Good Reading : February 2008
FEBRUARY 2008 ı good reading 9 Los Angeles, complete with Hollywood, the movie studios and Disneyland, offers plenty of opportunities to escape into a make believe world. Early in the 20th century, before Disneyland was even thought of, a businessman named Abbot Kinney turned some swampy land on the coast south of Santa Monica into an American Venice. Complete with canals,Venetian- style buildings, and even gondolas and gondoliers from Italy, this fantasy world became the centrepiece of an upmarket beachside holiday resort with an amuse- ment park on the pier and a trolley bus bringing day trippers from Los Angeles. But when cars became popular in the 1930s, many of the canals were paved over and Venice Beach became a run- down area. Beatniks and hippies lived there in the 1950s and ’60s, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that some of the canals were restored. Now it has become an area with charming bridges, canalside walks and interesting architecture, and is home to many artists and poets. At Venice Beach you can find Californian beach life at its most funky. The ocean front bike path and pavement are crowded with cyclists, rollerbladers and walkers all year round. Small World Books has been on the Venice Boardwalk for more than 30 years. Along with the adjoining Sidewalk Café, it is in one of the original Venice buildings constructed by Kinney. It had been abandoned for 20 years when Mary and Bob Goodfader moved their bookstore there in 1976. In the 1950s and early ’60s the building housed artists’ studios and was a hangout for beat poets such as Jack Kerouac. More than half the customers at Small World Books are tourists, so the store stocks a lot of good Californian travel guides.There is also a Mystery Annex with a wide range of books in the crime, mystery and science fiction genres, including titles by Raymond Chandler and Philip K Dick. Los Angeles provided the setting for most of their books, as it does for the books of current crime writer Michael Connelly. As a former police reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Connelly had access to the day- to-day workings of the LAPD and accu- mulated detailed knowledge of the city’s underworld. His first novel, The Black Echo, features the city’s sewerage system. In The Poet, Connelly turns the sunny pier on the beach at Santa Monica into a gruesome crime scene. Santa Monica, just a kilometre or so north of Venice Beach, is another Southern Californian beach town with its own unique character.The town centre is just one block from the beach and has an interesting collection of early 20th-century Art Deco buildings.Third Street has been turned into a pedestrian shopping mall with outdoor cafés, and nearby is Hennessey and Ingalls, the larg- est visual arts bookstore in the US.This family-owned bookstore has been in Santa Monica for over 40 years. Manager Robert Barrett said that the shop is a popular tourist destination, and going there is a kind of pilgrimage for many Americans. The private residence of modern American architect Frank Gehry is one of Santa Monica’s tourist attractions, along with a Gehry-designed building that looks like a giant pair of binoculars. The tree-lined Main Street is one of the nicest places in Los Angeles for a relaxing stroll. Its mixture of modern architecture, cafés and eclectic shops is a welcome antidote to the freeways that cross most of the city.The walk brings you back to Venice Beach, with its mix of faux Venetian buildings and cutting edge modern architecture. Los Angeles is definitely a city built on dreams. The Ocean Front Walk at Venice Beach, Los Angeles is famous for its continuing parade of street performers and the eclectic mix of artists, tarot readers and fortune tellers who ply their wares along its wide pavement. SUSAN HALL visits Small World Books on the beach front — a bookshop that has been part of the area’s bohemian cultural life for over thirty years. fully booked the other Venice Venice, California is modelled on its Italian counterpart. Small World Books is right on the sidewalk at Venice Beach. The Mystery Annex at Small World Books is a draw- card for crime fiction fans. The binocular shaped building designed by Frank Gehry. Hennessey & Ingalls bookshop specialises in art and architecture.
December January 2008