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The Word Merchants : In Valley Bookstores, Lovers of Literature Are Bound to Browse Shelves for New, Used but Never Abused Publications

November 12, 1987|SUSAN PERRY | Perry is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

Mike Blatty loves books and bookstores. So, after being a book collector for 10 years, he and his wife, Sue, opened Charing Cross Books in Sherman Oaks a year ago.

"I love going to England and the book shops all around Charing Cross Road," said Blatty, 35. "When I decided to open a shop, I wanted to give it a little flavor of England."

His customers share his passion. Regulars come in once a week, maybe more. A sign in the window reads "Browsers Welcome" and, said Blatty, browsers and buyers tend to be equally divided.

According to Paul Hunt, co-owner of three bookstores in Burbank and author of Book Finder, a directory of used-book stores in Southern California, the region's literary center is still the Westside.

"But I would say the Valley is becoming one of the ascendant areas," he said. "The hub of culture used to be in Hollywood and the central areas, but I think more and more when you look, they've moved out to the suburbs.

'Very Literate Area'

"There are a lot of people who read in the Valley. It's a very literate area. And I think it's going to grow in importance as an area where books are sold and people are writing."

Hunt is also one of the organizers of the California Antiquarian Book Fair, held in the spring and fall in Glendale. He sees the rapid growth of the semiannual fair as a sign that interest in collecting books is increasing.

Indeed, some of the San Fernando Valley's second-hand bookstores cater more to collectors of rare or antiquarian books than to the ordinary reader. Prices for these can reach thousands of dollars, although many are available in the $20-$50 price range. At the other end of the scale, used books for readers (who may or may not be collectors, too) can be found for under a dollar and up.

Used-book stores in the Valley start up, move or go out of business with surprising frequency, and it would be impossible to list all of them. Whether your pleasure is reading, collecting or both, the following sampling of shops offers plenty of places to browse. (Unless noted, shops do not accept credit cards, and you are advised to call ahead for an appointment to sell them books.)

Valley Book City, 5249 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood (818) 985-6911. Open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. A sign on the front door bears a quote from H. W. Beecher: "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" This large general shop tempts the book lover with large sections of first editions, limited editions and signed literary works. Several shelves contain leather-bound books, whereas some of the more unusual signed and out-of-print books reside in glass cases. Specialties include art, cinema, photography and literature. Sections range from Nautical Construction to Dreams, from Philosophy of Death to Nixon. Stock in the 12-year-old shop consists of more than 100,000 hard-covers and 50,000 paperbacks. Shelves outside the store offer books for 15 cents to $2. National Geographics are available at 29 cents each.

A 20% discount is offered to first-time customers. A mailing list is kept for notification of sales; the next sale is due after the first of the year. A few chairs and stepladders are scattered around the store's relatively wide aisles. Credit cards are accepted. "We don't get that many customers from the neighborhood. People have to come out of their way to find us," said employee Bob Johnson, who calls himself "Captain Bookman."

Dutton's Books/North Hollywood, 5146 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood (818) 769-3866, (213) 877-9222. Open Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. This family-owned general bookstore has been here since 1961 (other locations are in Burbank, Brentwood and, by mid-November, downtown Los Angeles in the Arco Plaza). About half the books are new, half used, with specialties in literature, history and the arts. Every inch of the store's 3,600 square feet, including some of the floor itself, is filled with an extremely wide selection of books. Between the North Hollywood and Burbank shops and other stock, inventory includes 250,000 books. All new hard-cover fiction is discounted 20%, and selected new nonfiction books are also discounted. Rare and antiquarian books are not on view, but can be retrieved on request with one- to three-day notice.

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