Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Not all good things come to an end now it is/Only a chosen few."

The Song: "Almost Blue," Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Words & music by Elvis Costello. Track 6 of Imperial Bedroom, 1982.
How/when acquired: Purchased cassette, 1983
Watch/listen here.

A word about Imperial Bedroom, one of the best albums of all time. My high school boyfriend owned it on vinyl, and we listened to it almost nonstop during the second half of the summer of 1982. It came with a lyrics sheet, unpunctuated words scrawled closely together in what appeared to be Costello's own handwriting. This song felt like a portent of adulthood. Twenty-nine years later, it feels like a distillation of something more true than words.

The Mystery Bookstore announced yesterday that it will close on January 31.

In the summer of 1999, as I visited Los Angeles and fantasized about running away to the circus, I walked into a dark, narrow store on Beverly Boulevard in West Hollywood. THE MYSTERIOUS BOOKSHOP, the sign said; Washington, DC had only recently lost a mystery bookstore of its own.

I chatted with the clerk, who sold me a signed copy of L.A. Requiem and a paperback of Gone, Baby, Gone. I told him I was thinking about moving to Los Angeles. He said, in a tone I couldn't quite figure out, that Los Angeles had a lot of transplants already.

We didn't introduce ourselves, but that was Richard Brewer, the store's assistant manager. Six months later, I had moved to Los Angeles, and was living within walking distance of the store. I knew Richard's name, and that of Sheldon McArthur, the store's irascible manager. Times were hard: the store's New York owner had decided to close the Los Angeles branch.

A group of loyal customers rallied to buy the store, with Shelly as managing partner and Richard as assistant manager. They needed help. I was freelancing from home and needed to get out more, so I volunteered. I didn't even need to be paid, I said. They could pay me in books.

They did pay me, of course — not much, but they didn't let me work for free. My real compensation from The Mystery Bookstore, though, was a ticket into the world of books, the world of authors and readers and people who cared passionately about the printed page and the creative process. As it turned out, The Mystery Bookstore was the circus I ran away to.

I didn't leave it even when I moved to Maine. I've continued to write the store's weekly and monthly newsletters, and went back whenever I could for major events: the L.A. Times Festival of Books, the annual holiday party, friends' and clients' book launches. All of the book work I do now, I owe to The Mystery Bookstore; my first book editing project came out of a conversation with Scott Phillips one slow afternoon in the store. Over the past 11 years, the store has been the one constant of my working life, as other clients and projects came and went. My association with The Mystery Bookstore been more valuable to me than I can say, and I owe the store more than I could ever repay.

My friend Tod Goldberg describes the store as "a public trust" over on his blog today. I felt that way too. I think we all did. Certainly the current manager, Bobby McCue, and assistant manager Linda Brown feel that way. Owners changed, managers changed, but no one ever really quit the Mystery Bookstore; we all came back, because the store was something more than a business.

But it was a business, and now the business is closing.

I'm planning to fly out for the store's final weekend, at the end of the month. T. Jefferson Parker is the store's last formal event, signing at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, January 29. See you there?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Clair,
When you told me on the phone about this I didn't really understand how it was affecting you. I might have been a little dismissive and I'm sorry.
By your post I can tell what a gift that place has been to you and I hope that as you mourn your happy memories and the recognition of the gift will carry you through. Love,Peggy

AnswerGirl said...

Thanks, you were fine. The truth is, I didn't know how hard this would hit me until the official email landed in my mailbox.