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Tuesday, 27 July 2021

Speak Your Brain! Part VI. Bookshops!

Thanks to Charlie Horse 47 and Killdumpster for their sponsorship of this post, via the magic of Patreon

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Once more, the internet reels with horror as another Tuesday comes around, meaning the time has arrived for the latest round in the feature that's rocking this ever-shrinking world to its very foundations.

Thus it is that the first person to comment below will set the starting point for today's discussion.

Could it involve sport, art, films, music, myth, magic, mystery, sofas or illusion?

I don't have a clue.

You, on the other hand, probably have.

So, if there's anything you feel needs discussion, feel free to say so in the comments section provided.


Anonymous said...

Proposed topic: BOOKSHOPS!

b.t. is a Los Angeles man. Does he remember 'A Change of Hobbit', the amazing bookshop in which an American relative of mine bought me Tarzan books with Neal Adams/Boris Vallejo covers? Steve's a Sheffield guy - does he remember Harper's bookshops on Church Street, Rotherham (also at Market Hall, Rotherham) & Market Hill, Barnsley. Sheffield also had the Space Centre, where I bought my first Elric book. In the 80s, Leeds had Austicks, before the explosion in bookshops in the mid 90s (which then disappeared again!) What bookshops had a formative influence on you?


Anonymous said...

I absolutely remember A Change of Hobbit. It was in Santa Monica, less than half a mile away from where one of my best friends lived, so I shopped there fairly often during the early-to-mid 1980s. Not a huge store but packed with hardcover and paperback SF and Fantasy books, some pulp magazines and small press mags (Crypt of Cthulhu, Space and Time, etc) and books from specialty presses like Arkham House and Donald M. Grant. They moved over to a nicer building in the Santa Monica Promenade in the early 90s but then closed up shop. It was a great place. Sigh….

Throughout most of the 90s there was an SF bookstore in Sherman Oaks called Dangerous Visions, owned and operated by SF author Arthur Byron Cover and his wife Lydia. It was in an even smaller space than A Change of Hobbit, but very well stocked with new and “used” books. They had a room in the back full of shelves stuffed with SF digests that was a blast to browse through. Another SF author named William Wu sometimes worked there part-time — I remembered him from the MASTER OF KUNG FU letter pages, he was a big fan of the comic but (rightly) took them to task over the clumsy choices for the Asian characters’ flesh colors. Ran into Larry Niven there once or twice too, I think he lived pretty near by. Supposedly Harlan Ellison stopped in occasionally too, he lived just a few blocks away and was good friends with the Covers, but I never saw him there.

For about a year, there was a branch of Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop directly across the street. Mostly new books, as I recall. I was just starting to get into crime fiction at the time, so it was great timing for me, personally — i picked up a bunch of those Black Lizard titles by guys like Jim Thompson and Harry Whittington, and some of the Parker novels, Ross MacDonald, etc. They also occasionally got some import paperbacks from the UK — Lovecraft and Brian Lumley, etc. But horror books were rare, the stock was mostly Crime / Mystery, everything from Agatha Christie to James Ellroy. Never did hear why they had to close up shop so quickly, but I assume it was just economics. Storefront rentals on Ventura Blvd were pretty expensive, I’d imagine.

Before that, starting around ‘78 or 79, I would drive down to Hollywood about once a week — there were a ton of great bookstores, record stores and comic shops between Hollywood Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd. There was one huge, awesome shop called The Hollywood Book and Poster Co. that had old comics, magazines, pulps, posters, tons and tons of stills, animation cels, you name it. Man, it was glorious.

The San Fernando Valley used to be dotted with new and used bookstores but they’re almost all gone now. There was one infamous bloodbath in the early “Aughts”, when the landlords in Burbank and North Hollywood suddenly jacked their rental prices sky-high and put over a dozen used bookstores and thrift shops out of business in the space of just a few months. It was tragic.


Steve W. said...

Thanks for the topic, Phillip.

I'm afraid I don't remember Harper's bookshops.

I am familiar with Sheffield Space Centre, although the only time I've ever visited it, it was closed, seemingly being the only shop in Sheffield that still observed half-day closing on Wednesday.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Hey Folks,

Charlie had moved from Gary, Indiana, to the county seat of Crown Point in 1973. (Where John Dillinger broke out of jail with gun carved out of soap, wood, or a finger in his pocket.)

In the nearby, newly built (the first in Indiana? Redartz will let me know! LOL!) shopping mall there was a Walden's Books.

It was there that Charlie discovered Steranko's History of Comics and his parents discovered Stan Lee's books (Bring on the Heroes?) to gift him for Christmas!

