Ever since the old gods were overthrown and animism was made the province of only the youngest children, it’s been difficult to believe that places have souls.
And yet you would be forgiven if you thought you felt a living, breathing presence watching over you in Bookends, the bookstore in Meiners Oaks founded by Marcia Doty and Celeste Matesevac that this week celebrates its one-year anniversary. It is that unusual kind of bookstore that stands as a tribute to the peculiar kind of mysticism that takes hold when one comes upon an exceptionally good book, taking reading back to the purity of the current.
Housed in a 70-year-old Christian church, the congregation of which was composed in its final days mainly of the family of its builder, Bookends settled in after an exhaustive overhaul of the building, top to bottom, from pipes to plaster. Pews became bookshelves and seats for the store’s patrons, many of whom pack the place for poetry readings, book signings and acoustic concerts, all of which occur at this latter-day temple of truth with no small amount of frequency. The décor was sourced exclusively from Ojai antique shops and secondhand stores; the impressive light fixtures that illuminate the space were from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ private library in Tarzana, found for the shop by avid Ojai supporters of the arts.
Doty, who sold books online for 10 years, knew when she bought the church that it was destined to be a bookstore. “I also collected bookends,” she says, “and we knew that once we got books in here, we needed to have other things, too.” Buying up several estates’ worth of books, bookends and other curiosities, the store was filled up in short order. Its shelves brim with everything from scores of signed first edition books to volumes on theosophy and samples of collectible uranium glass; shine a black light on any given piece and it glows an eerie luminescent green. There’s even an original hardbound copy of the Codex Seraphinianus, an illustrated modern-day fairytale created by the Italian artist Luigi Serafini that’s undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Think Henry Darger meets Hieronymus Bosch and you’ll get an idea of what that book might look like; although, at more than $5,000 a copy, it’s rather understandably obscure.
While it may be tempting to divide the store into lifestyle books (yoga, health, children’s books) and serious books (philosophy, psychology), the true dyad here is the Apple-laden shrine to Steve Jobs and the bookshelves lined with the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society. “There is no religion higher than truth,” Madame Blavatsky once wrote, and so it was with Steve Jobs, a man inspired by such troublesome visionaries as Gandhi, Alexander Graham Bell and Edwin Land, who took on the Eastman Kodak Company in an epic battle for camera supremacy with his Polaroid line of instant cameras. Seeing the arcane and generally occluded works of Blavatsky up close is almost as much of a thrill as hefting the ancient brick-like US West cellular mobile telephone that currently functions as — surprise, surprise — a bookend.
Chief among Bookends’ concerns is to make the space less a library of precious volumes and more a community of involved individuals. Hence the poetry readings, hence the Tuesday night lecture series called “My Story,” in which local personalities stand up and tell everyone about why they’re just so darned interesting. Past speakers have included everyone from a triathlete mother of two to the screenwriter behind the breathtaking genius of the final episode of Newhart. Matesevac currently hosts a salon in which the art of origami gift-box folding is taught, just in time for Christmas.
It’s a festive mood in general at Bookends, with its first anniversary coinciding with the Meiners Oaks Holiday Stroll, against the backdrop of cider and Santa and poetry and the promise of a yogurt shop just up the street, which is in fact another kind of culture entirely. Bookstores have traditionally been cornerstones of communities, tying them together, and Bookends is no exception.
“The bookstore was put together all in Ojai,” Doty reveals. “The contractors live and work here; they did it from the ground floor and they were fabulous. There was a certain degree of respect for this building, and they did their very best. It just really came together with everyone here in town.”
Find Bookends bookstore at 110 S. Pueblo Ave. (at El Roblar) in Ojai, 640-9441, bookendsbookstore.com