A Hot Date with Libros Schmibros

The hottest literary ticket this month isn't LA Aloud or Arianna Huffington's salon or a poetry slam at some Johnny Depp-owned dive in darkest Hollywood.

It's hanging out at Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights or the second, pop-up Libros that is now temporarily ensconced in the lobby of the Hammer Museum in Westwood.

For those who haven't yet heard, Libros Schmibros is a lending library and used bookstore in Boyle Heights dreamed up by critic, literary flaneur, former NEA bigwig and all-around book geek David Kipen. Can we clone him, please?

Recently, some brilliant minds at the Hammer got the idea to replicate Kipen's eclectic Boyle Heights set-up at their museum for six weeks. The functional yet conceptual art installation has been such a success with staff, museum visitors and area neighbors that the Hammer has extended Libros Schmibros West til November 5.

Initially, Kipen wondered how he would staff two bookstores at the same time. So he sent out a literary SOS to LA's community of writers. Would authors be willing to spend a few hours hanging out in either the Boyle Heights and the Westwood pop-up store as artists-in-residence.

Our mission: to shelve books, explain the Libros Schmibros philosophy to anyone who wandered in and generally hang out. Think Les Deux Magots without alcohol.

Here's how Libros works:

Every book in the library is for sale at half its listed price. Browsers may also borrow a book for three weeks on the honor system, leaving only an email address or phone number as collateral.

The city's scribblers responded to Kipen in droves, so that on any given day, you're liable to run into Mona Simpson, Jonathan Gold, Hector Tobar, Jervey Tervalon, Aimee Bender, Louise Steinman Sarah Bynum, Richard Rayner, DJ Waldie or Gary Phillips shooting the breeze with whoever wanders in.

Libros Schmibros has also hosted several nighttime events, including a standing-room only marathon reading of Jack Kerouac's On The Road and author Mark Z. Danielewski and guests discussing Thomas Pynchon's LA Trilogy. On Oct. 8, the Boyle Heights store will host a post-Yom Kippur feast with Jonathan Gold.

Last week, it was my turn at the Hammer's pop-up store. J. Michael Walker, artist and author of "All the Saints of the City of Los Angeles" was there too. (A gifted interpreter of LA culture, mythology, history and art, he also created the illustrated LA cultural map on the back wall of Libros West).

Michael and I hung out and chatted with visitors who came and went.

"You're Denise Hamilton?" asked one bemused visitor. "I've been meaning to read you!"

The visitor bought one of my books, which I happily autographed. Then I autographed four more for other people.

Soon Mike the Poet dropped by with some book donations and serenaded us with a brand new poem that Suzanne Lummis of the L.A. Poetry Foundation had commissioned for the Night and the City LA Poetry Festival this month.

The books for sale or borrow are wildly eclectic and include many that Kipen amassed in his years as book critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. There are first editions, paperback classics, gorgeous coffee table art books and noir paperbacks. In a poignant twist, the bookshelves at Libros Schmibros West came from the much lamented and recently closed Mystery Bookstore in Westwood.

Which incredulously, leaves exactly zero bookstores in the cultural hub of Westwood, (except for UCLA's) except this modest pop-up whose lights will go out for good on Nov. 5.

So come on down to Libros Schmibros at its original Boyle Heights location or the temporary Westwood digs at the Hammer. I'm about to sign up for a second gig myself. You never know what interesting people I might run into.

david-kipen.JPGDavid Kipen with visitor at Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights. Photo: Marianne Williams.

More by Denise Hamilton:
Recently on Native Intelligence
New at LA Observed