After living overseas for many years, one of my earliest memories of an American bookstore was in the 1980s, when I first walked into Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena California. The store was a revelation to me — a clean well-lighted place where books were arranged like jewels on shelves, well-read attendants who seemed like upscale librarian/sorcerers to my wondering eyes, and — best of all — a children’s reading section that had all of my favorites readily accessible in untouched hardcover editions. I’d never seen such a magical place where everyone knew how important books were in my life, and uttered their admiration for the same books in quiet loving tones. Vroman’s is southern California’s oldest and largest bookstore, but all I knew at that time was that I had landed in heaven.
In many regards, I grew up as a reader at Vroman’s. I found succor in their shelves and wonder in their book recommendations. In later years, as I frequented second-hand bookstores and went deep into academic tomes, I continued to come back to Vroman’s to continue to relish the experience of books as a pleasure, not a burden or a learning.
The characteristic that is often forgotten in the modern debate over how one buys books — or even what format one reads in — is the fact that the act of being a reader automatically invites you into a community of readers, and bookstores that embrace that reality and further that community become focal points for the reading community. It’s not just about buying books, but about building community.
Vroman’s has never forgotten that truth. In later years, after college, when I moved back to California and began teaching kids on the spectrum (and began thinking about writing my novel The Eagle Tree), I recommended the Vroman’s experience to my students, and it was exciting to see early readers share that singular early experience of walking into the same bookstore I’d loved and experiencing heaven all over again.
In a deeper way, I also came to appreciate Vroman’s nurturance of the bookish community, as I participated in reading groups at the bookstore, and met other readers in my community. I was now finding my reading companions as an adult, again, thanks to Vroman’s gentle guidance. I particularly remember a reading group discussion of a new book by my favorite poet — Mark Strand. Vroman’s book club meeting about Dark Harbor provoked a deep and thoughtful discussion.
I also enjoyed the many literary readings at Vroman’s, and I was excited to see that recently Vroman’s began to embrace indie bestselling authors as well, like my friend (and fellow medieval writer) Kathryn Le Veque whose readings and signings have been stellar successes. Kudos to Vroman’s for embracing the future of author-led publishing!
Vroman’s has a storied history. The original bookstore was founded in 1894 by Adam Clark Vroman. Born in 1856 in La Salle, Illinois, Mr. Vroman moved to Pasadena, California in the late 1800s. Mr. Vroman loved books and loved giving back to his community. He helped to rescue some of the old Franciscan missions from decay, helped establish the Southwest Museum (now part of the Autry Museum), and he was a great supporter of the Pasadena Public Library. When Mr. Vroman died in 1916, he left the bookstore to longtime employees, one of whom was the great grandfather of the current owner.
Vroman’s Bookstore holds an important place in Southern California’s history. For many years, Vroman’s was the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi, and it continues to be the oldest and largest independent bookstore in Southern California. During World War II, Vroman’s donated and delivered books to Japanese Americans interned at nearby camps, returning on several occasions despite being fired upon by camp guards!
Now that I have lived far away from California for many years, I still look back on my early experience at Vroman’s with fondness and with a bookish nostalgia. Bookstores in my mind are always mentally judged against that early Vroman’sexperience. Today, it gives me great pleasure to know that you can find my books on Vroman’s shelves.
If you’re in southern California for the Rose Parade, visiting Disneyland or for any other reason, I’d encourage you to enjoy Vroman’s multiple locations. Through the years, Vroman’s has continued to be an independently owned family business, now consisting of two Vroman’s locations, and two Vroman’s boutiques located at LAX airport. Of course, all their books are also available online at Vroman’s as well.
Vroman’s Bookstore is one of my literary touchstones, and I’m happy to share that bookstore experience with readers like you! Enjoy!
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