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New Documentary Explores History, Legacy Of Iconic LGBTQ Bookstore ‘Circus Of Books’ Through The Owners’ Daughter’s Eyes

Circus of Books storefront.
Circus of Books storefront.
Netflix/Circus Of Books (2020)

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Rachel Mason had, to a certain extent, the normal upbringing you’d imagine a family of five with small business owner parents would have. But in her documentary, ‘Circus of Books’, she pulls the curtain on the double-life her parents led as modest business owners and pillars of the LGBTQ community.

Karen and Barry Mason established West Hollywood’s Circus of Books on Santa Monica Boulevard in the 1980s. What seemed like an unassuming bookstore was actually a gay porn shop that became an institution in the LGBTQ community during a time when homosexuality was still largely unaccepted. The store was far from being a “bookstore with a circus theme”. The Los Angeles-based shop was the central hub for gay pornography around the country, once one of the main distributors for adult films. 

While the store was becoming a home for gay culture and pride, the Masons largely kept their business a secret from colleagues, friends, family, even their own children. It’s a central conflict that Rachel Mason explores throughout the film as the daughter of two shop owners caught between the pressures of maintaining a traditional family image and making a living as gay pornography distributors.

Today on FilmWeek, we’re joined by ‘Circus of Books’ director Rachel Mason for a conversation on her documentary and the experience of creating a film with her parents and their secret as the subject.

‘Circus Of Books’ is currently streaming on Netflix. For more on the film from LAist’s Mike Roe, click here.


Rachel Mason, director of the Netflix documentary ‘Circus of Books’ and daughter of Circus of Books owners Karen and Barry Mason; she tweets @RachelMasonArt