Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Those Were The Days

Back before there were internets, I used to have a fairly elaborate way of finding the used books I wanted. I had a list of good used bookstores that I'd known in my travels around the U.S., and I typed up several pages of sticky labels with their names and addresses on them, and another page of my own address. Then, every now and then, I would compile a list of books I wanted, and xerox enough copies to go around, and send them to all the bookstores. I would include with each a self-addressed, stamped postcard for the bookstores to respond with, in the event they had any of the books on my list.

Most of the books I actually ended up getting came from John K. King Books, in Detroit, still my favorite used bookstore in the world. I used to go there when I lived briefly in Ann Arbor. They have a web site now, but when you visit it (link above) the first thing you see is a giant sign reading

BESIDES OUR ONLINE RARE BOOK STOCK, JOHN K. KING USED & RARE BOOKS HAS 750,000 TITLES IN STOCK PRICED YEARS BEFORE THERE WAS AN INTERNET AND NOT AVAILABLE ONLINE !

THEY’RE NOT ONLINE, THEY’RE ON SHELVES


God knows I love the internet, but that notice is extremely gratifying to me. King Books is freaking enormous--it's a gigantic warehouse with floor after floor after row after row of shelf after shelf of books, any of which you can pick up and buy. This sounds kind of obvious, but I've become so used to getting whatever I want online that it has become hugely exotic to imagine an actual tangible warehouse full of old books you can walk around in.

What was I in search of, in those days? Evan S. Connell, Rick DeMarinis, Eudora Welty. I also managed to find, in one of my actual visits to the place, a rare copy of Death and the Good Life, the only novel--and a crime novel, at that--by poet Richard Hugo. (It's not even mentioned on his Wikipedia page.)

First paragraph of that novel: "I imagine the three men having a good time. I imagine them singing." Go find it, if you can. In fact, I know you can. It's the internet era, after all.

1 comment:

Pete said...

I visited King Books during an extended business stay in Detroit in 1989, and was similarly thunderstruck by the vast selection. (AN ENTIRE SHELF of Sinclair Lewis!) It's one of the few must-see destinations in that city.