There’s something enduringly lovely about local independent bookstores. I love stopping by to visit them, try to give my local ones the first shot at supplying me with a book I’m looking for, but most of all I value them as community centres at the heart of the villages (real and virtual) that exist in our neighbourhoods, even in a vast city like Los Angeles. People gather and linger at them, bonding over the written word for the most part, but sometimes just for the sake of gathering and lingering. In that role they are a lot like public libraries, another favourite of mine. Much of what I said can apply to the large chain bookstores too, but somehow I find them less likely to have that community feel that independent stores have. I’m not sure why (location? focus? less of a personal touch in the organization of the material?), but this is the way it seems to me. (I’m speaking about the USA; the feel of bookstores is different to me in different countries.)
Last night, after a quiet evening meal after a long day of working on the Project, I went for a nice long walk, heading to Skylight books in Los Feliz. (That’s the neighbourhood at the base of the hills of Griffith Park, in case you don’t know.) My friend and colleague Aimee Bender was launching her new (long awaited) novel “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”, and I thought I’d go along to support the launch, hear about the book, and absorb a bit of the buzz. And buzz there was, since in addition to being widely read, Aimee has a loyal fan base, and her appearances to do readings, speak on panels, and other literary (or related) events usually draw crowds of enthusiastic listeners. So indeed it was standing room only at Skylight (and not much of that left either), with an impressive silence falling over the whole store while she read for 20 minutes from the opening chapters. (For those interested in Aimee’s thoughts on her writing process, here’s an interview with her in a recent edition of USC College magazine, and here’s a reading of one of her excellent short stories with a Q&A at the end, filmed at Google in 2007.) The book sounds like it is going to be an excellent read, and I’m looking forward to settling down with it soon.
I’ve not bought it yet since the line was very long. I’ll be back at the store later this week to pick something else, and will get it then. (Incidentally, while writing this post this morning, an email arrived from which I learned, to my surprise, that I’m acknowledged in the book! I spoke with Aimee, sometime last year I think, about an aspect of a scene she was puzzling over, and it seems that our conversation was useful. I’m very happy to have contributed in this small way to the book!)
It was also nice to see lots of other friends there (some are also writers supporting the event, or friends from a slightly wider circle, such as myself) and say hello and catch up, as well as several other familiar faces whose names I don’t know but I recognize either from other literary-type events, the SmartGals events, or from numerous cafes around these and nearby neighbourhoods (seems we all use them as our offices).
Christine Louise Berry (founder of SmartGals, you’ll recall from other posts) was there, and of course she’d made a lemon cake for everyone to share. Once Aimee turned to the business of signing books for the really long line of people that formed she set about slicing it up into little tastes for everyone. Excellent touch! (Click the photos for larger views.)
Christine’s cake did not have chocolate frosting, as the one in the book has. I mention that only because in the Q&A session, the issue of whether that sort of frosting on a lemon cake is common or not came up. I’ve never done that combination in my baking, but that might simply be because I don’t use chocolate a lot in my baking. On reflection, I think it ought to work rather well. Orange and chocolate go together very well, and I like it when both the orange and the chocolate bring a tartness and slight bitterness to the flavour. I think lemon can play that role with chololate too, in the right balance. I think I might just do some experiments in the kitchen on this matter, perhaps in the context of cupcakes.
At that point, my tiredness from a very long day of working kicked in and I smiled my goodbyes, took my leave of the lovely scene, and set off home into the quickly cooling June evening, glad of the jacket and cap I’d brought along.