For the third installment of our series 7 Questions for a Bookseller, we talked to Josh Spencer, owner of The Last Bookstore in a historic bank building in downtown Los Angeles. The Last Bookstore opened in 2009, a time when the neighborhood bookstore seemed to be going extinct, but it defied the odds and has become California’s largest used and new book and record store, internationally famed as a work of art in its own right, with a book tunnel, Grecian columns, and vinyl sculptures hanging from the high ceilings. Josh Spencer began The Last Bookstore in his loft and grew into the successful independent business and community space that it is today. He took some time out of his always-busy life to answer our seven questions.
1. In an interview with KCRW, you mentioned that The Last Bookstore was similar to a creative narrative. If your bookstore was a book genre, what would it be?
The “new weird.” The sort of stuff China Mieville, Jeff Vandermeer, and maybe Neil Gaiman have sometimes written.
2. The Last Bookstore is like an art installation that you can live and read in. If you only had to describe your bookstore in three words, what would they be?
portal, refuge, explosion
3. What is your favorite word and why?
“Sword.” Because I like the way it sounds and feels, which I probably like because of a childhood steeped in fantasy novels and biblical stories and imagery revolving around swords. And I’m really into any movie or cartoon with swords, from Samurai Jack to Ichi the Killer to Star Wars to Lord of the Rings.
4. Which book do not enough people know about?
And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave, the musician. And out-of-print, really dark, glorious tale of tragic Southern religious horror and violence. It’s so well written.
5. Which literary character do you most want to meet?
I don’t think I’d want to meet any, just like I don’t usually want to meet actors or musicians I love. Disappointment is inevitable. But let’s say Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia, my favorite books as a kid.
6. You accept and sort A LOT of used books. What is the oddest book that you have noticed while sorting?
Oh man, so many. I can’t remember them all. Probably this book on unknown martial arts, with a chapter on a diet you could practice that would allow you to knock your opponents unconscious from ten feet away with just your breath. And it was not a joke! I don’t remember the title, unfortunately, but I just sent it to the store a month or so ago. It could still be there!
7. You buy and sell used and new books, but you also carry DVDs and CDs and vinyl. Why?
Because I love movies and music just as much. Words and pictures and sound: the Trinity of Art!
The Last Bookstore is located at the Spring Arts Tower at Spring and 5th in downtown LA. It is lauded by LA Weekly as the “Best Bookstore in Downtown LA” and is listed in Flavorwire’s “20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World.” Josh Spencer was recently featured in the short documentary Welcome to the Last Bookstore, directed by Chad Howitt, which we highly recommend you watch. Right now.