CARLSBAD — Sitting in his little bungalow house off of Jefferson Street, Sean Christopher began to describe one of the many reasons he is passionate about books.
“(A book) can be old and yellow and crispy, and that story —”
Christopher couldn’t finish his sentence before his 4-year-old Jack interjected — “Dad, watch me get the golden egg,” he said, wanting to show off his aptitude for playing Angry Birds on his dad’s iPhone.
“I am, Buddy,” Christopher said before resuming his sentence. “That story is the same story as the first edition that is worth thousands of dollars.”
At that point, Christopher leaned over and began tickling Jack into submission, the two laughing as they rolled around on the couch.
Holding two conversations at once is one of several talents Christopher has developed while raising Jack as a single father.
For a time, caring for his son was his sole occupation. His writing and bookstore took a backseat when Jack was an infant.
But now that Jack is older and attending the Montessori preschool down the street regularly, Christopher is able to devote more time to his love of literature, and has started to share that love with the community.
Nestled in a parking lot between the Taco Bell and Garden State Bagels along Carlsbad Village Drive is a one-room cabin that houses Christopher’s countless books.
Aside from his freelance fiction writing, he mainly collects and preserves independently published and older books. He sells his books online under the name “L.H.O.O.Q Books;” a reference to French-American artist Marcel Duchamp’s small portrait of the Mona Lisa with a mustache and goatee.
“I thought if a cook needs a restaurant, a writer needs a bookstore,” he said of starting his bookselling business.
But with L.H.O.O.Q.’s book cabin stacked, boxed and shelved with books to the brim, Christopher built shelves outside of his cabin for books that he shares for free.
He said that with more than enough books to feed his business, “I wanted to bring an offering (to the community).”
The shelves line one entire side of the L.H.O.O.Q. cabin and are filled 24-hours a day with books, written by a range of authors from Nora Roberts to Fyodor Dostoyevsky to George W. Bush.
Christopher described having a “Noah’s Ark” approach to his outdoor book share, establishing it with the notion of, “You build it, they will come.”
The one-story, black cabin has the books on its main side; a graffiti mural covers another wall, and the rest are shielded by Christopher’s backyard fences. It’s tucked away from the main street and lacks an official address, but visitors are greeted with nuzzles from Zee Zoo the dog, and meows from Henry the cat.
A steady trickle of passersby and those purposefully seeking out the shelves stream up to the library shelves each day.
Christopher recently added outdoor lighting when he noticed people stopping by with flashlights to gather books after dark.
He said the library promotes a “take, trade, or donate” approach to his book share, preferring people to take a book and share it with others rather that bring it back.
In that way, he hopes that his personal goal to “preserve the written word and present it as art” will thrive from his backyard and into the community where he grew up.
Christopher was raised on Garfield Street, several blocks away in the Village from where he lives now.
After high school he moved to San Francisco and attended school, earning degrees in literature. He developed a career of freelance writing and art that allowed him to travel around the world.
He said that if he got lonely during his travels, he would find comfort at the nearest bookstore.
“I really like the idea that you can get lost (in a book), and you can get to know (the characters) and they become your family,” he said.
Christopher said that while thriving off of his independent artist lifestyle, he never imagined returning to Carlsbad. But family matters brought him back to his beachside hometown about six years ago.
He remained after his son was born, and his mom lends a hand by babysitting on occasion since Jack’s mom has been out of the picture for most of his life.
“In my (high school) yearbook, I would be the person most likely to leave and never come back. And here I am with my bookstore and a kid,” he said.
“I used to be able to stay up all night and write, work 70 hours a week. But, you can’t do that with a 4-year-old,” he said.
Christopher, 38, said it could be tough writing around Jack’s schedule, working before his son wakes and after he falls asleep. But despite small frustrations, like being unable to find good Thai soup in the area, he said is not disappointed with his life as a family man.
He marvels at Jack’s appreciation of the deeper themes in his favorite book, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
A smile broke out on his bearded face when he described his son’s bedtime routine: One Shel Silverstein book, another about Thomas the Train Engine, and Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”— because the rhythm of the narrative helps Jack fall asleep, Christopher explained.
“My ideal is to have the bookstore and then write and to have (Jack) run around and meet people,” he said.
Christopher said that once he makes some electrical renovations he may open up L.H.O.O.Q Books as a part-time store and tutoring center, but he has not established a definite time frame to do so.
More importantly, Christopher wants Jack to look back when he is older and be proud of him.
“I want him to see that I did what I love and I didn’t regret it.”
Visit L.H.O.O.Q Book’s Facebook page and Twitter feed for more information.
Filed Under: Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story