Category Archives: Bits and Bobs

A Last Birthday

This is what I wrote on our 24th birthday:

The other day at Portrait I was asked about how it is that we seem to know every single book on our shelves. Some people have offered that we don’t actually read all of them, that we just read reviews and synopses and manufacture opinions about the book based on our interpretation of these, then present these opinions as if they were formed after days and days of being buried in the pages of the book in question. Not so. We do read them. Our store is very small and compared to the big boxes, or even other independent bookstores, our stock is also limited. Limited or not, we have a lot of books– I once had to take all of them down for renovations and it took me one whole day. One whole 12-hour day. So how is it that you can point to any book and at least one of our eight-person staff will have read it? Even if the book was released just yesterday? The obvious answer is that we all love to read and the only prerequisite for employment at Portrait (besides being at least functionally insane or better) is being an avid reader.

The less obvious answer, and the one which is more or less romantic depending on your point of view, is that it is part of the job description. Really. This is why each of us takes so much pride in our work– we aren’t just store clerks charged with successfully completing transactions. We’re required to read and have opinions about every single book we sell. In a sense, besides working during the hours of our shifts, we also work from home. I happen to think that’s quite extraordinary and being someone loath to brag, I say that with a great deal of care.

I suppose I’m feeling pretty sentimental to be writing this for the world to see. Twenty four years for a small bookstore is no small feat. Julie and Frank and every one who has called this place home throughout the years have all lovingly and unabashedly poured pieces of themselves into these walls.  I suspect that, with the guidance of the kind, knowledge-seeking and solace-providing spirits that reside here, it will exist for many many years to come. Because it’s important to have a place to find refuge in where your hosts know their home inside out, where guided tours through unknown realms are the norm, where you know they care– not because it’s good company policy to appear like they do, but because they just do.

Happy Birthday, Julie. Happy Birthday, Portrait of a Bookstore, the little bookstore that could.

This is what I wrote on our 25th birthday:

25 is the number of years I’ve been alive. When I was born, Portrait of a Bookstore was about to celebrate one month of being in business. So, you see how grandiose statements about time and wisdom may seem laughable coming out of me.

Here’s the question: How do you celebrate a life lived across two and a half decades,  in one day? I’m already worried about what we’ll do for our 50th Anniversary. A bigger party? More people we love will show up and toast us? Of course. That has its place. It’s why I’ll blow out my own candles this year and next. But that act is only symbolism born out of tradition. Whether or not I celebrate my life is decided each and every day between birthdays. More often than not, I don’t. Some days I do, most days I don’t.

And that’s how this bookstore is different from me. That’s why yesterday’s celebration was sweet and cozy and small and felt like a special day but not much different than any other. That’s what makes this bookstore extraordinary. Every day we celebrate somehow. Even when we don’t think we’re celebrating, we are. There are no bad days here… and it’s nothing like Oz.

I was asked recently what the secret to our survival has been and my answer was an unromantic, honest and practical one: “Love.” We just love each other. We love what we do. We love books. We love talking to people about books. This love is so genuine and strong, that people recognize it and through this we connect with our community, one person at a time. It’s so simple.

Thank you for the first 25 years…

Today is our 26th birthday. All that can conceivably be said has already been said. In fact, I have been silent most of the day. As, I know, many of our staff have and many of you. We will miss you. We will miss each other. We will miss…desperately miss these walls. These walls, within which we met and fell in love, where we fought and reconciled, wept and laughed, learned and grew. This was always a place, often deemed a haven, where all who thirsted for beauty could be sated. There are so many kinds of beauty and we always had a little of each kind. How lucky we are that it will forever live inside us as just such a place.

“Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”

–Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse


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Everything at Portrait of a Bookstore is now 75% off.

Including bookshelves and pens and tape…. and paper clips. And did I mention we still have shelves and shelves of books and antiques and vintage accessories and all kinds of wild and wonderful things?

This is our way of inviting you back to our house for one last hurrah. Come in for a hug and a chat and… and a final goodbye.

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“I have nothing now but praise for my life. I’m not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can’t stop them. They leave me and I love them more. … What I dread is the isolation. … There are so many beautiful things in the world which I will have to leave when I die, but I’m ready, I’m ready, I’m ready.”

Maurice Sendak on Fresh Air, December 29, 2011

I’m just pretending he was swallowed up by the lion. All we have to do is turn him upside down.

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Christmas in May

Yes, maybe our stock room is a glorious bottomless pit, as some of you have suggested. No matter how many people come through and whisk away mementos for themselves, we keep adding new things and it’s looking almost possible now that we’ll never run out!

