I remember seeing a lot of books. Not books that were in a pile here and pile here and a pile here but books everywhere you look. There were a few books that looked new but the majority were worn, arranged on shelves in a scientific manner only the scientist-inventor can understand. I had only been in Los Angeles for less than a month and was brought here by a friend and Sherman Oaks native. I’m not sure why we stopped into this store. Regardless, no other place in the city had demanded you imitate the identity of a bibliophile like this store. It requires you to nuzzle into various plays, philosophy texts, art books, science fiction anthologies, and whatever else you place a finger on. It took years to figure out where this bookstore was and, for any well travelled Valley person, you should know exactly what I’m talking about: North Hollywood’s Iliad Bookshop.
Iliad is a bright red-orange building with a blue, wavy trim meant to evoke that of an a Greek epic poem illustration. It’s on a the Northeast corner of Cahuenga at Chandler and is impossible to miss as it’s the only thing you see when heading North on Cahuenga, approaching the Chandler Bikepath. You wouldn’t think to stop in as there is not anything else around it. It is a book lovers dream, though. We stopped by recently and it was exactly as I recalled from it in my 2008 vision. They have every kind of book you could want–and the books are literally everywhere.
The store appears to be known for their film and theatre books as this is where you’ll find the most people. As I looked through various books on television shows, a man going through books on a ladder, a girl on her knees pulling books out, and a guy standing and reading were having intense playbook cataloguing sessions. Iliad also has tons of movie-to-book adaptations, film and theatre theory, screenplays, teleplays, practice, advice, theory, and more books within this world. This is only one section within the store, though. Yes, it is big–but wait until you step into their huge literature room: you’ll need a day to get through all of the books they have in there.
The design of the store is swallowed by the books. It’s like the owners had two rabbits that weren’t spayed or neutered and they got to mating and mating and mating and–before they realized what was going on–the entire room was filled with rabbits. In this situation, the more rabbits the better: there are boxes lining walls full of books, stacks on some floors with books, books atop of books on shelves, bookshelves that go up to the ceiling, tables with books on them: books are at all places at all times. There are some “Greek” embellishments over doorways and on some walls (which are painted as a splotchy version of the building’s exterior) but all of this is drowned in books.
As you poke around the store, you start to see various articles and notes placed on the ends of the stacks. Some of these articles are little comics but most are newspaper clippings that are either about Iliad or about the authors featured on the corresponding shelves. While perusing a religion and philosophy section, articles on the death of Christopher Hitchens memorialized his life. It’s presence on the end of the stack was a solemn memorial, feeling almost like there should be candles to light in honor of Hitchens’ intense spirit.
Many like the crispness of fresh, new books. For them, Skylight on Vermont is perfect. I occasionally visit Counterpoints on Franklin but their inventory is often very limited. Used books have histories to them, these lives and personalities that fill them with wonder. These stores are much like libraries where all of the books are for sale at discounted prices: this is what makes Iliad so great.
As I stood looking at philosophy books, I picked up a copy of Michel Foucault’s This Is Not A Pipe and read a chapter of it. I hate philosophy and vaguely understand Foucault–I barely read books as it is. Something in the air at Iliad inspires you to pick up a book–any book!–and read. There’s a magic in that store that no other used bookstore in Los Angeles has. Perhaps it is a result of being so enclosed by books: we’ll never know.