'Gidget' Charms Beach Towns Bookstore Tourists

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By Larry Portzline

It was only fitting that the "Beach Towns Bookstore Trip," sponsored by the Southern California Booksellers Association (SCBA) on Saturday, August 19, should feature a lively lunchtime chat and book signing with "Gidget" herself, Kathy Kohner Zuckerman.

The real-life "Gidget," Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, spoke to the bookstore tourists at Diesel, A Bookstore in Malibu.

Zuckerman's father, Frederick Kohner, based his 1957 novel, Gidget, on the fun-in-the-sun adventures of his teenage daughter and the real-life "Moondoggie," the "Big Kahuna" and the rest of the surfing crowd at Malibu. "Everyone on the beach had a nickname," Zuckerman said. "Someone called me 'Gidget,' and I said, 'What's that?' And they said, 'Well, you're a girl and you're a midget, so 'Gidget.'"

Zuckerman also shared laugh-out-loud stories about hanging out with actress Sandra Dee on the set of the first Gidget movie, about topping Jack Kerouac's On the Road on the bestseller list, and about surfing well into her sixties. "Sally Field [who played Gidget in the early 1960s TV series] is now a spokesperson for osteoporosis, and I just went surfing last week!" Zuckerman said to applause.

The event -- at Diesel, A Bookstore in Malibu, appropriately enough -- was just one stop on SCBA's fifth "I Feel the Need to Read" bookstore tour, the regional's fourth in the Los Angeles area. The daylong bus trip began at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena and then picked up additional participants at Dutton's Brentwood Bookstore in L.A. From there, with Vroman's assistant promotional director, Robyn Kamimura, as tour guide, the group headed off to San Pedro to visit Williams' Bookstore, which, at 97, is the oldest continuously operating bookstore in Los Angeles, and Under the Bridge Bookstore and Gallery, which promotes Latino literature and art by local artists. Afterward it was off to the eclectic Diesel, where the group dined al fresco, courtesy of Marmalade Caf, and had their books signed by Zuckerman.

Vroman's Robyn Kamimura was the guide for SCBA's 5th "I Feel the Need to Read" bookstore tour.

The tour's afternoon stops included Village Books in Pacific Palisades, a small store with literary quotes etched into the cement floor and piles of books stacked high, and Hennessey + Ingalls in Santa Monica, the largest art and architecture bookstore in the western U.S.

All told, around 40 biblio-tourists enjoyed the excursion up and down the California coastline on a perfect summer day.

Jeanne Gerrin, a self-confessed book addict from the San Fernando Valley who was taking her third SCBA road trip, said the "bookstore tourism" concept "enables you to visit a lot of bookstores that you might not get to visit otherwise, or may never take the time to drive to." Gerrin spent $300 on books on a previous "I Feel the Need to Read" tour, and said she expected to spend as much on this trip. "Independent bookstores have so much to offer," she said. "They have a lot more specialized books that you just can't find anywhere else."

It was the second group bookstore outing for Milton Meyer, who was a professor at California State University in L.A. for 35 years. "I wasn't familiar with the bookstores we're visiting today, so I've been looking forward to getting out and seeing them," he noted. Meyer stressed that he prefers independent bookstores over the chains, partly because he finds the selection of history books at the big-box stores to be "very poor." He added that he hopes the SCBA will plan trips to San Diego, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco in the near future.

John Evans, co-owner of Diesel, described the excitement that a bookstore tour generates for the booksellers themselves: "All booksellers are bookstore junkies and [we] appreciate the same obsessions in like-minded customers. So a busload of booklovers, and bookstore-lovers, arriving for lunch, a talk and signing with Gidget, and a quick spin around our store is sheer pleasure. It was wonderful to watch them file into the bookstore and let the look and feel of the place sweep them up. One woman said that if she lived here she'd go bankrupt. Their enthusiasm was contagious. It was unexpectedly joyful."

Robert Barrett, manager of Hennessey + Ingalls, also noted the value of bookstore tourism, explaining that participants "not only get to hear about these stores, they get to see them. Also, to have a trip like this organized in a city as complicated as Los Angeles is a wonderful thing. What a great way to spend a day. And if I weren't working today, I'd be on the bus."

Larry Portzline, a writer and college instructor in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is the originator of the bookstore tourism concept and the author of Bookstore Tourism: The Book Addict's Guide to Planning & Promoting Bookstore Road Trips for Bibliophiles & Other Bookshop Junkies (Bookshop Junkie Press). Visit www.bookstoretourism.com.