In 1894, the first-ever commercial motion picture house—a Kinetoscope parlor—opened its doors in New York City. That same year, in the region that would become the movie capital of the world, Adam Clark Vroman opened a bookstore in Pasadena, California. That business, now with two locations in Los Angeles County, remains open to this day—Vroman’s is the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. Guy Lopez is one of the store’s booksellers.
ZYZZYVA: What’s the coziest spot in your store for reading?
GUY LOPEZ: The whole store is cozy, but the coziest spot that comes to mind is a lovely bench near the philosophy and religion section that perfectly allows for readers to search for that new story to get lost in. I’ve seen customers go through stacks of books there, often catching the attention of other customers, eventually getting into long conversations on favorite books.
Z: What’s a little-known fact about your store?
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GL: I still surprise people when I tell them there is an amazing fine writing section in the store that sells a variety of beautiful pens, from fountain pens to ballpoints.
Z: How would you describe the smell of your shop?
GL: Once inside Vroman’s, you immediately get what a digital or audiobook can’t give you: the smell of new books—the paper, the ink, the glue, the crisp unread pages. Hints of cedar, sandalwood, notes of leather, tobacco. In my opinion, every bookstore has its own smell; used bookstores have an aged aroma that is one of the joys of browsing. To quote Ray Bradbury: “There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”
Z: Which new book would you recommend most to readers?
GL: I recently read Victory City, by Salman Rushdie, which is a lush, magical epic. I also loved Either/Or, by Elif Batuman, which is an enjoyable read about a witty, sardonic, intelligent young woman as she navigates through life. I would also recommend Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin, for readers who are looking for a contemporary, accessible read, and the new nonfiction book by Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being.
Z: Aside from your own, what’s your favorite bookstore?
GL: There are so many beautiful bookstores all over the world—Powell’s in Portland, Green Apple in San Francisco, Shakespeare and Company in Paris, but I am a local bookstore supporter and I love Book Alley in Pasadena. It is a little used bookstore on Colorado, and it has some real gems, like old, signed editions and beautiful sci-fi covers. You truly never know what you’ll find in the stacks! It is a charming, underrated bookstore.