Sorry this is late, folks. Life got weird for a while with some personal things. I hope to be on a more regular schedule here with the next column before Christmas. Onward.
What is It About Bookstores? I spend a lot of time in bookstores. I love them. Right now as I’m writing this out in longhand I’m in a Barnes and Noble in San Antonio while my wife is suffering through a business meeting nearby.
For more than twenty years I had a job that required frequent, almost constant travel all over the US. One of the first things I would do when I arrived was to check out the Yellow Pages entry for “Bookstores – Used and Rare”. Sometimes the travel would involve staying out over a weekend. I generally did not have to work on those weekends, just hang loose and be ready to work on Monday morning. That gave me the weekend to hunt and look.
Once, in the mid 1980’s, I was in Charleston, SC and was staying there over the weekend. Friday night I sat in my hotel room trying to find some activity to keep me entertained through the weekend. I thought I might do some Civil War related activity since that unpleasantness started there. I was reading the local newspaper and there I ran across those three magic words. They were on the back page of Section A and occupied the whole page. GIANT BOOK WAREHOUSE!
The ad explained that this was a traveling book sale and gave a pricing schedule. Nothing over $5. There was a map. It appeared that the GIANT BOOK WAREHOUSE! was no more than 20 minutes from my hotel. It was already closed for the night, but, since the hours were posted, I knew when it would be open the next morning.
I arrived promptly as the doors were opened. The GIANT BOOK WAREHOUSE! was a converted Safeway store filled with remaindered books. As I walked in, someone asked if I would like one of those little plastic shopping baskets. I asked for two. The lady offering the basket was not fazed by this. She walked me over to a line of grocery shopping carts. “Will this do you better?” These were my kind of people! I shopped or several hours and filled that cart. I checked out with over $125 in books, mostly in the $2 and $3 price range. Lots of good stuff, mostly science fiction and mystery, even a couple of signed titles. The most expensive item I purchased was Carl Sagan’s COSMOS coffee table book. It was $5.
I took the books back to my room and spread them over the bed. I called friends and told them of my adventures. They were jealous. I was ecstatic.
A couple of days passed and I began to wonder. What had I missed? Sure, I spent several hours there but I might have missed something. Doubt filled my soul. Sure I had found some great stuff, but had it obscured my vision so that I missed some truly wonderful stuff? It was only 20 minutes away so I went back. Got the shopping cart again (Hope springs eternal!) I filled this cart also. Another $125. I got some boxes from the Montgomery Ward store where I was working. It took three big boxes to handle the books I could not pack in my suitcase. And a lot of postage. This was akin to the type of haul you used to be able to get at the American Booksellers Association annual conventions. Again I called my friends. There was palpable jealousy in the air.
A couple of months later (remember this was nearly 25 years ago and my memory is totally fried so I am not quite sure how many months), I was back in the Southeast US staying in Greenville, SC. Staying the weekend. Friday night. Same ad. GIANT BOOK WAREHOUSE! The selection was not as good so I only made one trip. I did fill up the shopping cart. Fun was had. More phone jealousy.
About four months later I was in Nashville, TN for the World Fantasy Convention. I had gotten in late the night before, totally fried and had decided to have breakfast at a Waffle House near the hotel. Sitting there with friends having breakfast, I look across the restaurant and see someone else’s paper. GIANT BOOK WAREHOUSE! This time I had friends with me, some of whom had sent their jealous vibes to me via the phone lines on the previous trips. I bought a paper and showed them the ad. We determine who has the biggest car because there were five of us. My longtime friend and business partner Willie Siros, Doubleday editor Pat LoBrutto, and writers Joe Lansdale and Al Sarrantonio made the trip. We find the place. Books everywhere. I’m disappointed because it is mainly stuff I have seen several times before. The others are fighting among themselves trying to get to some of the stuff.
Purchases were made. Stories were told back at the convention. Happiness was everywhere.
We all love books and the GIANT BOOK WAREHOUSE! was amazing. I’ve not run across the same thing since. Sure there have been traveling remainder book sales but nothing quite approaching that initial joy and wonder. I guess it was just a product of the time.