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June 13, 2004 - Two days before Bloomsday

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Book Wrangler

June 14, 2004 - Two days before Bloomsday

By Bob Patterson


After reading the last installment of this column, a friend from my high school days called to complain about my advice to find a good used bookstore.  It was his contention that it is easier for him to hear Bruce Springsteen play a gig in a small venue in his neighborhood than it is for him to find a good used bookstore.  We gave him his assignment (so that we could get material for this column) to consult the Yellow Pages and look under listings for Books - Used & Rare.  Pick one out.  Go there and report back.  After completing his mission he e-mailed his impressions.


He had a great time.  “Most isles were narrow!  Really neat, however!  You should have warned me, I managed to drop 26 bucks mainly because they didn't have a used copy of Hunter Thompson's Hell's Angles, it was $14 but I couldn't pass it up due to your high acclaim of the author….”


He found another motorcycle-oriented book with three short stories by Thompson that I didn’t know existed.  Dang!  Now, I have to do some work to fill out my collection of his writings.


When you are a kid they start you off by giving you free books in school, then, when you’re hooked….  Hah!  Gotcha!  You gotta buy more to feed your habit!


He noticed the most important aspect of a good used bookstore.  Narrow isles!  Shelf space is for product and having lots of open air is extremely inefficient.  Pack product into the space available for the best results is the used book merchant’s credo.


The next most important aspect of a bookstore is the “bookstore” music.  A qualified used bookstore doesn’t qualify if they don’t have classical music like you hear on WQXR in New York or KUSC in LA.  Usually, it’s more esoteric than that.  It always seems to be music by some obscure composer who worked with clavichords, or harpsichords, or guitars, or specialized in organ music that can only be played in a cathedral in Germany.  Somehow, though, it seems that the same song is playing in any used bookstore you ever enter.  It kinda makes just going in, feel like an ancient scared ceremony.


When I was a kid, one of the family traditions was for me to accompany my Aunt down to New York City and shop on the Book Row of America. With the best being the Strand Bookstore with eight miles of book shelves.  Then we would walk up a few blocks to the Barnes and Noble book store, where my Aunt would usually find the latest installment of Admiral Samuel Elliot Morrison’s History of United States Navel Operations in WWII.


(Note we don’t mean one of the Barnes and Noble chain of bookstores across the USA.  Back then, B&N was a publishing firm with one (count it, O-N-E) location which was where they had a retail outlet for their product.)


London gets high marks for having not only more than one great mystery store, but another one (sorry, I forget the name) that was four stories high.  Bet you can’t finish shopping in that store in just one visit.


Hawaii is very beautiful but when I was there in ’76 and 82, but I never saw (or noticed?) any bookstores, new or used. 


San Francisco is comparable (in more ways than one) to a Mini New York and there were so many interesting book stores in the Bay area that they collected information about them for a guide book.  I recall that it was titled “Between the Covers” but I can’t fact check that online.  Cody’s books in Berkeley is a must for used bookstore aficionados while in the city itself Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s bookstore is legendary.


In Los Angeles, I found Wilshire Books on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica to be a sentimental favorite, because it was near my Aunt’s (the same one) apartment and, for several years, I could go to he place on my lunch hour, and then get a few minutes searching the bargain bin at the aforementioned establishment before getting back to my work station on time. 


One of the best finds at that location was a copy of The Bishop’s Jaggers by Thorne Smith.  I was told about it while I was working part time in college.  I kept an eye out for it in bookstores from Puerta Vallarta to Paris.  After 20 years of searching, I found a copy in the Wilshire Book bargain bin for ten cents.  It was a superb novel (just as my source had said) but it seems that the eighty-year-old romp it is still too “edgy” to be made into a movie.  Many of Smith’s other novels were turned into classic thirties comedies, but the subject matter of that particular find is still too taboo to qualify for filming.


I could write an entire column about Thorne Smith, but the New York Times, beat me to him with a great feature story some time ago, so that settles that.


Strange as it seems there were several very good (and one great one with collectors items at collectors prices) used bookstores in El Paso Texas.


The best used book store award goes to Shakespeare & Co. in Paris near kilometer zero which we affectionately call The Center of the World.  We’ve been there in 1986 and 1989.  You can read about in Laurel Avery’s roundup of Paris bookstores for the metropoleparis website.  The bookstore’s owner is also remarkable.


The most memorable book shopping experience was at a used bookstore at a “clothing optional” resort out in the California desert where I located a collectors mystery novel and also a copy of the then just published “Bridges of Madison County.”  For some reason, I kept track of the number of people who read my copy of that particular novel.  The eighteenth person to get it was my friend Sue’s daughter in Alabama and she had to use it to get credit at a public library to apply to a fine she got for a late return.  Who knows how many people read it after that.  Someday, I might write a column about the topic of reading books without paying any royalty.  Would writers prefer it if only the person who buys the book, reads it, or do they prefer the adulation that accounts for eighteen people becoming enthusiastic readers of that copy of that novel?


It’s too early to give up the quest.  There are still many interesting places to buy books on my “to do” list including: Powell’s Books in Portland, and Larry McMurtry’s store in Archer City, Texas.


Are there any book stores, let alone an English language book store, in the French clothing optional city(Not necessarily recommended for viewing whist at work.)


So many fabulous bookstores beckon.


To be continued …


Copyright 2004 – Robert Patterson


We asked veteran journalist Bob Patterson for a bio and he sent this along:  

Bob was born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


Graduated from the University of Scranton in . . . make that "way back when."


He has worked as a reporter and photographer for daily newspapers in California, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.  During the "way back when" phase of his life.


Did photo stringing for the AP’s Los Angeles bureau in the seventies.


Has done some freelance work.


Held other jobs to pay the rent and provide meals money.


Has written book and movie reviews, and columns for Delusions of Adequacy online magazine for the last four years.


Recently the DOA management reportedly traded him to the Just Above Sunset online magazine team for an undisclosed sum and two future draft choices.


He is known to be in the LA area and is considered dangerous.  If you see him, call for backup before attempting to get his autograph or some such fanboy nonsense. 


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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