the Little Red Reviewer

Photo Essay: John King Books (part 1)

Posted on: November 5, 2011

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:

This is one of the few non-hand-written signs in the building. You’ll see what I mean further down.  You can’t tell from this photo, but the small lobby is filled with antique furniture and wooden showcases. The steps and landing are marble.  And every surface is covered in books.

Entrance to the store itself is the left side of the lobby. Once inside the store proper, you can turn right to explore the first floor, or turn left for the stairs. I suggest asking for a map at the counter before beginning your adventure.

This is the door to the stairwell. See all the signs? and boxes? and books? It only gets better!   It seemed logical at the time to start on the fourth floor and work my way down. . .  but to get to the fourth floor, you must of course, start on the 1st floor and start climbing.  There is an elevator for folks who don’t do stairs.

A mural in the stairwell.  This entire building is bookstore, and the stairwells and landings are no exception.  Covered in murals or framed  artwork (all for sale), just getting to where you’re going is a visual feast for the eyes.

Finally, the door to the fourth floor!  you can see some of that framed artwork next to it. Remember, King’s specialty is rare books and antiques, so artwork and antique furniture is everywhere. See all those signs on the door? Nearly all are hand written, and some contradict others.

A close up of one of the signs on the door to the fourth floor.  There are phones located on each floor, should you not be able to find what you’re looking for and should a clerk not be able to find you.  I never had need of the phones, as each floor had at least two clerks wandering around, shelving books, helping people find things, turning lights on and off.  Need help? Look for someone wearing a blue apron carrying a walkie talkie.

Yes, all the florescent light fixtures have long pull strings. Can’t reach?  climb on a milk carton.  Turn the light on in the aisle you’re browsing in, and kindly turn it off when you’re done.  I got to the point where my hands were so full of books that I didn’t have a free hand to turn the light off, I’m sure the clerks were scowling at me behind my back for my rudeness.

Located some place near the entrance to each floor is a map posted on the wall. It may or may not match the map they gave you when you first walked in. Aisles are marked A through whatever and One through 70-something.  Usually with an aisle down the center as well. Here’s the map for the 4th floor, on a shelf covered in additional hand made signs:

A close up: It’s New and Improved!

Someone had fun making these signs:

Ahh, and the glorious never ending lines of books?  Perhaps they look something like this:

or this:

The light at the end of the tunnel? More books!

While browsing, you can’t help up be entertained by the signage:

Well, that’s enough photos to clog anyone’s reader, stay tuned for part two of the John King Books photo essay, starring the SCIENCE FICTION section!!


14 Responses to "Photo Essay: John King Books (part 1)"

“Honey, we’re going to Detroit.”
“Ok…um, why?”
“There’s a bookstore.”
“Oh. I’ll pack an extra bag.”


I know, right? and if you’re flying home, buy whatever you want to buy, swap it for lightweight stuff in your suitcase, and then mail or UPS the lightweight stuff home (I’ve actually done that. A few times).


OMG – I think I’m in love! I don’t think I’d even know where to start in there, I’d be like a child in a sweet shop. You must have spent a fortune. Love the description likening it to the stacks in Name of the Wind!
Lynn 😀


I didn’t spend a fortune, not even close. I couldn’t believe how affordable everything was, even some specialty reference stuff I bought. I think only one book was more than $10. I usually stop when my arms are full, because that’s a good sign I’ve reached my budget.


Ah, you tease! Just giving us a little taste and leaving us wanting more!

“I got to the point where my hands were so full of books that I didn’t have a free hand to turn the light off”

I can imagine. I’m sure I would have quickly found myself in that same state. Can’t wait to see more pics and of course to find out what you purchased.


more is coming, I promise. I uploaded all the photos yesterday, all that’s left to do is caption them and put them in a logical order. so more is coming tomorrow, I think?


I’ve lived in Metro Detroit my entire life and still haven’t been there. I usually hit the used bookstores in Ann Arbor, but your post makes me want to stop in and check out John King’s.


Ahh, Ann Arbor, so you know Dawn Treader Books? I love that place too!

I grew up outside Detroit, and even though John King has a smaller location in Ferndale, I’d never heard of it either.


Yup, I sure do. My favorite used bookstores in the area are Read It Again Books in Novi and The Paperback Trade Inn in Clawson. Much, much, much smaller than John King, but they are staffed by book lover’s, too, and they have a request service and will call if they get in a used book you are looking for. I have this terrible urge to make the used book stores rounds, now!


I’ve never heard of Read It Again, next time I’m over there I will have to check it out!!


Oh, wow! I want to go here so badly!


Hope there will be a post SOON of what you got!


how’s tomorrow sound?


My brother & I used to spend many hours there…love that place!


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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.
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