Sunday Nibble #54: Words, words, words

One of my lifelong joys has been used bookstores and or used book sales, and from a very early age, whenever I could ever avail myself of one or the other and ride the three miles home on a bike with several heavy bags on the handlebars, or stuff my car trunk with several boxes, or whatever… the downside is that actually being able to patronize such places were taken away as an option a year ago.

And then, last week, I happened to stumble upon a place that was near where I grew up, but not there when I grew up at all, and wound up spending a ton of time crawling the shelves and coming out with a just amazing stack of stuff that cost around thirteen dollars.

One thing that they had a lot of that’s usually hard to find: Books of sheet music, generally collections of popular songs from various years or decades, or on various themes. I wound up with Television Sheet Music Hits (from Warner Music, so not surprisingly all Warner Bros. produced shows); Biggest Hits of ’92-’93; Popular Hits of the ‘90s; 50 Songs of WW II; and Bradley’s New Top Movie Tunes (© 1994), also Warner Music.

On top of those, I grabbed an AP Spanish Language study guide, presumably for the AP test 2018, and didn’t even realize it at the time that it came with a CD full of MP3s. It’ll be interesting to go through it and see how much I’ve learned on my own in the last seven-ish years that I didn’t learn taking five years of Spanish in high school — or at least which didn’t stick.

Two funny Spanish AP stories. When I got to junior year and the same Spanish class I’d been with since starting middle school, we all landed in AP and on the first day the teacher asked us whether we’d rather study grammar or literature.

The vote: Absolutely unanimous for grammar — and she vetoed it, saying that we’d learn grammar better by reading the literature. As a result, someone in the class found out that the University Library at Cal State University Northridge (CSUN) was available for L.A. Unified School District students. We couldn’t check anything out, but we could go in and read or copy as much as we wanted.

But the important part: They just so happened to have every book we were assigned to read for the Spanish class, translated into English. We alternated going down there to make copies of the shorter works, which we’d then share with each other. For longer books, we’d just read them in the library and make notes.

Consequently, we really didn’t learn shit about Spanish or its grammar that year because we all took the lazy way out. Now, at the time and like my fellow students, I was vehement in believing that learning grammar was the way to go. Looking back on it now from the point of view of someone who became fluent from self-study, I see that we were all wrong. Immersion, including reading everything, is the way to go.

Not long after I’d left high school, I’d pretty much lost my Spanish other than knowing basic words and short expressions. Anything complicated or conjugated, forget it. Now, I’ve gone way past translating in my head and can communicate with native speakers just fine.

The other funny Spanish AP story: I was scheduled to take the AP placement exam on a Saturday morning. The Friday night before was a high school football game, and I was in band. I played drums mainly because you can’t march with a piano. I don’t remember whether I’d forgotten my mallets or broke one, but we were on the field.

I ran back up to the classroom to grab a pair. On the way back down, I decided to try my powers of flight instead of actually taking the stairs, and twisted my ankle. I still played and marched the whole game, but wouldn’t get a chance to go to a doctor until after the test.

I showed up using one of my dad’s golf clubs as a makeshift walking stick, took the test in a lot of distracting pain, and I don’t remember doing all that well, although it was well enough to get me the college credits for that course.

Combined with my other AP credits, I actually started university as a second semester freshman, with the huge advantage being that I automatically wound up registering before all of the first semester freshman, so I got every class I wanted, and the pattern repeated.

Of course, instead of just graduating a semester early, I had to be ambitious, so in addition to my major in Communications, I had a double minor in Abnormal Psychology and Theatre, which all kind of go together in a way.

The four other finds in this bonanza were sort of random. The first, A Day in the Life of California, is a coffee table picture book created when a bunch of professional photo journalists were sent out to take pictures in the state, all on the same day: April 29, 1988. It was a massive undertaking and, from what I can remember hearing about it at the time, a pretty big deal.

The book itself tells me that it resulted in 115,000 photos, and it wasn’t the first time they did this. The back flap of the dust jacket lists six other entries in the A Day in the Life of… series. I have no idea what the original price was. It’s currently on Amazon for $25.95, but I got it for one dollar.

Another book, called Field Guide to Luck, was targeted as a how-to guide on using the lucky talismans of various cultures in order to get lucky, but at the same time, it’s just a handy reference to all kinds of folk superstitions, which will always be useful as a writer.

Another interesting random find was The Ultimate Fantasy Sourcebook and CD-ROM, a collection of free-to-use hand-drawn art depicting fairies, wizards, dragons, castles, and more, which seemed like it might be useful in future art projects. Finally, there’s Mathematical Lateral Thinking Puzzles, which are always good for keeping the brain sharp.

For example, you have ten letters, each written to a different person, and ten envelopes each addressed to one of those ten people. You put the letters into the envelopes blindly. What are the odds that exactly nine of them are in the right envelope?

Post your guesses in the comments, and tell me about your favorite used book store.

Sunday Nibble #19: Go on an Odyssey at the Iliad

I don’t make it a habit to plug commercial venues here, although I will promote friendssites, but I’m going to make an exception with an opening caveat: I was not asked to do this and I am not being paid or otherwise compensated to do so. But I just wanted to give back to a local business that has been a big part of most of my adult life.

It’s a used bookstore that I discovered not long after it first opened and not long after I moved out on my own after college. It’s called the Iliad, and for several decades was next door to a video rental place called Odyssey. I’m not sure which came first, but it was a perfect combo.

Odyssey survived right up until 2019, despite a Blockbuster having opened up across the street in a cynical attempt to drive it out of business. Well, Odyssey won that battle but, ultimately not the war, most probably because they specialized in “Adult” videos and DVDS, as well as more obscure, artsy non-adult titles, and they didn’t edit R-rated flicks.

Iliad (and Odyssey) survived the ’94 Northridge Earthquake. The former, but not the latter, also survived a greedy landlord, up until the point that they moved to a cheaper and larger store — their current location — and then got socked with the current crisis.

But… happy accident… they’d been planning to close for a remodel anyway, which is in progress. And before I get to the plug, let me get back to why I love this place so much.

They have everything, and the people who work there know what they have. They also have bookstore cats and dogs that wander freely, some of them quite friendly, and post newspaper clippings on the appropriate aisles noting the passing of various authors and literary figures.

They carry both new and used books, and their used book prices are very reasonable. Their collection is also incredibly eclectic. When it comes to fiction and graphic novels, their genre shelves are deep, and if you’re into language, science, humor, generally weird shit, plays, music, history, art, photography, biography, reference, or anything else, they’ve probably got it.

Their massive Two Dollar table was always a joy to explore, because it held all kinds of really eclectic stuff — frequently coffee table size — that was often outdated but fascinating precisely for that reason. And, come on. Two bucks. How can you go wrong?

To me, visits to the place have always been magical treasure hunts in which I can explore for hours, come out with a large stack of exciting finds that cost me less than what a movie ticket would and, bonus points: they always have boxes of “Shit we really wouldn’t feel comfortable charging you for, so take ‘em” on the front steps, and even those have their gems.

For example, that’s where I found the entire Norton Anthology of English Literature, for free, one November evening. That’s something like eight or nine volumes, from Beowulf to nearly now.

So that’s what I love about them, and whether you’re in L.A. to do curbside pick-up or are elsewhere but want to order online, I encourage you to visit their website, look around and buy stuff.

I really didn’t realize it until I sent out a random “what’s up” email to them — and actually got a response — that the store has been staffed by mostly the same people since the beginning, and as I mentioned, I’ve pretty much been a customer since then, too. I’d like to keep being one, so help them out if you can.