At The Last Bookstore

I sit in a place called “The Last Bookstore” in downtown Los Angeles. It’s not really, literally the last bookstore, I don’t think, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from asking if it is, I’m sure. The interior has a vaguely warehouse feel, kind of grunge and coffeehouse at the same time. It is, let’s just say, a place where a hipster would not be ashamed to be found. There are even book pages in the inset florescent lighting. It’s not particularly cooled air, like a Barnes & Noble might have, but it’s moving and it’s cooler than outside, and when I’m surrounded by books, that’s enough.

I’m here at The Last Bookstore because I’ve been forced to cull my personal library—again. Once again, it’s a self-imposed directive, but I’ve run out of space and cash, and selling some of my books will alleviate at least some of both of those problems. I can’t afford to simply donate to the library, as I have in the past, because… well, they don’t pay for donations. Obviously. Not that I’m expecting a lot of return on selling pre-loved books, but even $100 would help out my finances, you know? Starving artist writer, and all that.

The thing is, I can’t. I mean, here I am, selling my books, but it just hurts so bad. I will never have children, so this may be as close as I even come to giving up for adoption a wanted child. That sounds kind of… extreme, I guess, when I write it out like this, but in trying to convey how I feel, only the extreme comes to mind.

Books! Interesting books, prophetic books, heretical books, long and short books. Poetry, all kinds of fiction, how-to, history, travel writing, religion, manga and comics, reference. I have to give it away. True, I’ll be paid a pittance for these stories, but not nearly what they’re worth. Each book is someone’s creation, someone’s sweat and blood. Even if it’s the worst thing I’ve ever read (though I’d’ve gotten rid of a terrible book long before this point), it’s still someone’s work of art. Sometimes the art’s not good, true, but that doesn’t mean the effort isn’t there.

The young man behind the “buy counter” is going through my books in order to separate the “Yes, we can sell these” books from the “No, sorry, these aren’t for us” books. I hope that he takes more than he rejects, and at the same time I dread it. I have five boxes of books in no order whatsoever, and it’s not the largest set of books he’ll see today.

He finally calls me over and offers me $145 for what amounts to three boxes worth. That means I’ll be taking two boxes home with me, but I’ll be $145 richer. My hands clench and I set my jaw.

“So why are you selling these books, if I may ask?” he asks, making conversation while we load the unwanted books back into a couple of crates so that I can take them back out to my car. I don’t want to tell him the real reason. I don’t even really know the “real” reason—that I need the money? That I need the space? Those things are true, but they aren’t the “real” reason. I guess… I guess I’m just growing into myself and these books don’t fit into my life the same way they once did. I have to let them go. And they have to find new readers to love them. Sitting in my room, there’s no way they can do that.

But I don’t say any of that. Instead, I blurt out, “I’m moving to New York City.” Gods, do I want to move back to New York. Maybe I am moving back, in the long run, but for all intents and purposes, that’s a lie.

His eyes widen a little, impressed, and he says, “Oh, well, have a safe trip, then.”

“Thanks,” I reply easily enough, and we both drop the subject. He asks for my ID, counts out the cash, and helps me take the two crates out to my car. I feel like I’ve just sold heroin, and I look around, half-wondering if anyone will ask what the hell I’m doing, out in a public place like this, and during the daytime. Books aren’t something to be taken lightly, why would I ever sell any of them? Donating to the public library is one thing; that’s an act of love in order to support reading in my community. But selling pre-loved books is like… it’s playing out a tragic heresy.

Of course, no one asks. The people who walk by look like they’re wondering why I have so many books in the first place, not like they’re judging me for just having sold a bunch of them.

I get into the car and before I can get a hold of myself, the tears start rolling down my cheeks. I know I’ve done the right thing—these books are already a part of me, whether or not I have physical copies in my hands or not—but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I look at the cash sitting in the passenger seat next to me and grimace. It’s… dirty money. I don’t want to touch it. I put my bag over it so I can’t see it and look away.

As I pull out of my parking spot on the street, the meter already expired fifteen minutes, I don’t look back. I can’t. It may be the last time I ever visit The Last Bookstore.

Viannah E. Duncan

Viannah E. Duncan is a writer and activist hailing originally from Los Angeles. She lives outside of Baltimore, Maryland, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She has a cat, Cleo.

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