I remember spending many hours of my youth at this great, unkempt mismash of books on the corner of Laurel Canyon and Magnolia boulevards. I’d pedal a mile and a half or so from our North Hollywood house, lock my Schwinn 10-speed out front next to the boxes of stuff they were trying to blow out the door, and head in to see what I could discover. I wouldn’t call the layout logical, and it certainly bore no resemblance to a modern-day Borders or Barnes & Noble.
At Dutton’s, books were (and probably still are) stacked on the floor in such a way as to allow minimal passage for a human book-seeker, used volumes mingling with new and shelved two-deep in a chaotically beautiful series of corners, warrens and nooks. (If there’s a difference between a warren and a nook, I’d sure like to know, but it just is so English-languagy to use both, no matter what they mean.)
I discovered Charles Bukowski among those shelves, as well as numerous (and more dubious) authors in science fiction, along with everything from impenetrable literary criticism and philosophy to music, science, history and more. I’d also pick up the New York Times Book Review there for something like 50 cents. Yep, I was more high-minded in those days (but no so high-mined as to have any interest at all in the New York Review of Books).
Owner Davis Dutton was a nearly constant presence at the store and didn’t seem to mind the hours of browsing that only led to a few minutes of actual buying. You really could get lost in the store’s far back recesses.
The North Hollywood never got the publicity that the other Dutton’s in Brentwood (independently owned by Davis’ brother Doug) sought, and that’s too bad, but they really were different kinds of stores, the Valley one being a whole lot more scrappy and just simply packed with books.
I’m not much for used-book buying these days — it’s more about getting rid of stuff then acquiring more, and the North Hollywood area isn’t exactly on my current itinerary (which runs more through Van Nuys’ Bargain Books, which I hope stays open a long while), but for the whole Valley, the closing of Dutton’s is a loss, to be sure.
Seems like nobody was crazy enough to buy Dutton’s, but I somehow wish there was such a person. Guess if you’re rich, you’re not so crazy as to get into the retail book business …