Tour The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles

For twenty years, Los Angeles Times has hosted the largest book festival in the country in the City of Angels, but when people call LA an industry town, we all know the industry isn’t publishing.


The one and only Pickwick on Hollyweird Blvd.

No matter what New Yorkers say, we do walk and read books in LA.   And Los Angeles has been home to some great independent bookstores.  As a child I remember going with my parents to Pickwick Bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard.  While they transacted their business, I headed back to the children’s department.  I used to sit on the floor in front of the bay with all the books in the Wizard of Oz series, with the wonderful designs on the dust jacket spines.  When my mother took me along with her to UCLA, sometimes we would swing by Campbell’s Bookstore before getting on the freeway to go home.  She probably bought textbooks for classes, while the future rare book curator snuck off to admire the stuffed Winnie the Pooh characters made in England.  They were so expensive that I knew better to beg for one, not even for a Christmas present.   Of Dutton’s in Brentwood, which occupied a building originally designed by a notable local architect as a small office complex around a central courtyard, novelist Carolyn See said,  “If you weren’t the drinking kind, you could go there the way you would a bar.”

last bookstore bonaventure

Looking up in the Bonaventure lobby.

These three bookstores are gone, along with Acres of Books, one Mr. Cotsen’s  early hunting grounds, but the tradition lives on at The Last Book Store on downtown’s South Spring Street, a stone’s throw away from the Westin Bonaventure, where I was attending a conference last spring.  It bills itself as the Golden State’s largest new and used book and record store.

After listening to papers for two days, it was time for some retail therapy in the children’s department of The Last Bookstore, whose motto is, “What are you waiting for?  We won’t be here forever!”  It currently occupies a space that once was a bank building.  This is a bird’s eye view of the store from the second floor where the vault used to be.  Thanks to my colleague, Col. Scott Krawzcyk, for taking these great interior photos, which were beyond my Samsung Galaxy…

last bookstore  2nd Floor sk

I’ve been in a  Pasadena restaurant with book walls, but they were nothing like this.  I’d commission one for Cotsen but there would be issues the first time a book was paged for a patron.  So much for creative solutions to rare book storage…

last bookstore book arch sk

I forgot to ask the name of the artists who dreamed up the store’s book sculptures, but they have a standing invitation to visit our Bookscape gallery.

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I doubt I would find this monograph about Mary Blair, who worked for Disney, on the tables of art books in any self-respecting Northeast indie bookstore, even if this year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland. 

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Here is the back wall of the children’s department.  It was nice to see several parents reading with their children around the pleasant, cavernous space.

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These, and other books with even more inappropriate cover designs juxtaposing food and fashion, were sitting on top of the bookcases where the picture books were shelved.

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Proof that BabyLit board books, which were highlighted in a post earlier this year, are a bi-coastal phenomenon.  I had not seen the Damien Hirst ABC before and was pleasantly surprised that did not reek of formaldyhyde unlike some of his works.

last bookstore board books

A shelf of classics, with Lauren Child’s quirky cover for Anne of Green Gables prominently featured.  Somebody with a sense of humor put Touching Spirit Bear next to The House at Pooh Corner.  Milne is probably rolling in his grave.

last bookstore classic kidOf course there was a lot of Francesca Lia Block in the YA section.  That cover for Weetzie Bat looks way too wholesome.

last bookstore francesca lia blockThe congenial bookseller efficiently rang up my pile of loot for Cotsen.

last bookstore booksellerAnd the nymph by the exit–who could resist this siren call to come back again real soon?    Gotta love her, gotta love The Last Book Store.  It’s sooooooooo LA.

last bookstore mannequin


Where is the Land of Green Ginger?

Nowhere, of course, because it doesn’t exist.

Except in the mind of Beatrix Potter.

In the land of Green Ginger there is a town called Marmalade, which is exclusively inhabited by guinea-pigs.

They are of all colours and of two sorts–the common ordinary smooth-haired guinea-pigs who run errands and keep green grocers shops–and the kind that call themselves Abyssinian Cavies–who wear ringlets and walk upon their toes.

And the short-haired guinea-pigs admire and envy the curls of the long-haired guinea-pigs.

Both kinds of the guinea-pigs go to the Barber especially on Saturdays.

Beatrix Potter

Hucksterism in the Land of Green Ginger in Beatrix Potter’s The Fairy Caravan
(Cotsen 21522)

Beatrix Potter

The barber and his victim in Potter’s The Tale of Tuppenny illustrated by Marie Angel (Cotsen 11853)

If you want to find out about what happened when the bald guinea pig Tuppenny tried three treatments of Quintessence of Abyssinian Artichokes, the hair wash invented (and untruthfully promoted) by the barber, you’ll have to find a copy of The Tale of Tuppenny (1971) with illustrations by Marie Angel or  The Fairy Caravan (1929), where Potter first published it.

