On Nov. 3, the Iliad bookstore in North Hollywood was set on fire in what appears to be arson. Boxes of books were pushed in front of the back door and set on fire, and a manifesto was posted on the wall. Two shop cats were inside as smoke began to fill the interior.
“If the firemen hadn’t come here, they would have said the whole building would have been gone in a few minutes,” says Dan Weinstein, owner of the Iliad.
“A neighbor was walking by,” says Weinstein. “They saw the fire and coincidentally flagged down a passing fire truck. Luck was really on my side.”
Fortunately, the fire did not get inside. Weinstein, who closed the store for a day to clear the smoke, has reopened and is working on repairs. “The firemen stayed for a good hour after the fire was out and put blowers on our door to blow out a lot of the smoke. If they hadn’t, I think I’d be toast,” he says. “I can’t say enough nice things about the fire department.”
Initial reports suggested the fire may have been a hate crime; Weinstein says he suspects that wasn’t the case. “[The suspect] put up some flyer with some political agenda, but I don’t think it was aimed at hatred. It was just crazy,” he says.
Since news of the fire broke and the story appeared on local television, he says he’s been flooded with support from customers, locals and others who want to help.
“We had amazing support; we got calls from people back east who heard about it and just wanted to mail order the book to help support. Customers are coming in,” he says, adding that the day they reopened, our store was full of people wanting to support us.
The store set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for repairs; Originally targeting $5,000, the fund has already surpassed 700 donations and more than $32,500 as of this writing.
“We had such an outpouring that I decided to only use this money for real repairs and upgrades. Because my insurance policy was literally three days old when it happened; I just switched. And I really didn’t want to apply after three days and be cancelled.’
In fact, Weinstein, who comes from a family of booksellers, said he considered closing the store but couldn’t when he saw the response, which included people volunteering and serving and local restaurants sending them free food. “It did my heart good. I was actually thinking of closing the shop, but I can’t do it with this kind of support,” he says.
“I come from a family of books,” says Weinstein, who has operated the Iliad for 35 years. “My family owned many bookstores in and around Southern California, including Heritage Book Shop and Book City, Valley Book City, Book Barons—some of the biggest names in the LA book world. I’m the next generation, but I worked for them for about 10 years and then I decided: OK, it’s my turn.”
If you’ve ever been to a bookstore, you know it’s good. I have shopped at The Iliad many times over the years and have always left with interesting books that I didn’t expect to find – ‘Savage Continent’ by Keith Lowe and ‘Knight of Swords’ by Michael Moorcock. shopping that comes to mind. It’s a treasure trove of used books, so I didn’t just want to talk about fire. I wanted to talk about books, so we did.
Who is your favorite book or author? “Wow, that’s a loaded question. One of my favorite authors is Charles Bukowski. But like licorice, you either love it or you hate it.’
And what are the store’s popular titles or authors? “Let’s see, Philip K Dick.” Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin: These are the authors that when I put something on the shelf, it’s usually gone by the end of the day,” she says, adding, “Haruki Murakami is another one of those that is hard to keep on the shelf. . James Baldwin, Toni Morrison. There’s a whole list of authors we just can’t get enough of.’
While I could have asked questions like this all day, I figured it was time to let Weinstein get back to business, which currently involved trying to find an ozone generator to deal with the smell of smoke.
“It’s been a long week, let me tell you,” Weinstein says, keeping things positive. “The cats survived; They are cool. When I walked into the room it was full of smoke and they were a little panicked, but we got them out right away. They are at home with me at the moment.’
Weinstein, who says he plans to go thank the firefighters at the station, said he’s grateful to be back at work.
“It was touch and go for a while when I first opened the door and saw the smoke I was sure it was over,” he says.
“But I think we’ll survive.
On Borrowing author Jason Guriel takes readers on a trip back in time
Jason Guriel is the author of several books, including “Forgotten Work,” a speculative verse novel published in 2020. A cultural critic whose work has appeared in outlets such as Slate, Lit Hub, The Atlantic, and The Walrus, Guriel has a new book of essays, “On Browsing” , which will be published on November 15. Part of Biblioasis’ Field Notes series, the collection explores the now-declining practice of scouring bookstores and record stores for unexpected finds, rather than looking for exactly what you’re looking for. Guriel lives with his family in Toronto.
Q: Is there a book you always recommend to other readers?
A book that I have recommended to many people is by American poet and essayist Kay Ryan. She’s this amazing poet from California who very occasionally wrote these essays for Poetry Magazine and literary magazines. They were simply wonderfully philosophical, charming, funny, meditations on poetry and time. I used to say that if anyone ever collected them, it would be a monumental work as American criticism. And just at the beginning of the pandemic, a wonderful collection of these essays, “Synthesizing Gravity,” was published. It is a book that I have recommended to many people.
Q: How do you decide what to read next?
I inevitably buy more than I ever have to read, especially with young children at home. I discover things the old-fashioned way. I love a good review – newspapers used to have bigger book sections, but they’ve really shrunk a lot. I bump into things in bookstores. I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of a particular author for a while, but I’ve never clicked the “you might like this” box on Amazon or anything like that.
With music I love British music magazine Mojo; I keep buying it and the reviews are great. They are authoritative. It’s a bit like having this charmingly snobbish record store in hand every month. That is my source of information.
I don’t follow many people on Twitter. They are critics, they are book reviews. It’s something like that. Not scrolling through Amazon, that’s for sure.
Q: What memorable book experience would you like to share?
I read “Moby Dick” again. That was a book I read in university 20 years ago and I really didn’t remember it. It sounds silly, but it’s an amazing book. I’m amazed at how special it is. This is probably old news to a lot of people, but I think the public has a sense of what the book is about, and when you read it, it’s so crazy and weird and fun and light. And sentence after sentence. it is constantly approaching the state of poetry. I was completely blown away by how strange the book is and how brilliant it is – it’s like Thomas Pynchon in the 19th century. It’s not the big dark American classic it’s made out to be. Sure there are 200 pages about whales or whatever, but it’s like the best 200 pages you’ll ever read about it. So that was my most memorable experience recently.
Q: Is there a person who influenced your reading life – a teacher, parent, librarian or someone else?
I had really good English teachers in high school and I think that made the difference. I had some great teachers at university too, but there was something about those high school English teachers.
I remember a 12th grade teacher, Miss Pantrey, the English teacher, and she was writing something about TS Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’ on the board. And she said something like, “TS Eliot could have spent a month writing that.” I just remember being blown away by the idea that you could spend so much time refining and perfecting a poem. It’s the little moments that were almost throwaways that completely expanded my sense of what writing is and what it could be.
Q: What is something about your book that no one knows?
I’m not sure how to answer this without sounding flippant, because on the one hand I’m very passionate about this book, but I really wasn’t going to write this thing. I think I have some sense of being an expert on the subject of browsing. And it was a topic I didn’t even realize was important to me until I started writing about it. I found myself getting quite emotional that some stores that meant a lot to me were gone.
It was a strange experience to be asked to write this little book and to find that it meant something to me.
That’s it for this edition folks. I hope you enjoy your weekend; I plan to take a trip to the Iliad and also catch the start of “Rogue Heroes,” the Epix series based on Ben Macintyre’s great book of the same name.
Let me know what books you liked and your recommendations may appear in the column. Send them to [email protected]
Thanks, as always, for reading.
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What’s next on ‘Bookish’
The next free Bookish event will be on November 18, and guests Laura Warrell, Jill Bialosky and Jean Hanff Korelitz will join host Sandra Tsing Loh.