About This Blog

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I'm not on board with the whole ebook thing. I enjoy books in all their formats. But there is nothing quite like a bookstore with its neatly arranged shelves of books and artfully created displays of new arrivals, best sellers, and suggested reading. I especially enjoy discovering small, independent bookstores and have made it my mission to visit and report back on as many of these gems as I can. That is my focus, but there is really nothing that is off limits as long as it is about books or reading. Hope you enjoy my blog and come back often.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

King's Castle, Part I

John K. King
Used and Rare Books
901 W. Lafayette Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48226

From the small-town charm of Montague to the fast-paced excitement of downtown Detroit, one of the great joys of hunting independent bookstores is their broad variety in style and location, each with its own unique appeal. While it may be known as the "Motor City," Detroit is also home to a king, for within its storied downtown area, surrounded by a mote of highways and busy city streets, stands a mighty fortress of the printed word. This four-story structure, once a glove factory, now houses the largest bookstore in Michigan, John K. King Books. Not by any means knightly in manner or countenance, I felt somewhat intimidated by the imposing brick facade. Remembering, however, that the pen is mightier than the sword, I was compelled to storm this castle to discover what riches lay therein.

Once through the entry door and up a short set of stairs, I was immediately greeted by Craig, one of the many apron-clad staff members readily offering assistance to King Books visitors. Craig presented me with a most important and necessary document, a map of the "castle." With four floors and rows, and rows, and rows, of books, the map would prove invaluable in helping me navigate this towering establishment.

There is no cafe at King Books. Nor will you find mugs, bookmarks, book lights, lapdesks, WiFi, or comfy reading chairs the likes of which are ubiquitous in bookstores these days. What you will find is an astounding array of used books--paperback books, hardcover books, nearly new books, antique books--covering a staggering range of topics. With map in hand, I set out across the worn wood shop floor on my King Books expedition.

Undaunted by the enormity of the place, I proceded down the long center aisle past rows of concrete blocks supporting wood plank shelves filled nearly to the ceiling. Old florescent pull-chain factory lights serve to illuminate the shelves, but according to posted instructions, patrons are advised to conserve energy by turning them on and off as needed. In some areas, the sunlight filtering in through the old factory windows is illumination enough. An abundance of milk crates to be used as makeshift seating and step stools add to the overall utilitarian feel. While the map provides general guidance as to the classification and arrangement of materials, the shelves themselves are labeled in great detail. Because of the vastness of the collection, the astronomy section, for example, is broken down into subsections for stars, sun, solar system, planets, and even a shelf designated specifically for books on Halley's Comet. Several boxes of books yet to be categorized and shelved rest patiently down the center of one aisle.

Huge steel doors guard the entrance from the stairwell to some of the floors. Old signage, original brick walls with peeling paint, retired radiators, exposed pipes, and other remnants of the original glove factory are still evident, all adding to the unique ambience of this mammoth bookstore. Paradoxically, the industrial metal and brick stairwell is graced by old photos, posters, and paintings.

Looking for something specific? No problem. Friendly, helpful staff members are always readily available to assist in your search. Old is often synonymous with dusty, however, and once you have discovered that must-have volume, there is a good chance that it will indeed be dust covered. Also not a problem. King Books is a service-oriented establishment, and store manager, Deborah, at the main desk will gladly bring out a soft brush and dust off your purchase for you.

My exploration of King Books could easily have taken the better part of a day, but alas, I arrived only about an hour before closing time. I did, however, have time to investigate each of the four floors, browsing a few sections in detail before deciding on some interesting purchases. I have a fondness for history and a particular interest in the Great Depression. Among the many scholarly books available, I was delighted to find a Time-Life set of reference books entitled This Fabulous Century from which I selected the volume on the 1930's. And what could be more appropriate than The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging?

With my selections in hand, I made my way back to the main desk to complete my purchase and bid farewell to King Books. Little did I know that my adventure had just begun.

To read about the rest of my King Books visit, go to King's Castle, Part II.


Anonymous said...

Marsha: I enjoyed your "King" adventure very much. About the time our children were in Middle School I disposed of my entire set of "This Fabulous Century." Ah well, if I had only known. Hank Czerwick

Marsha Redd said...

We actually had a set of "This Fabulous Century" in the high school library where I worked. They are wonderful books filled with lots of pictures, personal quotes, and interesting facts. Thanks for your comment.