Saturday, August 27, 2011

Book Shop Obsessions

This is how you can determine if someone is a compulsive reader: When planning a trip anywhere, I mean anywhere at all, the compulsive reader’s first question is, “Are there any good used/rare book shops?”
When my wife and I went to Cape Fear in North Carolina a couple years ago, I made a point of seeking out the two or three places that sold books and wound up going back home with a stack of twenty old John D. MacDonald’s. At one point not long ago we had planned on going to Arizona (never made that trip) and on my itinerary were the Grand Canyon and the Poisoned Pen Book Shop (not necessarily in that order).
So when we went to Kalamazoo these last three days, I knew what I’d be spending my time doing. Kim was there on business/school-related stuff, and so my time was my own. It turned out a bit more challenging than you would think, because apparently no one in the service industry reads at all. I asked the girl at the desk at our hotel where the best local book store was—got more or less a blank stare, until she called the manager, who directed me to a store just up the street.
Went to the store he mentioned, only to find they sold nothing but textbooks. The girl who worked there also had nothing useful to tell me; she knew of a Barnes & Noble a few miles away, that’s about it. But amazingly enough we have a Barnes & Noble in MY part of Michigan as well, right?
Finally consulted the interwebs, found listings for two places at opposite ends of town in Kalamazoo. The first place (which I shall not name) was at the ass-end of town, a dingy, musty-smelling joint with stacks of books teetering everywhere in no order to speak of. Bar-bells (for some odd reason) on the floor, two or three broken vacuum cleaners blocking the aisles. I know some people enjoy stores like that, but I just find them a bit infuriating. Managed by sheer luck to find three or four worthy books, though, and the guy running the place was friendly in an odd sort of way. He never moved from his sway-backed chair the whole time I was there, but when I brought my books up he became suddenly very gregarious, in a disconcertingly laconic way. He said strange things in his monotone—“You’re from the Detroit area, eh? I’ve heard Detroit started as a French fort. Is that true?” or, upon seeing a history of the American West that I purchased, “I understand the early settlers used trails west that were often originally Indian hunting trails. Would you say that’s a true statement?” And then he’d look at me very intently, as if a great deal rested on my answers.
So while the first shop I stopped at looked as if a bomb had gone off inside it, the second place was just THE BOMB. Kazoo Books, it’s called. I can heartily recommend it. A two-story affair with about 90% of the inventory being used/rare, it’s clean and well-organized, and the two men working there were amazingly helpful and friendly. I spent WAY more money there than I intended.
If you’re interested, here’s what I picked up at both places, combined—if you don’t give a damn, feel free to skip ahead, pardner:


DEAD FREIGHT FOR PIUTE, THE MAN ON THE BLUE, SUMMER OF THE SMOKE (first printing, paperback), and GUNMAN’S CHANCE by Luke Short. I freakin’ LOVE Luke Short.

THE CRAZY KILL by Chester Himes (Allison & Busby edition, trade paperback)

SHANE, by Jack Schaeffer (I know, I should’ve read this years ago, cut me some slack, will you?)

THE NAME IS ARCHER by Ross MacDonald

EXISTENTIALSIM FROM DOSTOEVSKY TO SARTRE by Walter Kaufmann (because I’m the laziest philosophy reader ever)

DOUBLE THE BOUNTY by Robert J. Randisi

FULL DARK, NO STARS by Stephen King (I only ever pick up his collections these days)

LOST ECHOES, SUNSET & SAWDUST, and A FINE DARK LINE, by Joe Lansdale (six bucks each in hardcover, yo)

THE AMERICAN WEST, an enormous coffee table history big enough to give you back strain, for four bucks.

…but here was the real find of the day:

THE END OF THE TRAIL: WESTERN STORIES by Robert E. Howard, in hardcover, from University of Nebraska Press. I read this one a few years ago while going through a crazy Howard phase, and it stayed with me as some of the best stuff the crazy Texas bastard ever wrote. I’ve seen it selling on E-Bay for close to a hundred bucks. Guess how much I paid? Go on, take a wild guess. Okay, I’ll tell you… seven bucks. I was practically giddy.
So now Kim and I are back home, greeted by a fat cat who was furious about being left home alone and a vaguely disturbing smell coming from the garbage. I had a nap, some coffee, and now I’m looking admiringly at my stash o’books, as if I wasn’t behind enough on my reading. But buying books isn’t something I generally beat myself up over, even though the wallet is pretty light these days and times is, as the man said, hard.
I’m thinking about our next trip, either to Philly next year or maybe Wyoming. Anyone know the best book shops out there?


  1. Great score! I'm envious of that Howard collection. I'll start keeping my eyes open for it -- I never knew it existed!

  2. Cullen, U of N put out tons of Howard's stuff a few years ago, and most of it went almost immediately out of print. Another one you'd really enjoy (wish I had it) is THE RIOT AT BUCKSNORT, which comic-western stories, and LORDS OF SAMARCAND, which is historical adventure. Solid stuff!

  3. For a large city, philly's lack of a top-notch used/rare bookstore is depressing. However, we do have a lot of B-level used shops. I like the rare shops more than the used, but Swierczynski knows the dark corners of every used shop in Philly. I'm sure he would be happy to provide a rec.

  4. The poor guy in the first bookstore was probably intellectually starved in that town! LOL

    I've wanted to read the Robt E Howard westerns since you read him years ago, but it's not in my library system.