Every night the company car for Twenty Stories, a vintage Chevy G20, painted teal with white cursive script on the side, declaring it “LA’s Mobile Bookstore,” is parked in front of my bungalow home in Los Angeles. The van is always in eye shot, even on my days off. It has become a permanent fixture, a clumsy companion that functions as the business’s storefront, an on-the-go office, and a time capsule for when bookmobiles were more popular community resources that frequently roved neighborhoods and streets. Two years ago, my partner Emory and I graduated in New York with Creative Writing degrees. We had no idea that we’d open a mobile bookstore once we moved to Los Angeles.
On our small wooden porch, looking out to the dusty street and the Twenty Stories van, we discussed with a friend visiting from out of town, the particulars of opening a small business, from finances to the physical labor of driving the van to its daily location. Emory and I talked about our excitement of the curation process, how we select the twenty book titles every month, how we like to keep a balance of established and emerging writers, from big box publishers to independent presses like Unnamed Press based in Los Angeles and Burrow Press based in Florida. We talked about our reading process, which requires Emory and I to read two books or more a week, and how we each have our own unique way of conveying a book’s best features to a prospective customer. We talked most frequently about how the bookstore allows us to pursue our own creative writing more freely.
But only later, after our friend spent a day on the van with us, a weekday in January, a day that one might expect to be slow and sluggish, did I express the more tedious side of owning a small business, let alone a bookstore. A common question from passersby is: “Do people still read books?” Of course! We reply. There’s no hesitation in our response because we know of many people who love to crack the spine of a new novel and are addicted to the immersive powers of storytelling. But, on the slow days, and hearing that question over and over, makes me reflect on the current cultural shift away from book-length literature. Our friend, who also attended college for creative writing, also didn’t have the answer on how to fix our generation’s fading interest in literature, but she did say something that struck me.
She said, “You keep choosing books.”
At first, I didn’t understand what she meant. I’m sure I cocked my head in confusion. She went on to explain, decision after decision, from attending college for creative writing to quitting my desk job to opening a bookstore, my decisions have centered around me “choosing books.” It seems obvious. But too often do our own personal habits remain a mystery to us. Her simple observation encompasses the spirit of why Emory and I opened Twenty Stories. There’s a repetitive compulsion in us to read books and share them. My reaction to her remark was yet again, “of course!” Of course I keep choosing books. What else is there to choose? In my opinion, movies do not leave enough for the imagination. With Twenty Stories, everyday, I hope that our book recommendation leads someone to inspiration and empowers him or her to read stories that they otherwise wouldn’t have known.
As we head into February, the fourth month for the company, we continue to curate the selection to encompass a diverse author list. Here are three titles in our February selection:
Record of A Night Too Brief by Hiromi Kawakami – The best part of fiction is that there are no rules to what a story can do, and Kawakami takes that possibility to another degree. These three stories are lyrical and haunting. I could feel the author’s joy for writing while reading these stories, and in turn, it makes them that more enjoyable. This collection dazzled me with its fearless creativity.
Against Everything by Mark Grief – An essay collection that is fierce on pop culture in a way that only a true pop culture guru could be, Grief surprised me by his ability to weave in and out of his arguments like a bee avoiding raindrops, quick and efficient. This a great book to pair with a short story collection. Alternating between prose styles can make it easier to digest the material! Read an essay, read a short story. You’ll get the best of both worlds.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay – Everyday there are moments primed for gratitude, small and large, uncomfortable and easy. Gay’s poetry collection is a beautiful collection of memories that are entirely unique, yet wholly relatable. The collection, closely tied to imagery of nature, will have you conjuring your own memories of gratitude and reveling in the beauty of human experience.
Alexa Trembly is a writer based in Los Angeles. She’s the co-owner of Twenty Stories LA, a mobile bookstore that travels in and around the city. She received a BFA in Creative Writing from Pratt Institute and is currently at work on a novella.