26 May 2009

Dial 30: Getting lost in Michigan's largest bookstore

"Looks closed to me."
"Are those busted windows on the fourth floor?"

We had been driving around looking for a restaurant that turned out to be in a different city entirely. It wasn't serendipity, we had the address, but as we passed the door the aroma of the yellowed pages of a thousand paperbacks overpowered us.

We were told by the cashier on walking in that, should we get confused, we should go to the middle of each floor and dial 30 on the house phone. The store directory ran the length of six printer pages.

John K. King Books occupies an old glove factory on West Lafayette, a few blocks from the Red Wings home rink in Joe Louis Arena. (NB: there have been better ways to promote a city's sports franchises than a series of signs reading "The Beard Is Back.") According to its history, the owner started selling used books and antiques in high school and the store began its life in Dearborn.

I gravitated to a small pink sign at the end of the hallway promising $1 books (among them Dominick Dunne's ANOTHER COUNTRY NOT MY OWN, a memoir by Ruth Gordon and THE CORRECTIONS). A ruddy long-haired clerk who found me there poked at his glasses and then a mole with one finger as he announced to me the locations of every other $1 shelf and cart on each floor.

Most of the stock consisted of older hardcovers which called to mind happy afternoons in the stacks of a college library. The signed books on display tended towards the Box of Paperbacks genres, but no snobbery was admitted: One of my favorite sections was the TV and movie tie-in section, full of books you didn't realize existed of movies you maybe caught on TV when your babysitter thought you were asleep.

I found myself alone in general fiction somewhere around the Mc's. As I looked out the window the city bathed unselfconscious in the early afternoon sun. Back over the bridge, a sign directed drivers to the "Tunnel to Canada." The creaking down the row eventually stopped and I imagined myself a sort of benevolent ghost haunting shelf to shelf, barely even a breeze.

1 comment:

Wade Garrett said...

There's a bookstore like that in New Haven that was within walking distance of the boathouse where the crew teams practiced. It seemed so similar to the one you describe in this post, in no small part because its inventory seems to have changed little since 1985 and to have that wonderful "lost in the stacks" feeling. Every mid-sized city should have one such bookstore!