The Writer’s Coffeehouse,” an event that sounded far too cutesy for such a macabre location. Numerous posters for old horror films hung behind the skeleton, clueing me into the kitschy disappointment I would soon find within.
I was surprised by the friendly woman at the checkout counter who welcomed me with a smile. The store itself was bounded by an uninteresting set of purple walls and floored with similarly drab green carpeting that gave off a musty smell. Memories of seasonal Halloween costume shops immediately leapt to the forefront of my mind as I was pulled into the gift items that surrounded me.
It took me several minutes to make my way back to the disappointingly small selection of books. Instead, I spent a while familiarizing myself with cliched T-shirts and pajama sets, jack-o’-lantern-shaped purses and necklaces displaying glittering bottles of “bat’s blood.” Other tacky items throughout the store referenced the all-too-commercialized holiday and left me worrying the book selection might be of the same low-quality horror.
Amid these tawdry offerings were more promising and cleverly designed greeting cards. Some featured two skeletons holding hands underneath handwritten font exclaiming morbid declarations of romance, such as “Love you to death,” while another stuck with the tried-and-true “With all my heart,” underscored by an anatomically correct sketch of the blood-pumping organ. Still, I felt too safe inside a store I had hoped would fill me with an exciting anxiety and dread. In search of an adrenaline-pumping find, I pushed on.
The categories of books were predictable. White labels featuring a simple serif font separated themes like ghosts, witchcraft, vampires and even death. Despite the limbless, bloody gnome that peered at me from between a book on Celtic witchcraft and “everyday magick,” I was unimpressed. The shop felt more like the haunted corn mazes of my childhood than a business singularly devoted to the grisliest of supernatural tales.
Back in the stacks, of which there were only two, I began to skim the titles for something that might evoke any sort of response, even if it was just a chill through my spine, but I had no such luck. Among classic horror titles like Stephen King’s “IT,” I thought a lesser-known novel might catch my attention and encourage a purchase. Though some titles did pique my curiosity, like “The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror,” which featured a drawing of a mermaid silhouetted against a turquoise background, I wasn’t quite afraid enough to make the purchase.
Several books had a similarly classic flavor to them, which was more comical than menacing, such as “Little Women and Werewolves,” and “Cain,” an all-too-obvious allusion to the mundanely evil and not even slightly creepy. While other novels seemed like they may actually have some valuable information in them, such as “Creative Alchemy” and the “Freemasonry Guide,” I was nevertheless plagued by an anticlimactic sense of defeat.
The charm of the store was undermined by lazy attempts to cash in on cheap American ideals of the spooky and the grim. The back of the shop featured some testaments to the horrific and frightful, such as an entire case devoted to Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” which I thoroughly enjoyed perusing. But still, I was left unsatisfied and in the same secure state as when I had entered off the sunny sidewalk.
I was initially concerned this store wouldn’t quite align to my tastes, as I am embarrassingly faint of heart – but my urgent desire to leave as soon as I went in had nothing to do with fear and everything to do with boredom.