Final chapter for a Mar Vista bookstore — and its unique community

By Jeffrey Fleishman
FROM: L.A. Times

la-1554236805-g0stejryrh-snap-imageListen to the rhythm of the stacks. Ghosts. Witches. Vampires. Come this way. Mummies. Mysteries. Mythologies. The words lift like music. True crime is down that aisle. Chaucer and Chesterton are over there. To the left wait Fitzgerald, Hemingway and a smiling Langston Hughes. And calling no attention to himself is Dostoevsky, so dark, yet so pure in the way he understood the things that menace the soul.

David Benesty knows the bindings, spines and pages of them all.

The manager of Sam: Johnson’s Bookshop in Mar Vista, he roams amid titles in black shorts, T-shirt and pork pie hat. With a discerning gaze and a cantor’s voice, he quotes W. Somerset Maugham and professes his love — “they are my popcorn reads” — for Dr. Fu Manchu adventures by Sax Rohmer. The world is in these rows, in poetry and prose, in the writings of James Boswell, in the celestial flare of sci-fi covers.

“Big sellers,” says Benesty, holding up an Isaac Asimov novel. “Very collectible.”

But Ecclesiastes whispers from another shelf that everything has its season. Things change. Buildings get sold. Rents trend skyward. Don’t even mention Amazon and the shrinking attention spans of the young. Benesty, whose last name is known to some as Ben-Veniste, has been selling rare and used books here for decades, but the owner has put the building on the market and the shop is set to close by the end of May.

When a piece of a community succumbs to the weight of change, irreplaceable characters and singular moments that drifted through and defined the lives of countless Angelenos vanish against the desires and fascinations of new times. It is a curious and cruel evolution. Storefronts and painted signs grow faint against screens and smartphones that tug us away from a communion of voices meeting by happenstance to chat about politics, film or the latest bestseller.

The shuttering of a bookstore is like a recurring couplet — Caravan Book Store in downtown Los Angeles closed last year; Circus of Books in West Hollywood, in February — but each has its own peculiarities and enchantments, its floods and fires, water stains and worm holes, and the occasional first edition from a past century, still crisp to the touch.

“That tradition is gone,” says Benesty, 79, keys dangling from a belt loop. “People have Kindles, if they read at all. You know, I had a young man come in who had never read a book. He had been through college. Cliff notes. He wanted me to recommend something, so I went with the obvious, ‘Of Mice and Men.’ He came back, and I gave him ‘The Sun Also Rises.’ He discovered he loves to read.” Read Rest of Article Here

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