the Little Red Reviewer

Three Bookstores in Three Days

Posted on: July 28, 2012

I love going to bookstores I’ve never been to before.  With just an address and a not-to-scale badly hand-drawn map, I might get a little lost on the way. I might drive around the shopping plaza a few times until I find the place. I might park a smidgen illegally. I might show up 20 minutes before they are going to close. I might spend $5, I might spend $50.

Exploring a bookstore is an adventure unto itself.  do they have a store cat? do they have a decent science fiction section? do they have fair prices for used books? do they have any chairs to sit on while reading the first few pages of a book? is the staff knowledgeable? Is the staff friendly?  and most importantly, would I go back?

First up, was The Remarkable Book Shop, in Merrillville Indiana.  The on-hand stock is all used, but they will order you anything you want. A rather small, narrow space, this seemed to be the busiest shop in a rather unremarkable shopping plaza. At no time was there less than 3-4 customers in the store, and as it was quite small, that was a lot of people.  I had a very nice chat with the owner about independent bookstores on the Lake Michigan lakeshore, and although he knew every single one and all their owners, I was impressed with myself that I knew the stores that were in some of the touristy towns I’d visited.   I picked up a paperback copy of The Paths of the Dead, by Steven Brust.  Would I go back?  Tough to say. The owner was very friendly and nice to talk to, but his selection in the genres I read was just so-so more due to lack of space than anything else. I think next time I’m in the area I’ll call ahead to see what titles he has of authors I’m interested in.

Next up was Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor Michigan.  Located in an affluent area, and with an uptick in business since the closing of Ann Arbor’s landmark Borders Books, Nicola’s is a large, beautiful, family friendly bookstore.   I’d gone there to see Sarah Zettel talk about her new book, Dust Girl (which I did buy), and ended up spending another half hour or so chatting some bookstore staff and some college aged customers.  Nicola’s sells only new books, and they have a stationary and gift section as well. There was a small social area in front for book clubs, and a larger area in back with a microphone and podium for speakers and authors and such. Nicola’s seemed to have a section for nearly every genre, which means they didn’t have that many titles in each genre. Their scifi/fantasy section was depressingly small, and the employee that I spoke with said they’d gotten more demand for scifi and fantasy since Borders had closed, so they were looking to expand that area. Nicola’s is a perfect suburban high-end bookstore. You walk in, and someone greets you and asks if they can help you find anything, the entire store is decorated with bookish things, they have a newsletter, a frequent buyer card, events for all different age groups, all sorts of modern conveniences. But alas, no used books that be purchased on the cheap and not much Scifi.  Will I go back? Yes, if only to nag them about expanding their scifi/fantasy section, and they seem to get a lot of midwestern authors in to do booksignings.

Last but not least, was Rodegher’s Used Books in Dearborn Michigan. First off, this place looked like crap from the road. Really. I’d driven past it about 6 times before deciding to stop in, and finding the parking in back took some intuitiveness. It’s rare that I’m this reluctant to visit a bookstore, but I was expecting one of those dark, dingy stores, where everything is covered in dust and the books smell like grandma’s basement.   That’s what I get for judging a bookstore by their front window. Rodegher’s is very well lit, spotless, spacious, friendly, and nice and old fashioned. Even better, they had an entire row of science fiction, AND a handful of old Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines from the early 2000’s, which I would have bought all off had I had enough money.  Their pricing is very simple – books that don’t have a price written in/on them are 1/2 the original retail price.  I picked up a copy of Alastair Reynold’s Pushing Ice, and a random Fantasy & ScienceFiction magazine from 2006 in which I’ve already found a few gems.  the top shelves of one wall were decorated with the owners collection of snow globes and figurines. You can tell this is her home away from home.  Will go back? Absolutely. Now that I’ve figured out where to park, I’m itching for more of those old scifi magazines, and she had an impressive selection of authors I enjoy reading.  If you find yourself in the Dearborn area, look for the green awning on the Northeast corner of Telegraph Rd and Michigan Ave. Use the Mich Ave turn around to get to the parking lot in back.

In a few weeks I’ll be stuck in the southern stretches of Chicago for a week. What bookstores should I visit?

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16 Responses to "Three Bookstores in Three Days"

I’ve been to Rodegher’s before and I know what you mean — from the outside, you expect it to be one of those run-down fire hazards where you’re crushed to death when a shelf gives way. But inside it’s actually a really nice shop.

