Fahrenheit 451 Books

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Fahrenheit 451 Books is a bookstore, formerly located on 509 South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, California. It was described by the Los Angeles Times as a "literary landmark" of the region.[1] It was established in 1968 by Dennis Madison. It was sold in 1972 to Gordon & Evie Wilson. In the early 1970s, the bookstore was marred in legal battles with the City of Laguna Beach, charged with selling obscene literature. This literature was the early series of underground comics by R. Crumb and others of that period including Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevely who were friends of Dennis Madison who was Lyn's former husband and became owner shortly after the store's opening.. (I met Dennis and Lyn shortly before the store was sold to Gordon and Evie who I worked for briefly and who allowed me to continue running a Poet's reading house there during the early 70's [The Poets Corner] begun by Philip Hackett with support from the late Marta Mitrovich.)... M. Dennis Paul, Ph.D (Directed and performed under Michael Dionysus Pavlopoulos Illegitimate son of the President)

The bookstore’s fortunes changed for the better when, in June 1976, Fahrenheit was bought by Lorraine and Norman Zimmerman, and their friend, Mike Kopp (the Zimmermans became sole owners from Fall 1978). After extensive renovation, the new owners opened the bookstore to the public in October 1976. With about 10,000 titles confined to a 650 sq. ft. space, the grand opening ceremony took place on Nov. 14th, 1976, with famed activist, Jerry Rubin, signing copies of his new book, Growing Up at Thirty-Seven (New York : M. Evans, 1976). On December 14, 1982, Fahrenheit 451 Books opened a Used Book Annex. Present at the Anex's grand opening was none other than Ray Bradbury and his favorite illustrator, Joseph Mugnaini. Run by Carmen Blue, the Annex drew bibliophiles from the entire Orange Country region, until it closed in 1987.

Within five years of its grand opening, Fahrenheit 451 Books received national recognition. In a 1981 New York Times article on the effect of the economic slowdown on book sales throughout the country, Fahrenheit's owner, Lorraine Zimmerman, was one of five booksellers interviewed.[2] By the time Lorraine Zimmerman sold the bookstore on December 18, 1988, to Dorothy Ibsen (the bookstore closed its doors shortly after), Fahrenheit 451 Books had become a celebrated cultural institution throughout the whole of southern California and beyond. In January 1987, the Los Angeles Times described Fahrenheit as “one of the most distinctive independent bookstore in Southern California next to George Sand Books in West Hollywood.”[3] When the store closed under Zimmerman's ownership, the same newspaper referred to Fahrenheit as "a socially liberal literary oasis in a county famous for its ultraconservative bent."[4] Zimmerman's bookstore also received praise in a popular book on California. "Bookstores are as rare as radicals in Orange County," Ray Riegert wrote in his Hidden Coast of California. "One notable exception is Fahrenheit 451....You won't miss it, that's for sure," he continued. "... [for] within its limited space is a connoisseur's collection of newspapers, magazines, hardcovers, and page turners."[5] Fahrenheit 451 Books also found its way into T. Jefferson Parker's celebrated novel, Little Saigon.[6]

In the period 1976-1988, Fahrenheit made headlines by hosting book signings for some twenty internationally renowned authors. These included Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Literary San Francisco: a Pictorial History from its Beginnings to the Present Day (Aug. 1980); Galloway Kinnell, There are Things I Tell to No One (Jan. 1981); Carolyn Forché, Gathering the Tribes (Sept. 1982); Ray Bradbury and Joseph Mugnaini, Fahrenheit 451: Illustrated by Joseph Mugnaini (Dec. 1982); Oakley Hall, Children of the Sun (June 1983); Gary Snyder, Axe Handles: Poems (Sept. 1983); Denise Levertov, Light Up the Cave (April 1984); Allen Ginsberg, Collected poems, 1947-1980 (Aug. 1985); T. Jefferson Parker, Laguna Heat (Oct. 1985) and Little Saigon (Sept. 1988); June Jordan, Civil Wars: Observations from the Front Lines of America (Sept. 1986); P. D. James (Jan. 1987), Robert Ray, Dial "M" for Murdock (March 1987), Michael Chabon, The mysteries of Pittsburgh (May 1988), Alice McDermott, That Night (Nov. 1987), Charles Wright (1986), Robert Scheer (1988), and Richard Ford. In addition to books, music was an important part of the bookstore’s offerings. Such albums as "Pianoscapes" by Michael Jones, "Autumn" & "December" by George Winston, "Passages" by William Ackerman, and Kitarō's "Theme from Silk Road" were sold and often playing in the background. New Age music was a part of the 1980s music scene and had a way of beautifully enveloping the bookstore's atmosphere. Calming and serene, New Age music combined with the sea breeze and balmy ocean air to form part of the Fahrenheit 451 Books experience.

There is no better reflection of the impact Fahrenheit 451 Books had on this small coastal California town than in what the celebrated novelist P.D. James entered into the bookstore's scrapbook: "Fahrenheit is my idea of a perfect bookstore."[7] The success of Fahrenheit 451 Books was largely due to the competency and commitment of its owner, who stated less than a month before passing the keys to a new owner that "to say I own a bookstore, it's a title of respect and integrity and honesty."[8] In an article for American Bookseller, Zimmerman discussed her core philosophy of bookselling. "Discussing books," she wrote, "with customers and local writers; sponsoring literary events; having a finger on the pulse of current American thought through the knowledge of forthcoming books and my customers' requests; having the ability to disseminate hard-to-find information--these were the daily rewards of bookselling."[9]


  1. ^ Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19, 1988, p. R3.
  2. ^ New York Times, 3 August 1981, p. C11.
  3. ^ Los Angeles Times, Jan. 4, 1987, p. 9.
  4. ^ Los Angeles Times, Nov. 11, 1988, p. D13.
  5. ^ Ray Riegert, Hidden Coast of California: The Adventurer's Guide (Berkeley, Cal.: Ulysses Press, 1988), p. 133.
  6. ^ T. Jefferson Parker, Little Saigon (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988), p. 107.
  7. ^ Los Angeles Times, Nov. 12, 1988, p. 6.
  8. ^ Los Angeles Times, 26 November 1988, p. 6..
  9. ^ Lorraine Zimmerman, "Our Stores, Our Selves," American Bookseller (May 1989), p. 201.