The Book Pages: The Iliad Bookshop fire and its aftermath

On Nov. 3, The Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood was set ablaze in what appears to be an act of arson. Boxes of books had been pushed in front of the back door and set on fire, and a manifesto posted on the wall. The two store cats were inside as smoke began to fill the interior.

“Had the fire department not come here when they did they said in a couple more minutes the whole building would have gone,” says Dan Weinstein, owner of the Iliad.

“A neighbor was going by,” Weinstein says. “They saw the fire and flagged down a passing firetruck, coincidentally. Luck was really on my side.”

The Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood following a fire on Nov. 3, which is believed to be arson. (Courtesy of Iliad Bookshop)

Fortunately, the fire didn’t make it inside. Weinstein, who closed the shop for a day to clear out the smoke, has reopened and is at work on repairs. “The fire department stayed a good hour after the fire was out, putting their blowers on our doors so they blew out plenty of smoke. Had they not done that I think I would have been toast,” he says. “I can’t say enough nice things about the fire department.”

Initial reports suggested the fire might have been a hate crime; Weinstein says he suspects it wasn’t. “[The suspect] put up some sort of flyer with some sort of political agenda, but I don’t think it was hate oriented. It was just craziness,” he says.

Since news of the fire broke and the story covered on local TV, he says he’s been inundated with support from customers, locals and others who want to help.

“We’ve had stupendous support; we’ve had people calling from back east who have heard about it and just wanted to mail order a book to help support. Customers have been coming in,” he says, adding that the day they reopened ”our store was packed with people wanting to support us.”

The store set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for repairs; initially aiming for $5000, the fund has already exceeded 700 donations and more than $32,500 as of this writing.

“We had such an outpouring that I’ve decided just to use that money for the actual repairs and upgrades. Because my insurance policy was literally three days old when that happened; I’d just switched. And I really didn’t want to file a claim after three days and be canceled.”

The Iliad Bookshop in North Hollywood on Thursday, May 7, 2020. (Photo by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

In fact, Weinstein, who comes from a line of booksellers, said he’d considered shuttering the shop but couldn’t after seeing the response, which included people volunteering labor and services and local restaurants sending them free meals. “It did my heart good. I mean, I was actually thinking of closing the store, but I can’t do it with that kind of support,” he says.

“I’m from a book family,” says Weinstein, who’s operated the Iliad for 35 years. “My family has owned many bookstores in and around Southern California, including Heritage Book Shop and Book City, Valley Book City, Book Barons – some of the largest names in the LA book world. I’m the next generation down, but I worked for them for about 10 years and then decided, OK, it’s my turn.”

If you’ve ever been to the bookstore, you know it’s a good one. I’ve shopped at The Iliad plenty of times over the years, and I’ve always left with interesting books that I hadn’t expected to find — Keith Lowe’s “Savage Continent” and Michael Moorcock’s “The Knight of the Swords” are two purchases that come to mind. It’s a used book treasure trove, so I didn’t want to just talk about the fire. I wanted to talk about books, so we did.

Who’s a favorite book or author? “Wow, that’s a loaded question. One of my favorite authors is Charles Bukowski. But much like licorice, you either love him or you hate him.”

And what are some of the store’s popular titles or authors? “Let’s see, Philip K Dick. Octavia Butler, Ursula K. Le Guin: They’re authors that if I put something on the shelf, it’s usually gone by the end of the day,” he says, adding “Haruki Murakami is another one that’s hard to keep on the shelf. James Baldwin, Toni Morrison. There’s a whole list of authors that we just can’t get enough of.”

At Iliad Bookshop, Apollo takes more than a catnap. (Photo by David Allen)

While I could ask these kinds of questions all day, I figured it was time to let Weinstein get back to business, which at the moment included trying to locate an ozone generator to deal with the smoky smell.

“It’s been a long week, let me tell you,” says Weinstein, keeping things positive. “The cats survived; they’re fine. When I walked into the room, it was smoke-filled and they were a bit panicked, but we got them out right away. Currently, they’re at home with me.”

Weinstein, who says he plans to go thank the firefighters at the station, said he was grateful to be able to get back to work.

“It was touch and go there for a while when I first opened the doors and saw the smoke I thought for sure that the end was here,” he says.

“But I think we’re gonna survive.”

