BY ELISE KALFAYAN
2012 is The Year of the Armenian Book, but I don’t need an excuse to visit any bookseller, bookstore, or online book site. These are interesting times for the product known as ‘the book,’ as the market struggles to keep up with changes in digital publishing technology. While online collections allow searching in all directions and themes, browsing shelves stocked with selected titles lifts my spirits more. A purchase for myself or a gift for someone else is even better, and the effect is strongest when I’m buying a book with an Armenian perspective.
Our culture, as a New York Times review of a Venice exhibition recently noted, has always prized books as a means of preserving identity and history. Illuminated manuscripts, and the earliest Armenian books made on printing presses, are included in the special exhibit, one of many special events this year to celebrate Armenian books.
Aram I’s proclamation of 2012 as Year of the Armenian Book prompted me to visit my favorite bookseller, who gave up his store in Aleppo at the age of 33 to return to school. Although he only had a 5th grade education up to that point, Barkev Darakjian was obviously gifted. He made it a point to stock a book in his own shop only after he had read it himself. No one working at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble could ever make that claim!
Whenever I talk with Rev. Barkev Darakjian, now retired and living in Glendale, our conversation revolves around books, especially Armenian books. I mentioned Aram I’s declaration and Darakjian told me he was a classmate of the Patriarch’s back in Beirut, and admired his focus on Armenian spiritual literature and learning then and now.
Darakjian himself has written and edited many books, journals, and articles. He writes mainly in Armenian and insists that learning the Armenian language is the key to retaining culture, but he also acknowledges that younger Armenian-American authors prefer to write and publish in English. He enjoys reading in both languages.
Abril Bookstore, Berj Books, and Sardarabad Armenian Bookstore are the three ‘brick and mortar’ Armenian stores in Glendale, and this compares to just two general interest bookstores in the city that stock new, mainly English-language titles. The others stock special interest and/or used books, so comparisons here would show that the Armenian stores are again the majority.
To explore what The Year of the Armenian Book means for bookstores in Glendale, I visited all of them. Each carry books in both languages, as well as others – I found a Spanish-language dictionary in Berj Books. This store was the smallest of the three, but has done well for more than 20 years in its location at Central Plaza just across the street from St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church. I found devotional books, dictionaries, children’s books, Armenian language textbooks, and a selection of hard cover titles by new Armenian-American authors.
Sardarabad Armenian Bookstore is a few blocks east, on Glendale Avenue. This store is much larger and also carries artwork and gift items from Armenia and Lebanon. I found a large selection of literary fiction, poetry, and biographical works, and religious and historical texts. I also spoke with Manager Varoujan Ourfalian and asked about the store. It was established by AYF as a traveling store in 1975, then settled into its permanent space in 1984. Sardarabad stocks an 80/20 ratio of Armenian to English books, and also sells books and gifts online.
Abril Bookstore started off as a magazine business, which then acquired its own print shop and began publishing Armenian books.. After an adjacent space became available at its original Hollywood location, the owners established Abril as the first Armenian bookstore on the West Coast.
Abril moved to its central Glendale location in 1998, on Broadway between Glendale Avenue and Brand Blvd. Arno Yeretzian, son of one of the original owners, says Abril’s bestselling books are childrens’ books and dictionaries. The proportion of books in this store is three-quarters Armenian, and there are several English titles.
Yeretzian, who grew up in the publishing and book business, told me “I am amazed by the thousands of Armenian books we have in our bookstore, published in different parts of the world, from the 1800s till now, in Armenian and in different languages. Although we celebrate the book every year, I’m glad that the rest of the world is celebrating this year with us.”
Online Book Search Leads Back to Glendale
Next, I went online to search for others celebrating ‘The Year of the Armenian Book.’ I happened to find the announcement of Now I Know in Part, a new autobiography by Glendale native Paul Ignatius, published by the National Association of Armenian Studies and Research. After Ignatius’ visit to Glendale two years ago to speak at the city’s Memorial Day Commemoration, I published a review of his career autobiography On Board. I enjoyed reading about how one of the first Armenian-Americans to grow up in Glendale served valiantly during World War II and eventually became U.S. Secretary of the Navy.
In his new book, Ignatius describes his childhood and family life in Glendale (he believes he and his siblings were the only Armenian-Americans at Hoover High School at the time), talks about his heritage, and considers what it means to him and future generations. He writes eloquently about his visits to Glendale in 2007 and 2010, and about his 2006 trip to Armenia.
I contacted NAASR, and while emailing about Ignatius’ book found out from Academic Affairs Director Marc Mamigonian that the organization is planning a Year of the Armenian Book exhibition and symposium at Harvard University in April, featuring items from NAASR’s Mardigian Library. Further, here in Glendale, NAASR is co-sponsoring March 11 lecture by Dr. Hayk Demoyan of Yerevan’s Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute on Major New Publications on the Armenian Genocide.
NAASR’s publishing arm complements its mission of promoting vital scholarship. Its bookstore has the largest selection of English-language titles on Armenian subjects anywhere, according to Mamigonian, who wrote, “We think The Year of the Armenian Book and all of the outstanding undertakings that are occurring in conjunction with it are very exciting and a great tribute both to the rich history of Armenian printing and publishing as well as to the continued vitality of Armenian studies and Armenian educational institutions.”
For all those I contacted, for me, and I’m sure for Asbarez readers, The Year of the Armenian Book is a very welcome extended event; and it won’t end when the year does. Looking to learn more, be entertained, find new ideas and perspectives, or buy a gift? Keep books, and especially books on Armenian subjects, at the top of your list.
Elise Kalfayan is a Glendale resident, a native Southern Californian, and a combined first/second generation Armenian-American. She has produced or edited print and online pieces on topics ranging from urban development to Armenian Church history. She is the publisher of a Glendale community news blog, and works as a contract writer, editor, and publishing consultant for clients including businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and memoirists.