I Love LA—Kinda

California International Antiquarian Book Fair

Happy Valentines Day 2020!

Book Heart

Up on the mountain, the emerald shoots of thousands of daffodils are pushing up through cold dead ground like the fingers, green spirits anxious to be free. They presage the living verdant multitudes below ground that are waiting to emerge and cover this land with lush life.

Sprouting Daffodils

At the book warehouse, the first daffodils are blooming! There is a microclimate in the gardens near the office entrance. The bright unobstructed south-facing wall reflects light and heat. But still, it is early for them to be flowering.

Warehouse Daffodils

Will this be the winter that wasn’t? Except for today and tomorrow, the forecast for the next ten days looks mild.

Last night was the fourth classic movie sponsored by Wonder Book at the venerable Weinberg Theater. They have been showing movies there since 1926. It was Funny Girl—not a movie I would have chosen. But I felt I should show up and man the table of $1 books, DVDs and CDs.

(Hey, is that my first book show exhibition off site in 20 years? I dunno…LOL)

Then I had to decide if I was going to stay. I was alone. The movie was over 2 hours PLUS an overture PLUS an intermission. But Tenth Ward Distillery whom we invited in to offer tastings and sell drinks had come up with a signature cocktail for the film: Fanny’s Folly.

Fanny's Folly

And the theater now offers lidded reusable sippy cups which you can take to your seat.

Hmmmm…Cocktails. Popcorn… I could at least stay til intermission.

The movie was actually pretty good. Barbara was in all out diva mode. She could really belt out a song!

“People…people who need people…”

Next month, in stark contrast, we are sponsoring Animal Farm. March 22. Remember? “All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”

Orwell Quote Singapore

I wonder if the audience’s interpretation of it will be traditional, skewed to the opinions of the recent past or looked at in light of current events?

This story must be short and fast.

My editor has another Round and Round in hand to push out, and there’s some kind of teleconference at the end of the day. So I can’t go on too long.

Did you know I can see the future?

My future?

I will spend the weekend in the warehouse going through carts of (mostly) old books. We have trained some of the massive library sales to save old books like these rather than throw them out.

Arlington Vintage

We pay well for them. This load will likely net the library $1000-2000. Not bad considering they would have likely had to pay someone to dispose of these books. We pay someone to pick them up.

This morning, I’ve already gone through three small lots we sent out Fedex call tags for. They are from ABAA bookseller colleagues. Another colleague is driving a truckload of old cloth and leather Monday.

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”?


“If you’ve got lemons—make lemonade”?

We are currently overstocked. But there have been times we are sold out. So we will stack them on the floor if the shelves are full.

We are getting more and more and more books. That means more and more and more books are being set aside for my final inspection. I still enjoy it. I’ve often said that not a day goes by here when I don’t see a book I’ve never seen before. On weekends, I see a book I’ve never seen before every hour. (It could be I’ve forgotten I’ve seen some of them. LOL.)

Maybe I’ll meet a couple friends for drinks sometime this weekend. Maybe I’ll just go home and write, read and toss firewood onto woodpiles. I need the exercise. Holiday dining was not kind to my belt holes.


I flew out last Tuesday night. Alaska Air. First class. (It was only a small number of frequent flyer miles to upgrade. I never fly first class. It seems such a waste to spend all that money for just a little more comfort for a few hours. I can suffer. I’d rather buy books with that first class surcharge.)

At LAX, I walked right to my rental and was soon on my way. Many of the streets were lined with homeless people. Some were just body shaped bundles curled up on the pavement. Others had created primitive domiciles from found materials. LA also has a lot of people living in cars or vans along the roadside.

For some reason, I’d picked a hotel in Santa Monica. The California ABAA Rare Book Show I was going attend was in Pasadena. On the map, they are only a half-inch apart.

Wednesday was a free day. I wanted see things I had never seen before. I headed up the Pacific Coast Highway. Through Malibu, past Mulholland Drive and up toward Santa Barbara. It was ok, but nothing like Big Sur and the coast highways further north. I decided to turn inland. I soon found myself driving through miles and miles of lemon groves. Yellow and green as far as the eye can see. For all its problems, California still provides the world with a lot of food. I got up into the mountains and was soon beyond my LA map borders. My phone was not helpful because I really wasn’t looking for anything specific, just something different. I decided to head back to the city on one of its famous freeways. A few miles on, a sign indicated that the Reagan Presidential Library was near the next exit.


