Addison Richley, des pair books
Charlie Kaufman, Antkind
A book funny enough to elicit laughter in an empty room is a specific kind of humiliation I had the pleasure of experiencing this year while reading Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind: an absurdist satire with as much wit and imagination as Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich. The story follows a loathsome, failed film critic who discovers what he believes is the greatest work of cinema ever made. As fast as he finds it, he accidentally destroys it, and spends the rest of the book attempting to recall the story so that he can remake it himself. Antkind is 700 pages of a sad, loser protagonist suffering from an existential crisis, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Addison Richley is the founder of des pair books, a bookstore, gallery, and small press that opened its doors in Echo Park in spring 2021. This past fall, the bookstore partnered with Jeffrey Deitch on a second location within the gallery.
Anthony Strain, The Last Bookstore
E. M. Cioran, Tears and Saints
Notably agnostic about literary prizes, E. M. Cioran gets one from me here, for a book ridiculed upon arrival in Romania in 1937. Tears and Saints evaluates mysticism in a novella-length scroll of woozy riffs. Cioran fought insomnia all his life, and a kind of jagged, disoriented drain oozes into observations like “Tell me how you want to die, and I’ll tell you who you are” and “To win the guilty kiss of a saint, I’d welcome the plague as a blessing.” He said he wrote aphoristically because “explaining bores me terribly.”
Anthony Strain has been a bookseller and curator at The Last Bookstore for a long time. He writes anonymously for free, and under his own name for the right price.
Erin K Drew, Arcana: Books on the Arts
Reiko Fukushima, Mani Mani: Les Gants de Reiko
Art books are too big. At Arcana, I like to celebrate the slim paperbacks hiding in the shelves. Mani Mani: Les Gants de Reiko (“Gloves by Reiko”) is an index of hands draped in sculptural leather against a slate gray background: puffy red, orange, and blue tubes in soft knots around knuckles. Beige leather with crescent moon cutouts, scalloped plumage. Ragged edges. It doesn’t need to vie for attention; it gestures elegantly.
Erin K Drew is an artist and researcher newly based in Los Angeles. She sells books and organizes discursive literary events under the name Abba Zaba Books.
Lance Morgan, Skylight Books
Jonathan Ames, The Wheel of Doll
In his fantastic follow-up to the hit book A Man Named Doll, author and television creator Jonathan Ames gives a fantastic return to Happy Doll, a now-Buddhist Los Angeles private eye, in The Wheel of Doll. When someone from his past comes back to him, his life gets rocked in a way he could never expect. This new and changed Happy will be put to the ultimate test. This fantastic second book in the Happy Doll series will have you on the edge of your seat until the very last sentence.
Lance Morgan is a copywriter and former bookseller living in East L.A. Single and emotionally unavailable, but in a hot way!
Chris Molnar, Stories Books & Café
Art and Laurie Pepper, Straight Life: The Life of Art Pepper
Of all the great books I read this year, Straight Life is the most appropriate representation for Stories. It’s the best — maybe the first — modern artist/addict memoir, and is largely set in Echo Park. Art Pepper was a major saxophonist of the big band and early West Coast jazz scenes before his career was derailed by heroin. While he’s a great player, this book is his signal cultural contribution, co-written with his wife (Eve Babitz’s cousin, Laurie!) and tracking an epic journey through a rough childhood, fame, drugs, prison, a 1960s-era Santa Monica–based rehab cult, and beyond into ’70s health-food Los Angeles and a brief, successful comeback. You don’t have to care about jazz at all to be completely absorbed by this warm, honest look at an extreme and uncompromising life. It’s unbeholden to any of the clichés that later propped up the genre, and provides a unique view into what it is to be human.
Chris Molnar is the founder and publisher of Archway Editions (literary imprint of powerHouse Books, distributed by Simon & Schuster) and co-founder of The Writer’s Block bookshop in Las Vegas. He is the events coordinator at Stories in Echo Park.
Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural Bookstore Staff
Karen Ugarte, Bookstore Manager
Gabby Rivera, Juliet Takes a Breath
Juliet Takes a Breath is a book I wish I read as a young queer Latina. Even as I read it now, as an adult, it was something I was able to connect to deeply. It’s a queer coming-of-age story that highlights the complexities of relationships of all kinds, including the relationship with oneself.
Gabriela Cortes, Bookstore Assistant/Deli Coordinator
Melanie Gillman, Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales
Other Ever Afters is a collection of original fairy tales influenced by a queer feminist lens that are brought to life via a lively comic format. This book took me by surprise, as queer fairytales were never something I would've imagined stumbling upon as an adult, let alone ones written in such a vibrant style. While this is very much a quick read, it never hurts to dabble in the magic of these tales that affirm the experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community — and all who are exhausted by patriarchal norms!
Jackie Garcia, Literary Events Coordinator
Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance
As We Have Always Done is a book I can read over and over again. Simpson combines the political with the personal so beautifully. One of the first books that introduced me to Indigenous literature and changed the course of my studies.
Tía Chucha’s independent bookstore and social venture recognizes that books and knowledge must be accessible to communities while simultaneously reflecting their culture, histories, stories, and values. Tía Chucha’s specializes in providing great books on Xicanx and Latinx history and literature, Indigenous knowledge, and issues of contemporary and social commentary, as well as genres including Spanish-language, bilingual children’s literature, queer/LGBTQIA, art, poetry, antiracism, social change, and much more!
Featured image: Diament & Co., A.L. The Select Wall Papers, 1885. Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, Gift of Various Donors. www.si.edu, CC0. Accessed November 14, 2022.