The Land of the Green Ginger

The djinn. Noel Langley, The Land of the Green Ginger illustrated by Edward Ardizzone (author’s copy).

I don’t know if  Noel Langley (1911-1980) learned about the Land of Green Ginger from Beatrix Potter’s Fairy Caravan.   Perhaps not, because there are no guinea-pigs, just a djinn of the lamp, three suitors competing for the hand of lovely princess Silverbud, a feisty mouse, Omar Khayyam the tent maker, a flying carpet, and a dragon with a heliotrope tongue who likes his donkey with lettuce salad, tomatoes sliced thin.  Everything necessary for a sequel to the story of Aladdin.

And who was Noel Langley?  Born and educated in Durban, South Africa, he wrote and illustrated for children The Tale of the Land of Green Ginger (1937), which helped get him a seven-year contract with MGM.  His Hollywood writing credits include The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1939), Scrooge (1951), Ivanhoe (1952), and Snow White and The Three Stooges (1961).

Poster for The Wizard of Oz

Poster for the Wizard of Oz screenplay with Langley’s name at the head of the list of writers.

Langley also turned out plays, short stories and novels, but what he is remembered for besides the screenplay for The Wizard of Oz is his over-the-top pseudo-Oriental fantasy, The Land of Green Ginger, which he rewrote in 1966 and 1975, both accompanied by the illustrations of Edward Ardizzone.

The hero of The Land of Green Ginger, Prince Abu Ali, is not the likeliest of lads.

He was too amiable; too good-natured; too kindly; too honest, and too-fair-minded.

He was far too considerate of other people’s feelings.

He laughed too easily, and he was much too sympathetic.

He was deeply fond of both of his parents.

He was never lazy, impudent, or ill-mannered.

He could never raise his voice in foolish rage, or be a tattle-tale behind your back.

He was, in fact, quite hopeless.

Any sensible person would put their money on the other two suitors, Wicked Prince Tintac Ping Foo or Wicked Prince Rubdub Ben Thud of Arabia.  Of the two, tall, skinny, mercenary Prince Tintac Ping Foo has the edge because of his way with words.  Here is a conversation with his father, the Shah of Persia, in which it is revealed that Rubdub Ben Thud has stolen a march on Tintac Ping Foo.

“What?  Rubdub Ben Thud?” shrilled the Wicked Prince in fiercest ire.  “That balloon-faced butterball?  Do you dare to tell me he has the silly sauce to pit himself against a paragon of loveable manly virtues like me?”

“I’m afraid so.  Yes,” said the Shah of Persia.

“Oh har! Oh har! Oh, har!” scoffed Tintac Ping Foo scornfully.  “I’d like to be there when they throw him out on his ear; but it’s far too far beneath my delicate dignity!”

“I quite agree,” agreed his father insincerely, “and I’d laugh as loudly as you my son; except that my spies inform me that Sulkpot Ben Nagnag looks with favor on his suit, and has invited him to lunch.”

The Wicked Prince Tintac Ping Foo went as purple in the face as a stick of jealous rhubarb, and shook his fists toward the sky.

“Then woe betide Rubdub Ben Thud!” he vowed vindictively. “He’ll rue the day he crossed my path! Ho there, Slaves! My camels! My retinue! My magic sword! My jellybeans! I leave at once for Samarkand.”

And what is more, gentle reader, he meant it and he did.

Tale of the Land of the Green Ginger (Cotsen 10198)

The author’s illustration of the wicked prince. Langley, The Tale of the Land of the Green Ginger (1937) (Cotsen 10198)

Land of Green Ginger: Ardizzone ill.

Prince Abu Ali and Silverbud united at last as illustrated by Ardizzone. The Land of Green Ginger (author’s copy)

But The Land of Green Ginger is a fractured fairy tale, so virtue will out, no matter which of the three versions you read.  If you crave more of the rhodomontade quoted above, pass by  the first edition and run, do not walk, to the 1975 version which is available in a handsome paperback from David R. Godine.   Sometimes it is just too humid and hot to tackle the volumes like War and Peace, Infinite Jest, or 1Q84 on a summer reading list, whereas something light and frivolous like The Land of Green Ginger goes down like a scoop of coconut sorbet.

Perhaps, patient and forbearing reader, a small sigh has escaped your lips because this magical realm cannot be found on Google Maps.  Actually, if you go to the East Riding of Yorkshire and find the bottom of Whitefriargate in Hull upon Kingston, you can visit the Land of Green Ginger.  Or you can read the books.  Take your pick.

Hull's version of the Land of Green Ginger

The Land of Green Ginger in Hull.