James Fearnley’s new book, Here Comes Everybody, not yet distributed in the US, is available only at Portrait! Stop in for your copy today.

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New Things

Some of you thought it was over last week, when you came in, beheld the emptiness, and heard your own voice echoing back. Well, guess what! We have all new things.


And everything is still 50% off!

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This and That and This

Amazing, isn’t it? Not how drunk he is, but how much space there is between each word he speaks, how he tells almost the whole story, how sweet he seems, how charming and affected and innocent.  Part of the audiobook, Ernest Hemingway Reads Ernest Hemingway, this was recorded on a pocket recorder sometime in the 50’s.

We have precisely 1,456,987 books in stock with Hemingway as their subject. Here’s just a handful of our bestsellers:

“Focusing on the years 1934 to 1961—from Hemingway’s pinnacle as the reigning monarch of American letters until his suicide—Paul Hendrickson traces the writer’s exultations and despair around the one constant in his life during this time: his beloved boat, Pilar.”

“Ernest Hemingway always had cats as companions, from the ones he adored as a child in Illinois and Michigan, to the more than 30 he had as an adult in Paris, Key West, Cuba, and Idaho. All are chronicled and most are pictured here, along with revelations of how they fit into the many twists and turns of his life and loves.”

“A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.” A novel.

“Compelling, illuminating, poignant, and deeply insightful, Paris Without End provides a rare, intimate glimpse of the writer who so fully captured the American imagination and the remarkable woman who inspired his passion and his art—the only woman Hemingway never stopped loving.” Not a novel.

“With books like 2001’s PEN/Faulkner winner Bel Canto and the new State of Wonder, Patchett has demonstrated a singular ability to write smart literary novels that are also big best sellers. And when it comes to literature and books in general, she’s put her money where her mouth is: in 2011 she opened Parnassus Books in her hometown of Nashville, placing herself on the front lines of several ongoing battles for the fate of the printed word.”

Ann Patchett is one of the nominees for Time Magazine‘s Most Influential People of 2012. I decided to vote “Definitely” as opposed to “No Way” when asked by a poll whether she should be on the list. 55.16% have said No Way.  Also, she’s right in between Leon Panetta and Ron Paul. I can’t explain why, but that’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Speaking of jokes, did you know that the 2012-13 California budget provides zero (0) funding for public libraries? That’s zero dollars. You can write a letter or ten, and here’s some information.

Truman Capote’s bedroom. See others here.

Listening to their voices rambling… scrutinizing the places they lived in… reading between the lines of novels and stories and poems… really believing we can get close.

Also, this.

Adrienne Rich passed away on March 27, at the age of 82. Surely you’ve heard.

I would not have objected to a hundred more years’ worth of poems.

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Turning Pages

This morning, there was a knock at my office door. When I opened it, standing in front of me was a box of books… with legs (and a few more on the ground, without). Gail Craven read Katie’s story yesterday and decided to help. She’s in the business of helping, you see. A teacher at Colfax Charter Elementary in Studio City, Gail is also the Executive Director of the Turning Pages Foundation, a nonprofit in support of literacy, enrichment and leadership programs in local and global communities. Having recently organized a successful community book drive, Gail is now donating a good deal of these books to Katie’s learners in South Africa.

I am personally so grateful and so heartened by this. Sure, it’s all small beans if you start to compare, but who’s to say what the value is of a cycle such as this — a recent college graduate uproots herself to be of use somewhere where she’s needed, she reaches out to a bunch of people who like to read, they in turn reach out and are met by the open palms of members of a community that is just dying to help wherever and whomever it can. We’re only talking about a few boxes of books here, but just one of these books could be the sole thing a man or woman in South Africa will one day point to as the beginning, the source of meaning, of purpose and of hope.

Please visit the Turning Pages Foundation website here, and consider volunteering, helping out in any way. Whether you’ll donate a book, funds, mentor a child, help set up the stand at the Farmers Market where they sell plants, encourage your children to participate… whatever you want, however big, however small.

Also, and this is for those of you who eat food, the Whole Foods  in Sherman Oaks on Riverside Dr. will be donating 5% of all of tomorrow’s profits to the foundation. You buy groceries, a bunch of kids get help with their math homework. Please shop there tomorrow, April 4th, if you have shopping to do. It’s a multidimensional win-win if ever there was one.

Last but certainly not least, thanks to all of you who’ve donated, those whom I haven’t thanked personally, those of you who leave behind sacks of books anonymously… thank you!

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