The waves of heat radiate off of the amusement park-sized parking lot, reminding you that you are in the Hellscape and it is June.
The massive, largely full Sunday parking lot is for the gigantic corporate movie theater screening various early-summer Hollywood excretions. But we are there, not for the overpriced CGI mindrot, but for the bookstore. More importantly, it is a used bookstore — that rarest of the bookstore breed. Because we don’t really care for the overpriced and lame offerings of Books A Dozen. But we do love used bookstores. And when we find a good one, we not only write about it, we go back often and spend a whole bunch of our money there.
So we’re not THAT picky. We’re not looking for first editions. We don’t need it to have a coffee shop. We just want a couple of good shelves (or even boxes) to browse. We’d like some serious attempt to stock non-fiction, and we’d like prices to be reasonable, if not competitive with the Internet. If you’ve got to traffic in romance novels and run some kind of manga trade operation, so be it. We support the circulation of crap pulp novels (your Grishams, your Dan Browns) if that’s what’s needed to keep the lights on.
But there’s got to be some there there. The Book Cellar is like a bookstore as if run by someone who had never been to a bookstore, but had once had one described to them over the phone. They clearly purchased a ton of shelves. They rented a place in the shopping center. And then they skipped to “next step: profit.”
A few points: There’s nowhere to sit. Well, that’s not technically true. There is some sort of grandmotherly arm chair set up in the front of the store that looks more like a decoration to be seen through the window than an actual comfortable chair that someone would want to sit in.
There’s no step stool for getting to top shelves. We didn’t need one, but heard a customer ask and be told that there was none.
There’s no sense of value. Some of the used paperbacks with creases in the cover and other small cosmetic problems are $6. Too high. There’s a 25-cent table, which would ordinarily be a great thing. But the only thing worth noting about that table is that the books there were slightly better than the books on the $2 shelves. In that they weren’t guides to the year 2000 (we wish we were joking). Not that the quarter books weren’t nutso too, but at least there were multiple copies of FutureShock (sensing a theme here…). And the only thing that makes it remotely worth looking at those shelves is the likelihood that you’ll find some kind of crazy religious self-published thing. You might briefly consider buying one of these as a joke for a friend, but really, you just end up feeling depressed that this is the quality of the books being stocked here.
The books here are like a window into the mind of the average Hellscape resident. There are no college textbooks or even semi-academic stuff. There’s no philosophy section. The non-fiction section is too hilarious to describe properly. There are a curious amount of books about owning pets, with hilarious titles like “So, you’d like to own a Great Dane.” There are self-help books galore. And, like we said, plenty of crazy religious stuff.
There’s no literary fiction besides a Louise Erdrich novel and a handful of other readings that smack of Book Club. There are certainly slim pickings on the “classics” front. The children’s section seemed okay, if a little heavy on the heirs to Goosebumps and other trashy pre-young-adult type offerings. It made us reflect on how important it is for young people to read fiction and how much good fiction there is for young readers, little of which was represented here.
The non-fiction section is just awful – entirely bereft of legitimate histories (we bought one of the only serious nonfiction books on offer — a medieval history book) and it’s rife with conspiracy theories, half-baked right wing diatribes and weight loss pep talk manuals. The bottom line on the bookstore is that it reveals either how awful the store owner’s taste is or what slim pickings she has to work with around here. Probably we’re looking at some of both, but our opinion of the Hellscape is so low that we could certainly imagine someone coming in to resell the O’Reilly Factor For Kids to partially pay their ticket to see Prince Of Persia — not despite but because it is based on a video game. And there, dear readers, is your explanation of Vaughn Road in a nutshell.
It’s a damn shame. It’s a shame that this is what passes for a passable used bookstore in this town. It’s a shame that the Thomas Pynchon book they stocked (Vineland) was priced the same as the Oliver North novel they stocked. Mostly, though, it’s a shame that people once bought these books and (shiver) read them.