But I’m a bookseller and kind of duty bound to check out libraries when they get in my way.

I remember I was a starry-eyed, Washington Post/Doonesbury/NPR following, very young man when Ronnie got elected. The doom and gloom that was forecast should he win was frightening. War. Economic collapse… But then I didn’t like Jimmy Carter’s four years either. He kept telling us we were depressed. Was it “malaise”? I was a staunch Democrat, as were my parents and brothers. I voted for John Anderson. LOL. Young and stupid.

The building was no library. At least if there are books, there they are kept out of sight. It is rather a beautiful sprawling complex atop a small mountain with endless vistas. (A shining edifice on a hill.) It is far more a vast museum of 20th century history that a paean to the man. For his was a full and active life in many different capacities spanning 1911-2004. Gallery after gallery recounted the events in and around his life. One room recreated the assassination attempt at the Washington Hilton. It replicated the scene and was so large you felt you were there. I’ve stayed at that hotel many times. The museum is so vast there is Air Force One—the entire custom-built 707—in a huge glazed space.

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You can walk through the airplane, and it is fitted out just as it was in the 80s. Jelly beans!

The “museum” also has vast visiting exhibition galleries. When I was there, it was full of recently discovered ancient Egyptian artifacts recovered from the sunken cities of Canopus and Heraclieon. That was fascinating. Why did they sink thousands of years ago? I’ll check when I get time.

The exit is, of course, through the gift shop. There are a LOT of books there. And stacks of them were autographed by visiting authors. In fact, there was a long line leading to two tables with four Congressional Medal of Honor winners autographing a coffee-table book about that award. They each had the little light blue ribbon with the medal dangling up tight to their neck like a choker.

As I returned to the car, I passed Ron and Nancy’s gravesite. It looks out forever on the distant mountains.

From there, I drove and revisited the Getty Museum. That is yet another California museum on a mountaintop. They always have some amazing illuminated manuscripts on show there.

Then it was back to Santa Monica. I reached out to famed bookseller Kenneth Karmiole to see if I could visit his shop. It is by appointment only. We finally connected, and I made the short walk over. He had described it as an office. I was led inside to a large two room jewelry “vault.” 8 walls of gorgeous ancient books in perfect condition. I began making a stack of beautiful but not very expensive objects. I finally had to tell him I had to stop before my pile got too high.

Karmiole Books

He took pity on me and walked me to a wondrous dinner nearby. This restaurant was once frequented by Jane Wyman (actor and Reagan’s first wife) among other stars. He gave me a brief tour of downtown. We walked through the classic Miramar Hotel. Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently breakfasts there nearly every day. We parted, and I walked along the beach and then onto the classic pier.


I hadn’t been to the La Brea Tar Pits for over twenty years. It is an amazing geological phenomenon in the heart downtown LA. Asphalt bubble up from far beneath the earth. Animals wandering into them have been getting stuck and dying there for 10,000s of years. Saber tooth tigers, mammoths, dire wolves, giant sloths… From there, I drove to Hollywood. I’d never visited the Walk of Fame or Grauman’s Chinese Theater or Mel’s Diner or…

Walk of Fame

Sunset Blvd was blocked at first I thought for construction. When I looked closer, I saw they were prepping for the Red Carpet movie star arrivals.

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Are there still movie stars?

I headed back to the hotel to clean up for a booksellers’ reception in Pasadena that evening. I thought I had plenty of time to get there. It’s only half an inch on the map. I checked Uber so I wouldn’t have to drive back. It was 2 HOURS! Over $100. I checked my phone. Only 20 some miles but…2 hours. LA’s freeways are gridlocked apparently from mid afternoon to evening.

I stayed in Santa Monica and walked through the beautiful downtown looking at shops and people watching and bar hopping.


I had driven past the Getty Villa Wednesday. I thought it was another wealthy person’s mansion. Ken recommended I go. I got there as it opened. J. Paul Getty recreated a huge ancient roman Villa and filled it with his collection of ancient art and sculpture. It was another very pleasant surprise.

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From there it was on to Pasadena. The late morning drive was not two hours, but rather about 30 pleasant minutes. I had time to visit the Huntington Library, Museum and Gardens.

