Dutton’s final page
After more than 20 years, an author closes the book on his favorite bookstore.
By T.C. Boyle
In 1985, I was living in Woodland Hills with my wife and two young children, about to publish my fourth book of fiction and beginning, in a vague way, to wonder about such things as marketing and retail establishments.
Up the street, squeezed into the mall next to the grocery, was a scion of the giant Crown Books chain. This particular Crown Books seemed entirely given over to titles and authors I’d never heard of; even more puzzling was the fact that these books were exclusively of the mass-market variety and that trade paperbacks (the sort that represented my modest backlist) wouldn’t even fit on the shelves.
Ever resourceful, I sent my wife and 5-year-old daughter in to reconnoiter. My wife, posing as an interested customer, told the clerk how disappointed she was not to find any of her favorite author’s books on the shelves, and she talked up my latest title until my daughter, unable to contain her enthusiasm, burst out with “Yes, and he’s my daddy!”
Ah, the sting of that. But salvation was at hand: Within the week — at the prompting of my editor all the way back in New York — I discovered the towering stacks and shadowy warrens of Dutton’s Books in Brentwood. I stepped tentatively through the door, fresh from the humiliation of Crown Books (and further blows at other chain stores), only to be tenderly wrapped in the aura of a bibliophile’s paradise — the lighting dim, the interior hushed, a smell of print investing the air as if the presses were even then churning away in the basement.
It was like stumbling into a Borgesian reality in which everything was made of books — the walls, the floors, the ceilings, even the employees. Before I could think, there was Scott Wannberg, one of the true literary zealots of our time, exploding from behind a cordillera of books to greet me. Within minutes, I’d signed the well-represented editions of my own titles, which were on permanent display right alongside those of all the authors I most admired, and then Scott was piling my arms high with books I absolutely just had to read. He had a sixth sense, knowing exactly what I wanted and needed, and from then on, though it was a bit of a haul from Woodland Hills, Dutton’s was my bookshop.