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Bookstore Successfully Binds 2 Literary Tastes : It's an Unlikely Marriage of Science Fiction, Literature From Latin America

June 12, 1986|ELLEN MELINKOFF | Ellen Melinkoff is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

When Lydia Marano opened her bookstore in Sherman Oaks, she named it Dangerous Visions--after a book by Harlan Ellison--because she planned to combine her two loves, science fiction and Latin American literature, under one roof. She worried that the combination might turn out to be too capricious, too quirky to actually be commercial.

In the five years since then, she has discovered that dangerous visions can be commercial ones, and she is now entrenched in a specialized but popular bookstore with a devoted following. Regulars stop by several times a week after work to check the "new books" shelf, and Marano calls many customers by their first names.

"I have proven that I can sell this mishmash," Marano said. "But I do have people calling up to ask if we sell books on land speculation."

Marano's dream-come-true of how a bookstore should be is a cozy storefront with a rug and easy chairs amid the bookshelves, two laid-back dogs for company, a bulletin board and a rack of magazines, tapes and records. It's a relaxed place. The only thing that seems to make Marano stiffen is "when someone opens up a hard cover and it immediately goes crack ."

Ran Sci-Fi Bookstore

Marano managed A Change of Hobbit, a science-fiction bookstore in Santa Monica, for five years before starting Dangerous Visions. "I did all the ordering, all the returns. I moved the store to its new location. After a while there was nothing new for me to do and I had to move on," she explained. Before she quit the Hobbit, she considered investing in that store. In fact, Marano and Hobbit owner Sherry Gottlieb are still friends and even cooperate in planning autograph parties and handling overstock.

"But I didn't want to be tied to her store because it's too limiting. It's strictly science fiction. I found myself selling Latin American books out of the back room like they were drugs or something."

Marano's stock is dominated by science fiction, new hard-cover books and new and used paperbacks, with the Latin American and other literature displayed along one wall. In a back room, she stacks old issues of science-fiction magazines. "I never return books to their publishers. I will hold on to them long after they have gone out of print," she said.

'Stock Everything I Can'

When it comes to Latin American literature, Marano said, "I stock everything I can find." Although her section seems small compared to the science-fiction selection, she gets referrals from other bookstores because she carries a broad selection. "I have some people who come here just for the Latin stuff," she noted. Marano does not read Spanish, so everything here is in translation. "Many of the translators, like Gregory Rabassa, are writers themselves so it is more of a collaboration than a translation."

Marano was introduced to Latin American fiction by her friend Ellison, the science-fiction writer. "He would call me up at 8 in the morning and read me passages from 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and 'The Obscene Bird.' He kept saying, 'You have to read this,' and when I finally did I was amazed.

"I've gotten a lot of my science-fiction people hooked on Latin American fiction. I don't know if it's the graphics on the covers or that I've pushed the stuff on them so long. I find that I break them in with Jorge Amado. 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' can be trickier. I always tell them to put a bookmark in the front where the genealogy is."

Marano finds that science-fiction readers are very receptive to the "magic realism" of Latin American books. "The magic takes place in daily things which are accepted as run-of-the-mill. In 'One Hundred Years of Solitude,' no one thinks about the man with the butterflies following him.

"Part of the interest in Latin American literature among science-fiction people has come out of science-fiction writers Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, a husband-and-wife team who went to Brazil to teach writing. What's going to come of that cross? I can't wait."

Marano likes to "play with people's heads" but finds that "owning a bookstore is much work." She works seven days a week, either in the shop or at home. She has five limited partners who give her free rein in running the store.

Marano is quick to note that a key to her success in a field known for quick and sad failures is that old saw: location. "I picked this location because of Scene of the Crime," she says. Scene of the Crime, a block away, specializes in mysteries.

Since opening five years ago, Marano has seen other book shops follow her lead. Bread and Roses, a feminist bookstore, is nearby, and a children's book and toy shop is directly across the street. "What we need around here now is a really good used bookstore," she observed.

Took Midday Siesta

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