Jason Guriel is the author of “On Browsing.” (Courtesy of Biblioasis)

‘On Borrowing’ author Jason Guriel takes readers on a trip to the past

Jason Guriel is the author of several books including “Forgotten Work,” a speculative verse novel published in 2020. A cultural critic whose work has appeared in outlets such as Slate, Lit Hub, The Atlantic, and The Walrus, Guriel has a new book of essays, “On Browsing,” which will be published on Nov. 15. Part of Biblioasis’ Field Notes series, the collection explores the now-declining practice of scouring bookstores and record shops for unexpected finds instead of scrolling online retailers for exactly what you’re looking for. Guriel lives in Toronto with his family. 

Q. Is there a book you always recommend to other readers?

A book I’ve recommended to many people is by the American poet and essayist Kay Ryan. She is this terrific poet from California who very occasionally would write these essays for Poetry Magazine and literary journals. They were just wonderfully philosophical, charming, funny, meditations on poetry and time. I used to say if someone would ever get around to collecting those, it would be a monumental work of like American criticism. And just at the start of the pandemic, a wonderful collection of those essays was published, “Synthesizing Gravity.” That is a book that I have recommended to many people.

Q. How do you decide what to read next?

Inevitably, I buy more than I ever have time to read, especially with young kids at home. I discover things the old-fashioned way. I love good criticism – newspapers used to have bigger book sections, but those have really diminished considerably. I stumble on things in bookstores. I go down the rabbit hole of a particular author for a while, but I’ve never clicked on the ‘you might like this’ box on Amazon or whatever.

With music, I love the British music magazine Mojo; I still buy that and the reviews are great. They’re authoritative. It’s a little bit like having this charmingly snobby record store in your hand every month. That’s my source of info.

I don’t follow a ton of people on Twitter. It’s critics, it’s book reviews. It’s that sort of thing. Not scrolling through Amazon, that’s for sure.

Q. What’s a memorable book experience you’re willing to share? 

I’ve been rereading “Moby Dick.” That was a book I read at university 20 years ago and I really didn’t remember it. It sounds like a silly thing to say but it’s an astonishing book. I’m blown away by just how weird it is. This is probably old news for a lot of people, but I think there’s a public perception of what that book is about, and when you read it it’s so wacky, strange, fun and light. And sentence by sentence. it’s constantly approaching the state of poetry. I’ve been completely blown away by how strange that book is and how brilliant it is – it’s like Thomas Pynchon in the 19th century. It’s not the great dreary American classic it’s made out to be. There are definitely, like, 200 pages on whaling or whatever, but it’s like the best 200 pages you’ll ever read about it. So that’s been my most memorable experience of late.

Q. Is there a person who made an impact on your reading life – a teacher, a parent, a librarian or someone else?

I had a really good run of English teachers in high school and I think that made the difference. I had some great teachers in university too, but there was something about those high school English teachers.

I remember a teacher in grade 12, Miss Pantrey, an English teacher, and she was writing something on the blackboard about T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men.” And she said something like, “T.S. Eliot could have spent a month just writing that.” I just remember being blown away by the idea that you could devote that much time to polishing and perfecting a piece of poetry. It’s little moments like that, which were almost throwaways, that totally expanded my sense of what writing is and what it could be.

Q. What’s something about your book that no one knows?

I’m not sure how to answer this in a way that doesn’t sound flippant, because, on the one hand, I’m very passionate about this book, but I really didn’t set out to write this thing. I think there’s some sense that I’m an expert in the subject of browsing. And it was a topic that I wasn’t even conscious of it being important to me until I started writing about it. I found myself getting quite emotional that some of the stores that have meant a lot to me that have vanished.

It’s been a weird experience of being asked to write this little book and discovering that it did mean something to me.

That’s it for this edition, folks. I hope you can enjoy the weekend; I’m planning to make a trip out to the Iliad and also catch the start of “Rogue Heroes,” the Epix series based on Ben Macintyre’s excellent book of that name.

Let me know what books you’ve been enjoying, and your recommendations might appear in the column. Please send them to

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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What’s next on ‘Bookish’

The next free Bookish event will be Nov. 18, with guests Laura Warrell, Jill Bialosky and Jean Hanff Korelitz joining host Sandra Tsing Loh.

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