The whole site is marvelous. The library has astonishing books on exhibit. The Ellesmere Chaucer, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin, Watson and Crick… The gardens are laid out by global region and type of plant. The cactus section is acres and acres of pathways with astonishing flora that make you feel you may be on another planet.

Cactus Garden

From there I went to the book show. The venue was quite large. The space airy and well lit. I spent hours walking the aisles. A number of people came and told me they read these stories, and that was very heartening. It has become a passion—maybe with a bit of pathology and addiction tossed in. It’s good to know I’m not writing in a vacuum.

California International Antiquarian Book Fair

I bought…way too much… I bought books from the 1400s to the recent past. I guess I am not very focused? Big surprise. Maybe I’ll do some show-and-tell when the books arrive.

After the show, I walked across the street with some friends and had an amazing Japanese meal—including a blue Martini.

Blue Martini

Then I took the “short” drive back to Santa Monica.


I had the whole day to kill as I was taking a red eye home at 10 pm. I went back to the Santa Monica Pier—this time in daylight. I studied some of the history of the adjacent Muscle Beach. There was a flock of 50 or 60 Japanese schoolgirls giggling all over the pier in clusters of 3 to 10. They all wore identical uniforms.

From there, I stopped at the California Heritage Museum. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect this:

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Then onto the show. Where I wandered and wandered, trying vainly to resist temptation.

I left. Enough! Time to head to LAX.

Then I returned and bought this Bemelman original. I had to have it. I’d never see it again! If I get to Manhattan soon, I’ll stop at Bemelmans Bar as I do as I often as I can.

Bemelman Original

Then I really left, returned the car and was early enough to write and have drinks at an airport bar. After several martinis…or so, I think, I dragged my corpse onto the plane and awoke at Dulles in Virginia. It was 5 AM. Sunday.

I drove to warehouse and worked. In mid afternoon, the Gaithersburg store called. Both their vans were full of books they’d purchased that weekend. The last thing I wanted to do was to empty a van and drive. Also I had tons of work to do. Literally TONS.

…and I was tired…and a little hung over…

But it is a duty. I briefly stopped the romantic life of a dilettante bookseller and dragged 150 or so boxes out of a van. I drove the empty van down Interstate 270 and brought the full van back.

We’ve been putting a dent in the collectible Book Mountain.

Shrinking Book Mountain

There’s a new researcher I’m working with. She is really fast and doesn’t mind plowing through the big old crunchy books others here avoid. You can actually see some floor!

Bins for Chuck

These are all evaluated, and I will go through them this weekend. I’ll be able to put prices on most. But I’m sure there will be “problems.”

Oh, and the first shipment from LA arrived.

This is the biggest honkin’ Chaucer I’ve ever seen. I’m a sucker for big books.

Large Chaucer

But I like little ones too!

Mini Books

Books, Books, Books.

They never end.

Thank God.

8 Comments on Article

  1. Norv commented on

    Military take on a 707 not a 747

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you! I should have known better by the “nose”. I’ll get it corrected Monday.
      I appreciate your taking the time to do this.

  2. Richard commented on

    Last week you asked for comments…..so…..I voted for John Anderson also!

    1. chuck replied on

      LOL ! We two a good portion of the vote he got.

    2. Andy Moursund replied on

      Me, too. But I made good money selling a Reagan “Law and Order” movie poster.

      1. chuck replied on

        Thanks for reading and commenting Andy!

  3. Livia De Leon commented on

    Hi Chuck,

    I am now on your 2020 articles…

    I obviously love LA, as it has been home for 33 years now. The challenges of so many “unhoused” has become bothersome, most especially because I work in downtown where almost every sidewalk is dotted with tents…

    Wow, I can imagine the drive from Santa Monica to Pasadena! I live very close to Pasadena.

    Glad that you visited and enjoyed the Huntington Library and Gardens. This is a favorite for myself and my Mom. It is the first place we visited when the city was slowly opening up towards the end of 2020. We are frequent visitors to this lovely place…


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so nice of you!
      No one has done this before!
      I think that show is in Pasadena again in February 2023?
      I’ll probably go.
      I can get you passes if you want.
      The Huntington Gardens are on a scale of their own
      The Getty Villa was amazing. Never visited that before.
      Thank you Livia!

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