Located on the corner of the Pt. Dume Plaza, across from Lily’s and its legendary breakfast burritos, and two doors down from Sunlife Organics and its “Million Dollar Smoothie,” family-owned Bank of Books is assuming an important role as the center of the Plaza’s goings on.
Outside, people chill on newly installed outdoor furniture with deep seats; inside, amidst the humble veneered wooden bookshelves salvaged from a retired Borders, people speak in quiet tones while thumbing through the merchandise. Thanks to the adjoining coffee shop—it is hitched to the rear of Cafecito Organico—the joint is outfitted with a long community table bearing several stools where individuals and groups gather to muse. Bank of Books feels like a combination cafe, library, bookshop, and after-school hangout. That’s because it is.
“It’s a community driven bookstore,” says longtime Mallibuite and manager Ann Vandy. What she means is, the store is not publisher-driven, but rather “offers selections based on what the community requests.” “Young Adult,” “Swords and Sorcery,” and “Children’s” and “Research” shelves reflect the families who frequent this local bookshop. For dad who wants young Johnny to know what it was like to research without Google, Encyclopedia Brittanicas sit on the top shelf behind the cash register. Nearby: an archive of “Surfer” journals. Cookbooks are next to the coffee pick up. “California’ and “Local History” in plain sight.
Contrary to the name of the bookstore, I think the stacks are sort of slim, albeit a predictable outcome for most bookstores since “brick and mortar” is being replaced by online sources. My hunch is that may not matter here because Ann keeps the place hopping with customers who attend book clubs, live author’s book signings and literary talks.
For me, the true fireworks happen every six weeks on Poetry Night. Organized by Ann and her daughter Krystyn Lambert, Poetry Night is so popular there is barely standing room once the hour and a half of reading begins. As of this morning, the sign-up list for reading has no openings until late April.
Writers as readers and readers as writers provide for material that is as diverse as the locals who show. The fact is, anyone can read just about anything, as long as it stays within the time allotted.
A Malibu mom whose material is reminiscent of a stand-up sketch “kvetches” about her terrorizing sons. A man reads a personal essay about the rare gold fish his brother gave him as a “peace” gift after years of estrangement. Another reads a poem about a love affair that should have ended long ago, but hasn’t! Still another tells the descriptive tale of the last night a husband spends with his wife of 25 years before he leaves her. An actor reads Kerouac. Always: applause, applause, applause.
While you get the sense most of the readers have always written, you also see the exhilaration for those who are not accustomed to reading at the mike. It feels good to share the secret, and to have a stranger share their secret with you.
Bank of Books is an experience as far away from corporate as you can get. It is homey, low-keyed, community supportive, and perhaps for some, a little therapeutic. In fact, the readers, listeners and management all seem thrilled to have a place to go to. While so many of us move to Malibu to “get away from it all,” sometimes the isolation can be daunting. At Bank of Books on Poetry Night, it is hard to imagine any one of us might feel alone.