One had to venture into the big city of Chicago to find used book stores, comic book stores, and such, though.

Anonymous said...

Terry's Magazines and Paperbacks was Southend-on-sea's premier book shop and it carried imported US comics from the early 80's. Terry was an old boy at the time and so, presumably, some young scamp had done a deal to sell comics through the store. The comics pretty much took over the store, over a few years and they had a pretty decent back issue section for a while. A young Warren Ellis worked behind the counter around the time he broke into comics (probably late 80s?). I remember picking up Love & Rockets #8 from this store, several years after it was published. Still at cover price.

A short train journey opened up the central London market and I remember visiting Forbidden Planet (the Denmark Street store) and Comic Showcase several times during trips to the Westminster Marts.


Anonymous said...

Dark They Were And Golden Eyed, Forbidden Planet in the Denmark St basement, Comics Showcase, Westminster Marts... jumpers for goalposts isn't it, hmmm?

Was Comics Showcase the one near Covent Garden DW? I think that was where Gibbons and Bolland topped up their page rates - I recall in the later 80s spending a bit of time looking at the Watchmen and Killing Joke pages for sale. Not that it ever occurred to me to get some money together and buy any of them, which was a bit dumb in retrospect...


Anonymous said...

Ah yes, Waldenbooks. In my truly ‘formative’ years, going to the Northridge Fashion Center once or twice a year was a treat, especially around the Christmas season — they had a Waldenbooks and a Pickwick Books, which later became a B. Dalton. If I remember right, Waldenbooks carried a lot of those “Instant remainder” type books — cheap, oversized coffee table books about Monster Movies, Kung fu cinema, etc. as well as things like the Jules Feiffer GREAT COMIC BOOK HEROES. Pickwick Books had Stan’s ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS and Steranko’s HISTORY OF COMICS Vol. 2, both of which my dear Mom was kind enough to get for me one Christmas ( I didn’t get Vol. 1 until years later, but fortunately it was in print a LONG time).

I don’t recall if it was at Pickwick or Waldenbooks, but I remember flipping through a large trade paperback compendium of Underground Comics and thinking there was NO WAY I’d dare put that filthy thing on my Christmas list :)

Anonymous said...

Waldenbooks was also one of the first places that sold pre-recorded videotapes in our area — they had a big spinner rack with Public Domain movies like NOSFERATU and CABINET OF CALIGARI on VHS cassettes in those clunky soft vinyl clamshell boxes. They were like 20 bucks a pop, IIRC (which seems like a total ripoff now, don’t it!)


Anonymous said...


Yes, in Catherine Street. Bolland did a nice Joker image for the plastic bags (as he more famously did for FP). I'm pretty sure this was the shop that had the complete unpublished chapter of V for Vendetta, after Warrior folded but before DC. Gosh were close by as well. Rodney's in Barking was another shop that started with a small comics section in an existing book shop before morphing into a comic shop proper.


Anonymous said...

b.t. - Thanks for the info. My memories are indistinct, and my American relative passed away a long time ago, so jogging one's memory is difficult. My brother reminded me we also got Marvel novels from 'A Change of Hobbit' - a standout being novel # 9:

I never read Ross McDonald, but I read a lot of John D. McDonald! On the subject of SF digests, did you ever read 'Analog'? My late father left a collection, some of which date back to the 50s & 60s. As a kid, I used to read the 'Callaghan's Bar' stories, Havilland Tuff, and the book reviews, by Tom Easton & Spider Robinson.

Wasn't William Wu on 'Eating the Fantastic'? The name rings a bell.

Steve - I suppose, in Sheffield, the Space Centre's convenience was more for visitors, it being so close to the bus/train station. Also, it was near the Poly.

Doing an internet search for Harpers, I found a reference to it in a novel by a Sheffield writer ('Electric Arc to the Past', by Calvert Render). I wondered if it might be yourself, using a pen name. This can't be the case. Sheffield must have novelists a-plenty!

Another Sheffield-unique bookshop was J Hartley Seed (more academic books, though). Getting to it resembled being the frog in the video game, 'Frogger'. The roads/traffic was/were terrible!

I also remember my brother got the Usborne Guide to the Supernatural World book (a classic of the genre!)in a bookshop in Sheffield:

Charlie - Strangely, Leeds has a 'Crown Point' retail park!


McSCOTTY said...

