How do you not immediately want to run into this bookstore the minute you see it? What a name – compelling, challenging. And yet, not easy to stumble upon – perhaps because it being my first time in LA, I didn’t know my way around and thus wouldnt have walked past this street without being specifically guided there. Last week, a reader wrote to me and detailed the number of places she had been, following my travel guides on this blog. When I plan for my travels, there are also some travel forums, blogs and video channels I go to as an automatic resource. The point is – travel guides and online repositories of content still play a big part in the process of discovery and trip planning, and the newest entry into the fray is Airbnb with their launch of local guides and audio walks. When it was announced at Airbnb Open, I wondered how something that made so much sense was launching only now. But that’s part of the beauty of Airbnb, I think, and all industry innovators and disruptors – always changing things up and coming up with new ways of experiencing that you never knew you needed till now.
The Airbnb Audio Walks are part of a collaboration with Detour, and you can find them under the Places tab in your Airbnb app. It’s still being rolled out in different countries, but for now its mainly in the USA. Essentially, it’s a free bonus you get with the Airbnb app which is GPS tagged so it brings you through “walks” in different neighbourhoods and cities. Sounds perfect for solo travellers – but it’s actually geared towards groups too, because you can sync your tours with your friends and all do the walk together. This is so great because it’s like a free walking tour but pegged to your own convenience – and made better only by the fact that the tours themselves are freaking ace. This particular one that features The Last Bookstore actually has different locals bring you through the walk in the audio guide – and one of the is the owner of the freakin bookstore, Josh Spencer. So yes – not a bad way to spend an afternoon, especially if there’s an Airbnb audio guide available in the city you’re visiting.
And so, into the bookstore we go..
I have to say, being on a press trip, I didn;t have huge blocks of free time to wind around the city. My free time was mostly spontaneous, and in short bursts, and it was in that way that Los Angeles and I got acquainted. It wasn’t half bad – in fact, I’d like to think that I made quite good use of my time there, thoroughly filling my days with things and experiences and also leaving just enough to know that I’d be back. I thought to myself that I’d just pop in and spend an hour in the bookstore (after all, I wasn’t about to sit and read a book – just take a look, perhaps buy a book, and ask for recommendations) and then head out and check out other things within the city. But of course this was wishful thinking. Once I stepped in, the next time I saw the sky again it was dark, and dinnertime, and I was forced out by the alert on my phone that my next scheduled itinerary event was happening. And so that is a roundabout way of saying that yes, I loved it, and yes, you should definitely check it out if you’re in LA!
The bookstore is a secondhand and new bookstore, and consists two floors and a ton of themed rooms. It’s won a lot of praise for its stunning design, and a true bibliophile could honestly spend hours and hours in here!
Some of the themed rooms they have include rooms gravitating around art, rare book rooms, $1 book areas, children books, so on and so forth. I’m pretty proud to say that I saw our homegrown Singaporean graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, on the shelves in the Graphic novels and Photobooks room. It’s a little overwhelming when you first go in because it’s impossible to know where to start, but what I did was go straight to the second floor where the book labyrinth was, and then work my way down from there
The walk up:
There are corridors which imitate art galleries along the second floor, and I spent a happy twenty minutes or so perusing them. I believe the art gallery Spring Arts is located there, where occasionally artists will come and take residence and interact with customers there – but I didn’t get to see them when I was there. And there’s also this jail cell looking room with the sign EMPLOYEES ONLY which I presume is where the booksellers can go take their break, but I didn’t get a photo of that unfortunately.
I ran to the Labyrinth when I saw it, not even kidding. This is what my dreams are made of!
Everything on the second floor goes at a dollar each, but the real draw for most people is the way the second floor looks like a portal into a whole different dimension. Again, it’s segregated by genre – the science fiction room is a legitimate VAULT – but the devil is in the details. Everything – from the way the light falls dramatically on certain titles – to the magnifying glass hanging over some books – is planned with the very deliberate care of someone who loves the place. And check out that book loop!
All of them, again, were done either by volunteers within the LA book community, or by local artists. The collaborative effort of this place was touching, but also sobering – in the window, a sign: What are you waiting for? We wont be here forever.
Back down to the first floor:
The art on the wall is made fully of paperback books!
There’s a one hour time limit for couches – presumably so you dont fall asleep there. No computer terminals to help you find books either, you just approach the “section care experts”, and they mentally log where you can find what you’re looking for. I ended up buying my first ever copy of Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay which at that time was impossible to find in Singapore (now I have three copies cos I keep giving them away) and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness which was in the same year made into a movie. Would have gotten more (dollar books!!) but.. luggage space. Anyway. They pack your purchases into a brown paper bag, very old school, and then off you go.
When I stepped out of the store, it was dark. I had overstayed my initial plan – as expected – but I left happier, with two books, and no regrets.
What a recommendation. I cannot imagine any book lover coming to LA and not visiting the last bookstore. And if you do live in LA – what are you waiting for? They wont be there forever.
The Last Bookstore
453 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90013, USA