Eso Won Books is open for business as well as conversation as the open layout shows. There is space to move around, to walk, to pull up a chair and listen. Many photos of the bookstore show the large area with the capacity for at least three rows of chairs. It is not a very large room. It looks like it could be a small classroom, with the speaker acting as the teacher filing the minds of audience members, engaging them with personal accounts and stories.
The wall of windows prevents the room from becoming stuffy or crowded, keeping the small room open and connected to the community outside. The top of the windows displays the faces of three strong African American leaders in red and green over the clear bottom half, showing the guiding influence and the open possibilities. Life is full of color and adventure, just as books are. Eso Won shares culture through the visual arts as well as the written word through tapestries. They hang above the register. The color and depiction in the images allows for some iconography allowing the viewers to be more imaginative and creative as they see African American leaders and potential. The tapestries remind people that Eso Won is not a simple business, but rather a place, a space for culture and communication.
Walter Benjamin declares “these books arouse in in a genuine collector. For when such a man is speaking to you , and on close scrutiny he proves to be speaking only about himself” (59). The books at Eso Won do not simply reflect owners, James Fugate and Tom Hamilton, but rather reflects a culture. Eso Won shows a diversity and depth in the African American culture through the variety and perspective of the collection and the people.
Eso Won is all about the people as shown through the store’s advertising of speakers and guests on its Facebook and website to the physical layout of the store. Photos of Eso Won show a large empty area, space that could have filled the small store with more books is instead often filled with rows of chairs for people to sit and enjoy the visitor. Eso Won’s website has a calendar of events on both the left and right sides of the site. The About Us section has a sentence about the bookstore followed by a long list of guests.
To talk about the space of the bookstore is to understand what happens there. Eso Won is place to come together and to share. Personal stories are key to the store. Eso Won is more than a bookselling place, it is a story sharing environment. The idea of “‘[t]here… [being] more to a bookstore than bestsellers,’ highlighted independents’ pride in their diverse title selections and wide range of services” (Miller 169), and is in agreement with the practices of Eso Won. The store prides itself on its incredible list of guests, a service that invites the community into the story and establishes “a relationship to objects which does not emphasize their functional, utilitarian value—that is, their usefulness—but studies and loves them as a scene, the stage, of their fate” (Benjamin 61). The books at Eso Won are the scene of the bookstore as they provide the backdrop for speakers and writers. Together with the book signings and readings, books can become the scene of the action, a space that becomes the place to come together.
Eso Won’s many guests speak bringing a reality to their work as readers are able to see them as real people not simply a person behind a keyboard. A connection is formed as experiences are shared aloud. The space is small and comfortable, but because of the size it is not simply a lecture in which everyone can see the speaker, but the speaker cannot actually see all of the people he or she is addressing. It is a personal space, where people come together, and the relationship between reader and writer becomes more intimate.
Eso Won is known for its focus on African American literature and so it is no surprise that most of the books available are written by African Americans or share stories that the community can relate to. Books and stories are empowering; “the acquisition of an old book is its rebirth” (Benjamin 61), just as the telling of an old story can give it new life, both for the speaker and listener. Books live through the readers as they create their own understanding and connections.
Eso Won sells stories in its wide variety of literature from President Barack Obama to Tyra Banks to Alice Walker. Bestsellers and popular celebrities as well as lesser known works and authors grace the shelves of Eso Won.
Eso Won carries conversational pieces from cookbooks with barbecue and soul food to political bestsellers. Read a story, listen to one, talk about it, all are important aspects of the Eso Won culture. Eso Won has a variety of products from CD’s and DVD’s to books for children to adults. Cookbooks, history, poetry, and politics are all subjects that can be found along the bookshelf covered walls. “Every passion borders on chaotic” (Benjamin 61), I am not saying that Eso Won is chaotic, it is very neat, but books are not overly organized as books are allowed to mingle together, sharing a shelf, just as visitors share their experiences together. I was unable to show the organization of the books, but I tried to show what it may look like. I used images to highlight small sections of the bookstore.
The image on the left shows many books, some fiction and some nonfiction. The Help sits proudly next to Oprah’s book, stories of Nelson Mandela shows a united front, Love, Honor, Betray creates a story that could have happened. They are all personal stories. They may appear to be very different, but they all provide readers with a glimpse into the past. A closeness is created in the space of Eso Won Books through the people and books.
Open the door, see the array of books, feel the openness of the space, and know that Eso Won appreciates your participation in the African American literature culture.
Many of the books sold at Eso Won discuss active citizens just as consumers at Eso Won are active citizens of the community, some are physically inhabitants of Leimert Park, but most are a part of the culture that Eso Won stands for. The store is a part of an “Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw” Movement, allowing the customers to support the local area and businesses. “[I]ndividuals incorporate some understanding of a social benefit into their consumption habits” (Miller 200). Eso Won supports the citizen consumer and hopes people will support them as they continue to have a good relationship with the community in this space for sharing and communication. Eso Won has had an impact on its community because of the relationship individuals have with the space and the books.
Eat, Shop, Play Crenshaw https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aP3QaduNDkQ
Black Business Review https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuRMUnw5H-U
“Swirling” Book Launch and Eso Won Book Signing and Mixer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3NfUonw6-K8
Guest Speaker http://www.fairfoodnetwork.org/sites/default/files/Fair-Food-EsoWon_124.jpg
Tapestries and back of bookstore http://locallookingglass.com/tag/music/
Owners, tapestries, register http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/assets_c/2014/03/Eso-Won-Tapestry-thumb-600×505-70614.jpg
Love, Honor, and Betray. Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7952232-love-honor-and-betray
Eso Won website http://www.esowonbookstore.com/
Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books
Miller, Laura. Reluctant Capitalist: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.