Los Angeles is home to a multitude of specialized bookstores, from those oriented toward horror and mysteries to others with more practical focuses, such as cookbooks. Follow columnist Clea Wurster as she explores the many niche literary interests the city accommodates.
Mystery Pier Books, Inc., tucked quietly into Sunset Boulevard, is a Los Angeles icon on par with some of its highly popular neighbors like The World Famous Whiskey A Go Go.
After walking into a small nook, passing through a covered walkway and entering a quaint and charming garden, I found the shop and its delightful collection of first-edition books.
The bookshop, which will celebrate its 20th anniversary come August, inhabits a modest, endearing house with only two tiny rooms of books. Though small, its size shouldn’t discourage visitors – the walls are lined with intriguing titles, and the two owners are happy to offer up fascinating details about the editions.
As I entered, I was immediately greeted by the owners, who quickly began to tell me about the books before asking me about my own favorites in an effort to find a few to show me.
Unlike other bookstores I reviewed this quarter, Mystery Pier was only a 20-minute drive from UCLA. The store entrance opened to a hardwood-floored room with a plush carpet, plants and a homey feel. A separate room housed the collections and a small office where the owner sat at his computer after chatting with me for a bit about his business.
Wooden shelving with glass fronts protected the books from careless hands. Many of the editions were some of my favorites and, of course, plenty of them were classics, such as an entire shelf devoted to Ernest Hemingway. Above that rested Virginia Woolf’s best works, and below were Hemingway’s good friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first editions.
True to its location in Los Angeles, the shop also displayed a stunning collection of original scripts for Oscar-winning films, signed by the casts. The owner even showed me a first-edition print of the novel “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner, which was set aside for director Guillermo del Toro, who would apparently be in later to pick it up.
The walls were a testament to the star-studded clientele of the shop – images of Johnny Depp and Daniel Craig, among others, populated the small area of the wall that wasn’t lined with beautiful texts.
The shop’s affluent customer base was not all that surprising, given the price range of its texts: $100 to $100,000. One book that contained some of the original printings of Shakespeare’s plays was worth $9,000 – a bit out of my price range. I think I’d rather pay for another year of school at UCLA than own an original copy of “Othello.”
While not the best place for a broke college student to look for some new reading material, examining the incredible covers of the books and hearing curious anecdotes about the various, time-worn works excited the nerdy, English major in me.
Sadly, I didn’t see any editions of “The Alexandria Quartet” – the books I’m named after – although that was only because they’d just been sold. But other amazing finds made up for the small disappointment, such as a copy of “Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle” signed by Vladimir Nabokov, featuring a hand-drawn butterfly he reserved solely for friends and family. Apparently, he and his wife were fond of the winged insect.
After a long conversation about the texts, the store and even UCLA, I decided it was time to head out, but not before I purchased a T-shirt and a tote bag that I will definitely be taking with me on future literary excursions. Maybe by the end of the quarter, I too will have an extensive book collection to boast of.