the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘book stores’ Category

believe it or not, the best gift you can give to a book lover is not more books.

the best gift you can give to a book lover is introducing them to a new bookstore! Seriously, September should be “share your favorite bookstore with a friend who has never been there” month.

On Saturday I went with a good friend to John King Books in Detroit. He’d never been there before, and I keep talking about the place.  I’ve written about this store a few times before, it’s famous in the area for being the largest used bookstore in Michigan.  It’s even got a cameo in Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines! Mr. King got his start once upon a time as a collector and appraiser of rare books. As the collection grew he needed more and more space. Finally, he bought a four story warehouse and filled it (and I do mean filled!) to the ceiling with books and related paraphernalia. Being down the road from Wayne State University, there is plenty of scholarly material, plus cases and cases of vinyl records, vintage children’s books, postcards, lithographs, and we even saw an antique typewriter.  Did I mention the miles and miles of books? The bookstore is just for regular retail books, his rare book room is by appointment only.

Visiting John King is an adventure, let me tell you! It’s not unlike being in the Cave of Wonders from the Disney version of Aladdin crossed with a Choose your Own Adventure story, you just want to explore, and explore and explore, because who knows what will be around the next corner? We had a blast going through the different floors and enjoying the hand drawn maps and signs. There are milk crates at the end of many aisles filled with more books. There are milk crates in the aisles to use as step stools.  The shelving is basic, the lighting is terrible, the building has no heat or AC. I finally found the bathroom.

I visit John King Books every few months, and unfortunately, their science fiction section was very picked over on this visit.  I was also on a strict budget this time, so stayed away from the new-ish stuff shelves and played the “how much can I get for $20?” game.  I got a few gems, a few weird ones, and other random stuff that jumped out at me!

not a bad haul:

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A quick break in Hugo nom’d reviews for this short commercial break. Warning: this post includes way too many pictures. it might take a while to load, but there’s good stuff at the bottom for you.

Not sure if I mentioned it, but I’m in California for work for most of July.  For those of you keeping score, I’m an hour south of Sacramento. low humidity? it never rains? This mid-west girl is in heaven!  We’re setting up new locations and training new associates, and i have never worked so hard in my entire life.

What did I do my first free weekend? Go to San Francisco, of course! A very good friend from high school lives here now, so he gave me the tour.  First stop, lunch at a Ramen shop in San Mateo, where residential rents are easily more than I make in a month. I am obsessed with Ramen, and this was the most amazing bowl of Ramen I’ve ever had in my entire life.

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Can’t you just smell that divine porky broth? Miso Ramen is heaven in a bowl.

Next stop, THE BEACH!  I’d never been in the Pacific Ocean before. . .

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About 10 minutes after this photo was taken, fog began rolling in. . . .

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hey you! Yeah, you with the teetering stack of books to read and the book blog that I read all the time.

I need to talk to you for a minute.

Your blog is an awesome way to promote the books you love. Thanks to you, my “books I want to read” list explodes weekly.  Thanks to you, I’m spending far too much money at the local family owned bookstore, demanding they carry the newest titles of my favorite authors, putting books on hold before they even hit the shelf. I’m sure you’ve done the same.

Bloggers.   Bookstores.  where’s the connection? 

Many of you already know about the rockin’ awesome project I’ve started with Elizabeth of Dark Cargo. Some of you have even already started participating. A few of you were even part of my little trial experiment a few months ago! It’s called Bookstore Bookblogger Connection, and it’s for bloggers (like us!) and bookstores (you know, those peeps we give all our money to!), to have a connection.

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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.

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Yesterday was such a tease, wasn’t it?  As promised, here is part two of John King Books, with the photos you’ve been waiting for of their famous Science Fiction section.

But first things first, a map.  A terrible picture, but it is a hella cool map. I love that it has a compass in the center, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are little “Here be Dragons” in the small print (and of course, matching pictures on the walls).

Sci-fi is on the 3rd floor,  with the paperbacks oddly mushed between Self Help and Biography, and the Hardbacks found between Automotive and Gardening. Hmm, thinly veiled message? I believe I’ll interpret that as reading Scifi works better than most self help books, and after you read it, you’ll want to build a spaceship (perhaps those automotive books will come in handy) and start a Martian colony (you’ll need some gardening books to get the soil mix correct).

Also, the map doesn’t show it, but the Paperback Sci Fi section has it’s own glass showcase of vintage magazines and a handful of extra bookcases that are TV and movie tie-ins and other more contemporary goodies.

I suppose I’ve teased you long enough, here are the long awaited photos, for your viewing pleasure!

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While in Detroit earlier this week for business, I happened to ask an associate “any good bookstores around here?” and he replied with “well yeah, there’s John King Books“.  Google map in hand, I ditched work early and headed down Jefferson Ave.  Said work associate promised he’d call me later to make sure I hadn’t gotten locked into the bookstore for the night.   My first visit to John King Books was simply amazing. I did get lost, many times, and those were the best way to explore and find things I didn’t even know I was looking for.  Staffed by people who love books, and know their trade, John King Books is a must-visit for any book lover.

I spent a few hours there that first day and shopped till my arms were full (they do have shopping baskets and will of course hold stacks of books at the counter while you continue shopping), and drove right back the next morning, camera in hand. And by the way, if you wish to take photos on your visit, please call ahead and ask permission first. It’s the polite thing to do.

Located right off the Lodge Freeway (M-10) in the business district of Detroit, and with free parking available in a gated lot next to the building, this famous bookstore is easy to find. and Yes, it’s famous as the largest used bookstore in Michigan, and most likely the largest used bookstore in the country.

Walking through John King Books feels a little like reading your way through the stacks and archives in Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind. It’s dark, it’s cold (bring gloves and a hat. I’m not kidding), the organization is based on where they have room at the time,  there are books literally piled everywhere, and a love for books trumps everything else. It’s places like this where the secrets of the universe lurk.

the view from the parking lot:


and let’s go inside:

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.