Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Goodnight, Dutton's

So Dutton’s Books in Brentwood is closing. All good things must come to an end. I just thought with book shops it would be different.

I have never been to Dutton’s in Brentwood, although when I taught in Santa Monica, I came very close. Now, I will definitely go before the April 30th closing date. For me, though, my heart will always belong to Dutton’s in North Hollywood, a store that closed more than a year ago now. I would prowl its musty, dusty aisles and stacks and find a number of reasonably priced gems to stock my growing shelves at home. North Hollywood is where I purchased my complete Pepys’ diary, circa late 1800s. In fact, from my spot here at my desk I can see at least a hundred volumes I remember purchasing at Dutton’s in NoHo.

When the closing was announced, I went in several times leading up to the last week. The strangest thing was to see the shelves and aisles less crowded. Even after the store closed, there was still some stock around. Some of the shelving units had books stacked three deep. The place finally emptied out a month or so after closing, and now it is supposedly a fitness equipment store. I have no reason to frequent that stretch of Laurel Canyon Boulevard anymore.

Some philosopher once said that we die twice—once when we die physically, and again when everyone who was alive and remembered us dies. Well, Dutton’s lives on. I remember. My book shelves are loaded with Dutton’s books. I will keep the memory alive, and let me just say, Barnes and Noble simply won’t cut it.

I do have a story to tell about not Doug Dutton, the proprietor of the Brentwood store, but his brother, Davis who ran the NoHo location.

I was calling around one day trying to locate a nearly out of print book called The Reporter’s Handbook. According to several sources, it is a must have for serious journalists. None of the chains carried it, and I was not familiar with Amazon at that time. I called Dutton’s and asked if they could order it. They did, and told me it would be in the store within weeks.

When it finally arrived, I went to pick it up and pay for it. At the register, I discovered that the binding had split and separated from the pages. Because it was a special order, and nearly forty dollars, I was very disappointed. I told the clerk as much, and we were soon joined at the counter by Davis Dutton. He examined the book and promised me he would order another.

A week later, I was in the store again to pick up the second copy and I quickly discovered the same problem. Davis again looked at it, examining both copies side by side. He told me that most likely the entire print run was damaged. He told me how to repair the book with a little glue. It seemed simple enough. “Are you a journalist?” he asked me with his intense grey eyes.

“I am trying to freelance,” I replied. “I am actually a high school English teacher.”

“Have you published anything yet?” I told him about a piece that ran in the Los Angeles Times and some book reviews I wrote for The Bloomsbury Review.

“So what are we going to do about this book?” he asked. He stared off into space, and I thought he was computing the discount he would give me on the book. The store employee stared at him expectantly. “Here,” he said after a minute, handing me the book. “Write a good story.” He smiled at me across the counter.

At home later that night, I followed Davis Dutton’s recipe for fixing the book. It worked perfectly, and the book sits on my desk to this day. I only hope that I have managed to write a few good stories for him to keep my end of the bargain.

That will be what is missing when the last Dutton’s shop closes. No high school kid working at Borders will know how to fix a damaged book or encourage a young writer to tell a good story. With any luck, he might be able to point out where the fiction section is.

Los Angeles will miss its literary light, and we will all suffer for its loss.