DEATH OF A BOOK SALESMAN: SCOTT WANNBERG RIP
Anyone who lived on the Westside of LA in the 80’s and 90’s and who read books knew Scott Wannberg. Dutton’s Brentwood then was the quintessential storybook bookstore, with narrow musty aisles cluttered with huge stacks of hardcover tomes, and obscure sections overflowing with obscure titles. In that quintessential storybook bookstore, Scott Wannberg was your quintessential storybook bookstore employee and for those who bought many of their formative works off those shelves, being guided by Scott was an indispensable part of the literary experience.
A giant hulking giant permanently hunching behind the front counter speaking in a muttering drawl that sounded a cross between Charles Bukowski, Orson Welles and WC Fields. More than a few noted Scott’s resemblance a common mental image of Ignatius O’Reilly, the hero of Confederacy of Dunces. In a store overflowing with books, Scott seemed to have read every single one and whether you were picking up a trashy new novel or a World War I history or some French symbolist poetry, he would have a few comments, pointing you no doubt to the author’s better work, before he stepped off the curb, some might say.
Scott personified the ramshackle adventure of reading, this sense that all these words, all these books was this crazy mystery that one could never truly order or make sense of but only give one’s self up to. Like an ancient Jesuit, in Scott’s sardonic half-grin there was this implication that if you could only manage to read a fraction of what he had, some great, awesome, terrible secrets of the world would reveal themselves to you. He made being an eccentric look somehow incredibly seductive.
Scott was a figure it is impossible to imagine anywhere but in a book store, and now that there are no book stores, I wonder where the Scotts of creation are to be found. Dutton’s shut down a few years back and in the brief Barnes and Borders period before the collapse, already lost was that ramshackle spirit that had made reading seem such an adventure. I feel for the young people browsing for their first books today on Amazon not to have a Scott muttering over their shoulders and urging them on.
Goodbye Scott Wannberg, the truest bard of the literary life I’ve ever known. You were already much missed. Now you will be much much more so.
(more at LA Observed)
Well, I’m a mess now. As an ex-bookseller myself, I found this an incredibly moving tribute to a vanishing breed of both person and place… and I guess in some ways, media. I know and worked with a lot of people that this guy reminds me of, and it’s really bittersweet to know how much people like him touch the lives of the people around them every day, every time they pick up a book, even years after the place they worked at (like the one we did) is gone.