L.A. Booksellers on Their Favorite Reads of 2023
By LARB StaffDecember 24, 2023
Addison Richley, des pair books
This Young Monster (2017) by Charlie Fox is a book for the outcasts and misfits who happily accept their role hugging the metaphorical walls of the world, observing and creating in their own much preferred universe. Fox, a self-described freak, paints his pages in dark, ferocious works of art, telling personal stories about his love for the likes of Harmony Korine, John Waters, Mike Kelley, and more. The world is filled with beauties and beasts, and after devouring This Young Monster, I choose to be a beast with Fox and his fellow monsters, forever feasting on the work of intellectual strays.
Addison Richley founded des pair books, a bookstore, gallery, and small press, which opened its doors in Echo Park in spring 2021. Since opening, the bookstore has partnered with Jeffrey Deitch on a second location within the gallery, and has been featured in Vanity Fair, Vogue, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and more.
Caitlin Forst, Stories Books & Café
Reading The Golden Notebook (1962) again this year was a continuation of getting my head recalibrated by its form, an ongoing displacement out of the rigid and overwrought long-novels I’d read before I found Doris Lessing the first time. A writer, the character Anna Wulf’s self is dissected between the notebooks she keeps that comprise much of the book. Within her overfull identity is a renovation of fiction that continues to level me.
Caitlin Forst is the events coordinator at Stories in Echo Park and a contributing editor for Archway Editions, which will publish the first issue of her print magazine in 2024. She is working on founding a Los Angeles–based small press called “The Capacity,” among other projects.
Gleb Wilson, Stories Books & Café
Published in 1969, the analysis of PFLP Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine resembles all Palestinian resistance to Zionist occupation—focused, articulate, clearheaded, humanistic, determined, principled. As with any anti-colonial text, the relevance of this 54-year-old historic snapshot is as invigorating as it is disturbing for its lasting relevance. May the struggle succeed so that this document can cease being a blueprint and become simply memory.
Gleb Wilson is a bookseller who lives in Los Angeles.
Chris Molnar, POWERHOUSE Arena
This recommendation is for anyone who gazes at a bookshelf and wonders why those books are there, which should be you if it isn’t already. Because nothing comes to you without a story, including stories themselves, and even a cursory look at the newest releases lets you know this is not a meritocracy. Dan Sinykin talks conglomeration but also the nonprofits, the independents—everybody from the 1950s to the present, the grand sweep of American publishing in his new book, Big Fiction: How Conglomeration Changed the Publishing Industry and American Literature. Familiarize yourself with the machine and come away with a greater appreciation for the fine books that make it through, and a level of forgiveness for the terrible ones.
Chris Molnar is the co-founder and editorial director of Archway Editions. In 2014, he co-founded the Writer’s Block, the first independent bookstore in Las Vegas. He runs POWERHOUSE Arena in Brooklyn, and formerly was the events coordinator at Stories in Echo Park.
Gabriela Cortes, Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
How to Sit (2014) is the perfect read for the busy bees who are looking to incorporate mindfulness into their day-to-day routines or those who are generally trying to find a home in their own presence. Given the size of this book, it’s easy to carry with you and choose different prompts to focus on depending on what you find yourself in need of. This book is also a part of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Mindfulness Essentials series—which includes 10 other titles: How to Listen, How to Love, How to Walk, How to Eat, How to Relax, How to Fight, How to See, How to Focus, How to Connect, and How to Smile—so there’s something for everyone!
Read more about Gabriela here.
Sarahi Sepulveda, Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
Abyss (2023) by Pilar Quintana, translated by Lisa Dillman, reminds me of the first time I was being treated like a child. Our narrator Claudia is a fourth grader coming to understand her small world and how the adults in her life fill it with contradictions. It will pull at the heartstrings of the inner child in all of us and make us yearn for the time before we “knew” what the adults were talking about.
Read more about Sarahi here.
Karen M. Ugarte, Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
Javier Zamora’s experience in Solito (2022) is an emotional rollercoaster written from the perspective and lived experience of a young child. It is a beautifully and poetically written memoir that eloquently emphasizes the compassion and care we can extend to each other as human beings, while also shedding light on various injustices and heartbreaks.
Read more about Karen here.
Jackie Garcia, Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
Funeral for Flaca (2021) by Emilly Prado was one of my favorite reads of the year. Each personal essay feels bittersweet and powerful as she talks about love, family, trauma, and growing into yourself as a Chicana.
Read more about Jackie here.
Skylar Morales, Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
¡Ándale, Prieta! A Love Letter to My Family (2022) by Yasmín Ramírez is a book that details the transition between experiencing childhood and surviving adulthood. Ramírez redefines the importance of family and self-discovery as a Latina in literature, and deserves every flower thrown her way.
Read more about Skylar here.
Brian Reyes, Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore
The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us (2009) by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons is a wonderful book that describes how we may not necessarily see the world as it is. Reading this book expands your knowledge on how to see the world from different views and perspectives. This book is great for self-reflection, for revealing how you view the world and what views and biases you have. Moreover, this book provides peer-reviewed articles to back up their facts and examples for those wondering how this information was obtained.
Read more about Brian here.
Derek Alexis Mejia, Book Alley and Libros Schmibros
I swore I would never read Joan Didion’s 1982 book Salvador. Maybe it was the fact that I, the son of Salvadoran immigrants, was unsympathetic to her narrow estimation of my family’s homeland, or maybe it was the Joseph Conrad of it all. In fact, she opens the book with an epigraph from Conrad’s contentious novella Heart of Darkness. Yet here I am writing about Didion and Salvador for the world to read! What you need to know about Salvador is this: Didion wrote the work after spending two weeks holed up in a hotel in El Salvador at the height of the country’s civil war during the 1980s. What’s more is she spent her two weeks in the country rubbing shoulders with Salvadoran military officials (funded and trained by the United States), other American journalists, and the US ambassador. Through her experiences, or lack thereof, she came to her infamous dictum, “Terror is the given of the place.” Now I could wax poetic about Salvador, and maybe someday I will, but for now all I can say is that the book unearths no truths about El Salvador, or its people. Reading Salvador was an exercise in torture, by way of imperialist dogma. In the end, what we learn the most about in Salvador’s hundred or so pages are Didion’s own prejudices. As Chinua Achebe poignantly observes, in his celebrated critique of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “[t]ravelers with closed minds can tell us little except about themselves.”
Derek Alexis Mejia is a bookseller and poet based in Los Angeles. He co-founded and co-curates the EastSide CineClub at Libros Schmibros, among other projects.
Featured image: Frances Hodgkins, Untitled (Textile design no III), ca. 1925, England. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (1998-0006-12). Accessed December 15, 2023.
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