I remember visiting Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street when I was working in London around 1983/84 and being so excited by it as it was the first specialist comic/book store I had visited (only knowing of its existence via fanzines and ads in UK Marvel). However on my first visits it was in the process of moving to a new location so stock was depleted as it was being moved. Still I managed to pick up lot of fanzines (and some comics) that had adverts of stores in Glasgow and Edinburgh that I wasn’t aware existed.

From that list my first proper comic/book store visit was to Future Shock in the West End of Glasgow a few months later when I returned home. Future Shock wasn’t like todays modern comic superstores it was old school , a smallish rather musky smelling shop packed to the rafters with new comics, fanzines, SF books, models, back issues etc displayed all over the shop (on the floor or piled high on tables etc) . The owner (sadly now no longer with us) was shall we say a bit of a character. A few years after the mid 1980’s there were comic stores all over Glasgow my favourite being the legendary AKA books and comics store where people like Grant Morrison and Mark Miller hung out.

The very first place I recall encountering US comics (mostly DC but also Tower, Marvel etc) was in the mid/late 1960’s where I lived (just outside Glasgow) . There was an ice cream (general store ) van that sold US comics (and bubble gum cards). The owner whose name is now lost to the ages used to sell new US comics for cash or swap them for money and an old comic. Old comics were sold half price (or less) . For swaps there was a sliding scale of value for your old comic with Batman and Superman the most valuable, War and humour comics less so etc.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

b.t., et. al...

You guys really triggered old Charlie's 60-year-old brain!

Now that I think about it, there were all kinds of book stores trying to cash in on the reading fad...

Walden Books may have been the first, and for some reason (don't ask my why, I was young teen) the best.

THen it seemed like others opened: B.Dalton, Crown Books, Barnes and Nobles, Borders...

My favorite for both new, text-book, esoteric, etc. was in downtown Chicago loop on Wabash called Kroch and Brentano's. They had everything! (New posting on K&B below.)

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Philip - I really want to thank you for this topic! It triggered me to look up Kroch and Brentano's in Chicago, just to see what street it was on.

Turns out they have a very, very interesting story.

Biggest private book company in America with 25 stores in Chicago land. Started in Chicago. 100 year old history. Folded in 1995.. I was actually sad about that but did not realize it was a harbinger of things to come.

But my impressions of KB were justified in the Wiki article below. They did seemingly have everything and had incredibly knowledgeable people working there. For instance they had an art historian in the art section...

One of my odder purchases, perhaps when they were going out of business, was I bought maybe 10 Cliff Notes books for a $1 each of classics: Iliad, Odyssey, Virgil, Beowulf... you get it. I'd read them as I read those books. Had them all until "the great divorce" last summer...

Anonymous said...

Charlie - Thanks! Maybe America's got the edge over the UK, for independent bookshops. As regards the UK, I'd heard Baggins bookshop in Rochester, Kent, was the largest 2nd hand bookshop in the UK. But, when I went, it seemed small. I think Carlisle & Alnwick have significant bookshops, too - but nothing like your K&B. I suppose, in the UK, Hay-on-Wye is the country's book capital.

Similar to K&B vs Crown Point, etc - in Leeds, Borders was better than Waterstones, but closed (as did Dillons), whilst Waterstones survived. Unfortunately, customers like myself only have ourselves to blame! Oh - incidentally, Borders also sold American magazines, you couldn't purchase in regular UK shops - e.g. aviation, American history, etc.

As regards your bargain Cliff Notes, I once bought a York Notes (the UK equivalent to Cliff Notes, & widely derided by English teachers - sometimes rightly so!) in a bargain bin, with a 10 pence sticker on it, and traded it in on Amazon, for £6! Amazon pulled the plug on this scheme shortly afterwards!


Redartz said...

Like many of you I frequented the mall chains- B. Dalton and Walden. Growing up, our town had a used book store called "Book World" (not as imaginative as some, but they were pretty good). Mostly used paperbacks, very cheap. One attraction was that they also stocked used comics and magazines, at 10 cents each. Literally piles of comics; I picked up many. Most were unremarkable, but on one memorable occasion I nabbed a copy of Amazing Spider-Man 5. Yes, for a dime. Granted, this was 1977, but even then that was quite a deal.

Many years ag ago I visited an incredible book store in Cincinnati, called the Ohio Bookstore. It was amazing, I hear it's still in business. Need to pay them a return visit.

As for comic stores, I patronized a place called the Comic Carnival while in college. They were friendly and had a fine selection. Plus I met Bob Layton there (he was living in Indianapolis at the time). Nowadays there's a great shop I visit called Comic Book World. Unlike many current shops, they still carry a big selection of back issues. And reasonably priced...