If you’re still in the area, swing by John King Books, which is one of those jam-packed fire-hazards. (They also have a less-jammed location up in Ferndale.) Their prices are all over the place, but they have as much stock as three average book stores combined. It can be a gold mine for hard-to-find SF&F books.

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John King is great! I’ve been a few times before, that place is an absolute blast (and an epic fire hazard)! I was planning on going there on this trip, but after two people told me it might not be a good idea with the intense heat we’ve been having, I took their advice. When the weather gets a little cooler I’ll be heading to John King.

Next time I’m out there, I’ll try to hit up the Ferndale location, even if it is really hot, it’s gotta be better than 3rd floor no air circulation downtown. If you know that area, any Royal Oak bookstores you’d recommend?

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Usually I drive over to Ferndale and hit the Library Bookstore (9 Mile) and John King North (Woodward and 9). Both have wide SF&F selections, and the staff have always been pleasant and courteous.

If you want decently-priced paperbacks, there’s the Paperback Trade Inn off 14 Mile in Clawson, with a couple big rows of F&SF books; they have a trade-in program, which drops the price down to $1-3 per book. There’s The Book Beat on Greenfield down in Oak Park, a bit out of the way and not much used stock, but their service and selection is great. Always fun to dig around in there.

Royal Oak Books on Woodward is another epic fire hazard, fantastic selection, okay prices, very friendly store cat. I’ve never had great service there (they have a bad habit of ringing up the same books multiple times) but some of my friends swear by them, so YMMV.

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I hope you enjoy “Dust Girl”! :)

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I’m reading Sharps by KJ Parker right now, Dust Girl is next in the queue. From what I’ve heard, I think it’s going to be great. Zettel is one of those writers that I trust her to give me a good story, even if it’s a genre I don’t usually read.

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I’m trying to give YA novels more of a chance, mostly because I realized that a lot of my all-time favorites (Anne McCaffrey) were written for a YA audience but not marketed that way.

How is Sharps btw? I’d completely overlooked it because for some reason the title made me think it was about heroin addicts, then Amazon pulled it up under my SF/F recommendations and now I’m curious.

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LOL, not about heroin addicts, it’s about fencing! lots of intrigue, really good dialog, and all this teasing about “who is the bad guy? are you sure?”. To be very vague, I think I liked the literary tricks the book made me think about rather than the story itself, if that makes any sense. It’s going to a tough and strange review to write, that’s for sure.

Similarly, I’ve got to get over my snobbishness about YA.

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Oooh, literary tricks sound like something I’d enjoy. :)

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I’ll volunteer the strangest question you’ll ever be asked: What does ‘family friendly’ mean in regards to a book store?

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that’s not the strangest question.

Nicola’s was definitely designed to encourage families to spend a lot of time there. lots of kids books (everything from books parents read to young children to tween stuff), lots of nooks and crannies, and also lots of space, lots of chairs and places to sit to look through books, some educational toys. They do a library style story time. Nicola’s felt more like a small yet very affluent suburban library than a bookstore, and i mean that in a good way.

the other two stores were primarily adult fiction, set up to be quite utilitarian, very few chairs if any, no kid-friendly type stuff or areas. I imagine youngish kids would be bored out of their minds there, besides not finding much they wanted to read other than Harry Potter.

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Ah… all that makes sense now. I was half expecting there to be a bar and strippers in the other ‘non family friendly’ bookstores.

My favorite local used book store is solidly in the family friendly description you gave above though those details aren’t what make it so great. I guess it can’t hurt to try to be all things to all people. I’m all for whatever helps ‘em drive sales and stay in business.

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a bookstore with a bar? books ‘n brews? that sounds like heaven.

my favorite local bookstore is also very kid friendly, but it’s my favorite for other reasons.

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Jealous! Love browsing bookstores like this. The colour green doesn’t suit me!
Lynn :D

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sounds like it’s time for a bookstore field trip for you! ;)

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Ah, this makes me wish I could hop in my car and go hit a bunch of used bookstores to look for treasure. I’m glad you found some in your three bookstore journey. There is something so pleasurable about bookstore shopping days that only a true book lover would understand. I want to get in and out of most other stores but could spend hours and hours and HOURS in used/new bookstores and libraries.

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Carl, you should do it! hop on Indiebound or googlemaps and see what’s within an hour drive of where you live, or what’s near a city you are going to to visit family or something.

Oh yes, the HOURS! that’s the hardest part, making sure I have enough time, and having to force myself to leave because i have to be someplace else. And the big places are the worst, because it’s like a treasure house / museum, one hour is not enough time!!

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