The Iliad Bookshop is a Beatlesy Wonderland


The Iliad is a used bookstore on a very ugly and shabby stretch of Cahuenga Boulevard in North Hollywood. I love that stretch of Cahuenga because it looks like it's never going to get turned into something nice and shiny, and I think it's important that some things just look the same forever, especially in crazy old Los Angeles. I went to The Iliad for the first time last Friday, after meeting up with my writer pals for our writer-pal meeting down the street at a coffeehouse called Moby's, which I'm also newly in love with: it's in a strip mall next to a weed clinic and a taco place and everyone's so nice and they sell gigantic jars of iced coffee for $2.50 and have these out-of-control pistachio-carrot muffins and raspberry-frangipani pop tarts, plus there's a game nook and a table set aside for an in-progress jigsaw puzzle to which anyone can contribute.

Anyway, The Iliad: it's a wonderland. I want to live in it, just like I wanted to live in Book Den when we went to Martha's Vineyard. But whereas Book Den had a bit of a "woman's touch," The Iliad appears to be run entirely by dudes - specifically, cranky but sweet-natured middle-aged dudes who're probably way into music dudes like Warren Zevon and Randy Newman and subsist on dude foods like frozen burritos and Campbell's Chunky Soup and love dude movies like The Dirty Dozen or whatever. It's ramshackle and chaotic but totally lovely and cozy as hell; you could probably stay there all day long and no one would give a damn. I was there maybe two hours, and it wasn't nearly enough time.

When I first got to The Iliad, it sort of reminded me of the bookstore that Michael Caine and Barbara Hershey go to in Hannah and Her Sisters, the one where he buys her that E.E. Cummings book:

And then I tried to think of an L.A.-set movie with a romantic bookstore scene, and I couldn't think of any. Someone chill with a deep understanding of Los Angeles should really make a movie that's got some dreamy scene set in The Iliad, completely free of any hacky jokes about how L.A. people don't read books. We do. We read books all the time.

So yeah, books. Books! So many beautiful books. In the interest of starting somewhere, I'll point out that The Iliad has an amazing selection of rock bios. I was especially charmed by Our Own Story by The Rolling Stones - it's very amusing to me to think of the Rolling Stones speaking in the first-person plural, all five of them sitting down together and saying: "This is it, guys. This is our story." Obviously the Rolling Stones never actually did that. But the font is pretty cute and hot:

The only rock bio I ended up buying was this Fleetwood Mac book. It was published in 1978 and so far I've only read the intro, which is written in the second person and places "you" in the driver's seat of a car in 1975: You're listening to AM radio and your car speakers are kind of shitty, and after a few "disco McDonald's commercials" the DJ plays you "Over My Head," identifying the song as "the super solid sayin' somethin' sounds of Fleetwood Mac." Which is so cool! "Sayin'-somethin'" is a really fun adjective. I kind of want to use it in my own music writing, but ultimately I think maybe it's the sort of thing that should be left in 1975. Some things just don't need to time-travel.

Another fantastic thing about The Iliad + music: there's a whole huge shelf of books about the Beatles. There's gotta be at least a few hundred of them, and it was so overwhelming, and at first I grabbed a Red Rose Speedway songbook and was like, "I'll just get this!! I'll just get the Red Rose Speedway songbook and call it a day!!!!" But then I calmed down and put the songbook back and flipped through a bunch of picture-heavy Beatles books, trying to find some Beatles pictures that I'd never seen before. This is by far my favorite of all the new Beatles pix I discovered - I love how Paul's shoving his hand into his mouth like a cute pig, and how John's really chugging on that bottle. I wonder what they're eating? Hopefully something fried and fatty and doughy and wonderful.

I ended up not getting any Beatles books at all; I decided the only Beatles books I ever care to read again are the Let It Be Beautiful books by Elizabeth Barker and Laura Jane Faulds. I'm still agreeing with myself on that. Oh and for another great moment in Beatle eating, I recommend this "I Feel Fine" video of the Beatles eating fish and chips and riding a stationary bicycle:

Probably the best part of The Iliad is the shelf of rare storybooks. I really wanted to buy a Little Golden Book called Brownie Scouts, but instead I got a book from 1939 that's two Brothers Grimm stories in one: The Goose Girl, and The House in the Woods:

But out of everything I bought at The Iliad (which also includes Rabbit Is Rich, Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and Plainsong by Kent Haruf), my favorite is a photography book called Cape Light. It's by Joel Meyerowitz and it's all photos of Cape Cod in the 1970s; I want to live in it even more than I want to live in The Iliad or Book Den. Here are some beautiful Cape Light pictures:

I had anxiety about buying Cape Light, since it was a whole $25 (as opposed to most of the other books I picked up, which were in the $2 to $5 range). But then I decided to get over it, and get over all bookstore-related anxiety in general. Most of the time when I'm in bookstores I get this antsy feeling like "Oh my god, all these books! There is no way I'll ever possibly get to read all the books I want to read, even if I just read all the time forever!" And it's not even like I'm anxious about the books I feel like I "should read" - it's that I'm worried about missing out on books that I know will change me in some unforeseeable way that's possibly essential to my overall development as a human being. But you can't think that way, it'll make you crazy. You just have to relax and go with whatever's calling you the most, and try to be all right with there being a certain randomness to everything. The Iliad is next to the coffee place with the magic pistachio-carrot muffins, and I didn't have any work to finish last Friday afternoon, and now I have this gorgeous book Cape Light and I'm going to heavily rip it off (psychically at least) in my own book. That's what we're going with. It's not scary or tragic. It's totally perfect and okay.

P.S. I took all the photos here, except for the one up at the top, which came from this site. You should also check out my friend Aurora's pic of a yawning cat who truly does live at The Iliad. Lucky guy.

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