By Josh Zimmerman, Special to the Independent
Lorraine Zimmerman, owner of legendary Fahrenheit 451 Books in Laguna Beach (1978-1988), of Collected Thoughts Bookshop in Berkeley (1996-2004), and partner at Berkeley’s University Press Books (2004-2017), passed away on July 12. She was 76 and is survived by her two brothers, three children and seven grandchildren.
Born and raised in Chicago, Lorraine entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1957. Pausing from university studies after marrying and starting a family, Zimmerman relocated to Orange, Calif., with family in 1970. She resumed her studies at UC Irvine, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in social ecology. A lover of books and ideas, Zimmerman bought Laguna Beach’s Fahrenheit 451 Books in 1976.
The bookstore soon received national recognition. In 1981, Lorraine was one of five booksellers interviewed in The New York Times for an article on independent bookstores. In 1987, the Los Angeles Times described Fahrenheit 451 Books as “one of the most distinctive independent bookstores in Southern California,” and “Laguna Beach’s literary landmark.” Zimmerman inspired Laguna residents with her own literary flare, publishing Fahrenheit Flasher, a newsletter with colorful images, stories about upcoming author signings and her reviews of forthcoming books. Zimmerman’s innovative promotional strategies included a children’s reading program that enrolled 40 families at its height, and a 12-book plan whereby customers received credit for the average price of their purchases.
Zimmerman made headlines by hosting book signings with such renowned authors as Ray Bradbury, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, June Jordan, P.D. James, and Michael Chabon. Upon selling Fahrenheit 451 Books, Zimmerman reflected on her experience in American Bookseller magazine, writing in May 1989: “Discussing books 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.”
Zimmerman showcased her own distinctive literary voice in a 1990 article on bookstores in Berkeley. “Bookstores dot the landscape here in such abundance,” she wrote, “that I experience a tangible, physical quickening of energy each time I visit Berkeley. My spirits rise and any adventuresome spirit lurking in my bookish self pops right up to the surface.” In 1995, she moved to northern California and opened Collected Thoughts Bookshop in Berkeley. After selling the store in 2004, Zimmerman joined Berkeley’s University Press Books as partner. “Lorraine,” writes UPB partner Sorayya Carr, “brought in literature from trade presses and children’s books … and we continue to devote one window display, fondly known as ‘Lorraine’s window,’ to these kinds of books.”
Zimmerman’s passion for bookselling was exceeded only by her commitment and love for family. She was the lynchpin who brought everyone together. Her seven grandchildren affectionately referred to her as “ultimate Bub” – loving, generous, kind and wise. When family or friends needed her, she was always ready to listen. This generosity also made her beloved in the bookselling world. As she told the Los Angeles Times in 1988, the key to running a successful bookstore “is to listen to people … because [customers] walk in with ideas and if you just listen, you order the correct things. Everything else follows.”
Memorial to be announced on the “Fahrenheit 451 Books (1976-1988)” Facebook page.
The author Joshua D. Zimmerman, of the Laguna Beach High School class of 1985, is professor of history at Yeshiva University in New York and author, most recently, of “The Polish Underground and the Jews, 1939-1945” (Cambridge University Press, 2015)