If your idea of a bookstore is a clean, well-lighted place, filled with unthumbed copies of the new Tom Clancy, this story isn't for you. This is a guide to the Valley's other bookstores, the sometimes dark, sometimes dusty places filled with books as old as your parents, out-of-print titles on everything from aerospace to zoology.
The Valley's many used-book stores are typically visited by two types of people. First, there are the readers--individuals whose best times are had in their heads, exploring other worlds or becoming other people. These are the customers who peruse the shelves with half-smiles on their faces, touching the waiting spines as if engaged in a kind of foreplay.
Second, there are the book collectors. These are people who spend a great deal of time and money seeking a Grail known only to them--an obscure novel to cap their collection of whaling books or the WPA guide to the state of Idaho, the only one they don't already have. Collectors tend to yelp unself-consciously when they hit it big. They also tend to be male, for reasons known only to God.
Ordinary used books sell for half their cover price or less. But some secondhand prose can cost a bundle. In recent years, book collecting has been roiled by a phenomenon called garping . As Denver book dealer and writer John Dunning explains, garping is the process whereby a relatively new book, and not necessarily a distinguished one, suddenly begins commanding princely sums on the resale market. Often the jump in price leaves even dealers shaking their heads. The term refers to John Irving's novel "The World According to Garp." As soon as "Garp" hit the bestseller list in 1978, Dunning says, Irving's earlier books, which had languished on book-dealer's shelves, garped, or shot up in value.
John Grisham's early work has also garped. Dunning recently saw a copy of Grisham's maiden novel, "A Time to Kill" (1988), for $3,000. That's what you would pay for a decent first edition of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Go figure.
Some fancy-schmancy antiquarian bookstores have ritzy addresses, but most used-book stores are in neighborhoods where rents are low. The San Fernando Valley offers a surprising range of stores, places where you can find everything from books by L. Frank Baum to back issues of Collier's magazine. The following is a non-inclusive list. It starts in the east, in Glendale, and ends in the West Valley. Virtually all the stores buy books and many will conduct a search for a particular title. The focus is on stores that carry hardbacks.
Brand Books, 231 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Owner Jerome Joseph estimates he has about 100,000 books, and he and his staff can often help you find a particular title in this large, well-organized shop. One of the best things about Brand Books is its high turnover, much valued by habitual book shoppers. One appreciative regular is Eloisa Mondrus of Mount Washington. She stops by twice a month to check out the Judaica section and books on her native Cuba. With titles in all categories, the store is strong in philosophy, religion and film, and has large, orderly paperback sections as well. Open nightly. "People walk at night here," Joseph explains.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. (818) 507-5943.
Mystery & Imagination Bookshop, 515 1/2 E. Broadway, Glendale. This is the only used-book store in the Valley that specializes in mystery and suspense, a booming area of book collecting. (Mitchell Books in Pasadena is the premier place for mysteries in the San Gabriel Valley; Mysterious Bookshop, the best of the Westside stores.) Among the 7,500 books on the shelves are literature and fiction of all kinds. Recent goodies included a first edition of "Burning Daylight," signed by author Jack London. Priced at $550, the book also includes London's personal bookplate featuring a wolf. Co-owner Christine Bell says interest in book collecting seems to be surging lately. "A great many of our customers are brand new collectors within the last year," she said.
Hours: noon to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (818) 545-0206.
Book City Burbank, 308 N. San Fernando Blvd., Burbank. The offspring of mammoth Book City Hollywood, Book City Burbank is a huge, bright, orderly operation in the middle of the gentrified Burbank mall. According to manager Mitch Siegel, there are 500,000 books at the two Book City locations and their warehouse. Ladders are placed throughout the store so customers can explore the upper shelves. Siegel can't get over how much the area, now full of restaurants and shoppers in full Gap chic, has changed since the store opened in 1980. "It went from Mayberry to Manhattan," he says. Book City Burbank is a great place to look for material on the arts, including movie and TV scripts. It has also started selling autographs.