Ask a Book Store Employee: Book Soup’s Devri Speaks
By Nojan Aminosharei | February 3, 2010
Perched atop LA’s famous Sunset Strip, Book Soup has been Hollywood’s hippest literary landmark and one of America’s biggest independent bookstores for 35 years. With more than 60,000 books stacked in a floor-to-ceiling maze, you need a fearless but sprightly guide like Devri Speaks, a Book Soup staffer for over a year, if only to help you navigate their insanely well edited music section (and possibly dodge a few half-in-the-bag customers).
Tell me about Book Soup. It opened in 1975. Glenn Goldman, who passed away about a year ago, came from UCLA and started it with his friend because there just weren’t any bookstores around here. The Whisky a Go Go was down the street, and then the Viper Room opened a block away, so he wanted to get a more literary Sunset Strip going. I think he went into debt a few times, but people kept lending him money, so it stuck around, and it’s still here.
What’s it like being an independent bookstore on the Sunset Strip? We’re close to the Viper Room and the Whisky, and Tower Records used to be right across the street, so it’s always been a rock and roll bookstore. We have a really great music section. And we get a lot of drunk people, since there’re clubs and liquor stores all along here. But we’ve also gotten famous people like Elton John and Michael Jackson.
What do drunk people buy when they come here? Nothing! They just want to talk to you. I just had a huge argument with someone about Jewish bankers and organic farmers. And he didn’t buy anything! It was a little scary.
When people do buy something, what do they get? We’ve got the Helmut Newton book, and we’ve got the huge naked lady from the cover on our wall, so people kind of make a beeline for that. The new Nick Cave book, The Death of Bunny Munro, has done really well here too. And there’s a book written by a guy that works here, Joseph Mattson, called Empty the Sun, which came out in November. It’s a book about a guitar player that loses one of his front fingers, so he can’t play the guitar anymore. And it comes with a CD, so it’s a book with a soundtrack!
Awesome! Speaking of books about music, what’s the most popular rock n’ roll book here? Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman. It’s not in print in the United States anymore, so we have to get it from the UK. He worked with Jim Morrison and The Doors. His wife, Fawn, runs the register here, so she orders it special for us.
What else do people come here for? Lots of film stuff. We get a lot of film people here—actors, directors, producers.
What books do film folk buy? They get all sorts of obscure film books here, like books about pre-Code 1930s Busby Burkeley. They love all the film history stuff. They’ll come up to the register with a huge stack of Preston Sturges interviews, and I’ll be like, “I’ve never seen this! Where did you find this?” I think we have a lot of out-of-print stuff in there. We have some rare stuff floating around…
All this talk about your customers, and I forgot to ask: what’s your favorite book here? Empty the Sun is my favorite new one. But the new Thomas Pynchon book, Inherent Vice, is really good too! It’s like Raymond Chandler meets The Big Labowski. Good stuff!
Photo: Nojan Aminosharei