The only independent, non-religious bookstore in Boyle Heights sits on a bustling stretch of East César Chávez Avenue between Cummings Street and St. Louis Street. Other Books features authors for all ages and interests, ranging from Steven King and Sylvia Plath to Roald Dahl and Pablo Neruda. It sells both used and new editions, in English and Spanish.
The shop’s philosophy is spelled out in its name. “When we first opened the store,” co-owner Denice Diaz says, “one of the ideas we had was to emphasize literature that was underrepresented.”
Diaz and her partner, Adam Bernales, opened Other Books in late 2016 as an extension of Seite Books, a much smaller bookstore consisting of three long and tall bookshelves in the back of her mother’s small clothes shop in East L.A. (Seite is the German word for page.)
“She had more space than she needed and suggested that we take over a portion of it and try starting a business of our own,” Diaz says. “We talked about what would be useful for the community that we also had a personal interest in and decided to begin to sell books.”
At first, they sold books from their personal collections, many gathered on road trips. Diaz and Bernales now buy books from customers to resell at the stores and also get them directly from publishers and distributors. The two split their time between the two stores.
Other Books is a small, but welcoming, spot between a store that sells cowboy boots and an El Pollo Loco franchise. There are multiple bookshelves. In the middle of the store, several couches face a coffee table laid out with multiple books. There’s a table displaying various little comics and zines, many written by local residents. The store also sells pins made by a local Boyle Heights artist known by her Instagram username @simplysmile101.
The back of the bookstore features various different comics and vinyl records, all in boxes and stacks. In a separate back area of the shop is a little “vintage shop” selling one-of-a kind clothing from different eras. At the front of the store, metal cardholders feature tiny comics and zines.
Diaz says that growing up in an East L.A. neighborhood without a bookstore helped her realize the need for a specialty shop that catered to the community. “I remember going to Whittier, where they had a couple of independent book shops, and wondering why we didn’t have something similar in our neighborhood,” she says.
Diaz recalls feeling dissatisfied when she did visit bookstores as a child. “We live in a city with a large Spanish language-speaking community, and yet whenever we visited the nearest bookstores, Spanish language sections were small, relative to others, very limited.” Diaz recalls. “It was important for us to work on building a more substantial Spanish language collection.”
The owners say their bookstore provides access to great literature to non-English reading Hispanic families in Boyle Heights by carrying some of the most widely known Latin American writers, such as Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes. They also feature Spanish-language translations of famous international works – such as “El Principito,” the Spanish version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s French classic “Le Petit Prince” (“The Little Prince.”)
“I remember going to Whittier, where they had a couple of independent book shops, and wondering why we didn’t have something similar in our neighborhood.”Denice Díaz
Co-owner, Other Books
A good portion of its selection is dedicated to feminist and leftist literature, such as “The Life and Times of Butch Dykes: Chavela Vargas,” by Eloisa Aquino or Karl Marx’s “Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volumes I, II, and II.” The store also features the essay “500 Years of Indigenous Resistance” by ZigZag, which focuses on the colonization of America and the resistance and the 1994 uprising of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico.
Laura Gueta, 17, a Boyle Heights resident and occasionalcustomer, says she likes the feel of the store. “With a small store, you can just walk around and not really be pressured to buy anything,” she says. “You can take your time, and I feel it has a community sense, the people are really nice and offer help.”
Other Books attracts a diverse audience “Students, first generation Spanish-language readers, young families looking for children’s books, people looking for left-leaning publications,” Diaz explains.
Bernales adds, “Day to day, it’s mostly people from the neighborhood. On Instagram, 80% of our followers are from L.A. Our followers are also like 70% women.” Most are college-educated he says.
Bernales says Other Books differs from big chain bookstores because of his and his partner’s involvement. “It’s definitely more hands on,” he says. “Most other stores have investors, whereas everyone who is involved with this business is basically the people who are there day in day out, The book industry in general has become too dependent on Amazon.”
Diaz says that where they exist, small, independent “bookstores fill a niche that is valuable to people within the community,” she says. She believes it is important to have the reading material found in religious bookstores in the Eastside, “but it would be unfortunate if that were the only literature available.”
Other Books also hosts community workshops and events, including readings and signings, local band performances, open mic poetry sessions and art exhibitions. The store works with Kaya, an independent book press, to host writing workshops.
Bernales believes Other Books plays a “role providing a service that otherwise isn’t here.”
2006 East César Chávez Avenue
Open Tuesdays – Saturdays, 12 – 8 pm
Former Boyle Heights Beat reporter Diego Flores contributed to this story.