Amid his bookshelves, Dennis Wills continues to ponder life’s mysteries in La Jolla
Beloved La Jolla bookseller Dennis Wills, filed this short bio when asked about his life journey: U.S. Air Force Intelligence, 1967-71; Intensive Russian, Syracuse University, 1968; Philosophy major, California State University, Dominguez Hills, 1971-73; Classical Greek, UCLA, 1972-73;
Rhodes Scholarship candidate from Cal. State Dominguez Hills, l973; Tutorials in Philosophy and Theology, Oxford University, 1973-74; Institute of East European Studies, University of Fribourg, Switzerland, l974-75; Russian Institute, School of International Change, Columbia University, 1975-77; staff, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Research Institute on International Affairs, Columbia University, 1976-77; Washington, D.C., 1977-79; La Jolla, 1979-present.
What brought you to La Jolla?
I came to La Jolla in August l979 to open D.G. Wills Books as close to the UCSD campus as possible. Our inventory is modeled on what I recall of Blackwell’s bookshop in Oxford, as well as the great bookshops that used to thrive on lower Fourth Avenue in New York a generation ago.
The original bookshop was a small office with a patio between two buildings at 7527 La Jolla Blvd., next to Margaret’s Cleaners. At some point we re-modeled part of the building so that artist Francoise Gilot could have her art studio adjacent to the bookshop that reminded her of Paris.
In 1991, we moved to our current location at 7461 Girard Ave. next to The Pannikin Cafe.
If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract or improve in the area?
I would have retained the understated, classy and elegant atmosphere of The Whaling Bar at La Valencia Hotel, as it has served as La Jolla’s version of New York’s Algonquin Hotel, both frequented by generations of literary and film legends.
Who or what inspires you?
In La Jolla specifically, the humanitarian films of La Jolla filmmaker Susan Polis Schutz; and the creative animated films Spike Decker assembles for the Spike and Mike Animated Film Festival.
In general, acts of kindness performed by quiet, humble, unassuming citizens. But mainly, the profound, epiphanous mystery of existence.
If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?
My list would be Oxford philosopher/historian Sir Isaiah Berlin; Cambridge philosopher/mathematician and Nobel Laureate Bertrand Russell; Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato; filmmakers Frank Capra and John Ford; actors Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart. It would be fun for Socrates and Plato to see how some of the ethical issues raised in Platonic dialogues may be conveyed to millions through film 2,000 years later.
What are your favorite movies of all time?
“The Razor’s Edge” (1946), with Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney, a WWI aviator’s search for God; “Lost Horizon” (1937), with Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt, a utopian community based on kindness; “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) with Fredric March and Myrna Loy, the dilemmas of returning WW II veterans; “Sergeant York” (1941), with Gary Cooper and Joan Leslie, a WW I soldier’s dilemma of duty to God versus duty to country; “The Dawn Patrol” (1938), with Errol Flynn and David Niven, WW I aviators’ war angst. Added to these would be all films of Frank Capra, especially, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” (1946); and the films of John Ford.
What is it that you most dislike?
That would be intolerance or impatience within anyone, especially myself.
What is your most-prized possession?
A tie between these two items: A copy of the late Oxford philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin’s “Four Essays on Liberty” inscribed to me; and the copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s “Ashenden,” his vignettes about his work with British Intelligence in Switzerland and Russia during WW I, inscribed and mailed to Raymond Chandler in La Jolla in early l950.
What do you do for fun?
Share some red wine with retired homicide Detectives Tom Basinski and Bob Conrad, and baseball historian Bill Swank, at the boat in front of the bookshop, about once every four to six weeks; as well as some wine or Pabst Blue Ribbon with my pals at the shop at the end of the day.
Second, drive my 1930 Ford Phaeton up to The Kraken in Cardiff, and/or The Whaling Bar, a few times a year.
What is your philosophy of life?
Continue to wonder, gratefully and humbly, about the profound mysteries of existence.
What would be your dream vacation?
I would drive over to Monument Valley and wander around, by truck and on foot, the settings used by director John Ford for his westerns like “Fort Apache” (1948) and “Stagecoach” (1939).
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