Humanity can be sliced into endless categories: those who like anchovies, and those who don’t; those who can watch golf on television, and those who consider it a form of cruel and unusual punishment; those who worship Madonna, and those who run screaming from the room at the mere mention of her name.
Used-book shops offer another dividing line. Some people would rate spending an afternoon among stacks of moldering books about as appealing as traffic school. Others consider used-book shops a sort of sacred sanctuary, a place where time stands still and dusty treasures await.
Count me among the latter. I can disappear for hours among the shelves, only to emerge with books whose appeal I have trouble explaining to family and friends. Among the titles on my shelves: “New York’s Awful Excursion Boat Horror” (a turn-of-the-century disaster account complete with gruesome pictures), “Pennsylvania Report of Committee and Testimony, Railroad Riots 1878" (a congressional report, no pictures), and the Victorian-era “What a Young Man Ought to Know” (with its spirited diatribe against-- gasp! --dancing).
It’s not a collection so much as an accumulation, a record of momentary buying impulses and quirks of personal taste. And they’re all books of an unpredictable kind you would never find in the chain booksellers, even those discount mega-stores.
Used-book shops are full of discoveries waiting to be made, but their wares certainly go beyond the esoteric. By far the biggest customer base for most used-book shops is not collectors but general readers, cost-conscious types who’d rather not pay retail and others in search of books that have gone out of print.
Some county shops sell only used paperbacks, offering customers exchange credits for books they bring into the store. Romance novels tend to be popular, as do science fiction novels. But Jim Schroeder of the Paperback Exchange in San Clemente said he and wife, Mary, have steady customers for everything from Western fiction to history books.
At their shop, used paperbacks sell for half the cover price, and trade-ins are two-for-one (most paperback shops offer similar schemes). At retail bookstores, new paperbacks often sell for $7 and more, Schroeder said. “That’s a price that you used to be able to buy a hardback for a few years back, so (customers) are glad to come in and recycle their books, as it were.”
Even shops that carry a selection of rare and collectible books rely on non-collectors for most of their business--as much as 90% for the Book Baron in Anaheim, according to owner Bob Weinstein. For prices ranging from a few dollars on up, customers can buy clean, hardcover copies of the classics, popular fiction or works that have gone out of print (most used-book shops operate a search service to help locate those hard-to-find books).
The line that divides reader and collector can be a fine one, though. Ask Art Stone of Villa Park. “I never thought of myself as a collector, never knew there was a community of collectors,” Stone said by telephone. He was an avid reader, however, and decided on an impulse to take a class in book collecting about 20 years ago at UC Irvine.
“I found out I was already a book collector, and learned there should be a plan to what you collect,” said Stone, who now specializes in baseball fiction, early Americana and Orange County authors. He haunts the county’s used-book shops on a regular basis, and “if I come home without a book, I’m disappointed. I haven’t satisfied my craving.”
Orange County has a wide range of used-book dealers, from the cavernous Book Baron in Anaheim, with a wide general selection, to a handful of dealers specializing in collectible and antiquarian books, such as tiny Lorson’s Books and Prints in Fullerton, and the Book Sail in Orange, which sells mostly by catalogue and is open only by appointment.
Falling in the middle range are several general used-book stores, all of which carry at least some collectible books. Cahill’s, in Fountain Valley, has a large general stock in addition to a selection of literary first editions, as does the Bookman in Orange. The Book Store in Costa Mesa features a small but wide-ranging stock, from cookbooks to literary first editions. Book Harbor in Fullerton, which is back in business after being damaged in a fire a few years back, is another general shop.
Some shops specialize. Book Carnival in Orange features used and new mystery and science fiction--one of the hottest collecting areas--and hosts signings by authors. Aladdin Books in Fullerton features a general used and collectible section in addition to specialized collections in cinema and performing arts.
Book Baron is the big guy on the block. Owner Weinstein opened it in 1980 with 3,000 square feet of shop space, and has since expanded several times to the present behemoth of 20,000 square feet. There are aisles and aisles of general used books in addition to collectible first editions and books in such areas as Western fiction, military history and Western Americana.
The shop recently made a sale of 11,000 books to a single customer, a library in South Korea. The most recent expansion has allowed for a big selection of used magazines--from Playboy to National Geographic--and a section for new books, purchased at a discount from publishers and failed bookshops.
Most of his stock consists of affordable used books, but there also are collectible books in a wide variety of categories. Weinstein said first editions of a few recent books are going for astronomical sums, particularly first books by authors who went on to greater fame. “A Time to Kill” by John Grisham, published in 1989, can sell for more than $2,000; Stephen King’s “Carrie” sells for $600 to $700.
“A lot of people think the book has to be old to be valuable,” Weinstein said, but clearly that’s not the case. These kinds of prices have lured many speculators into the book market, but Weinstein cautioned that such price rises can be hard to predict and may not hold, as only time will tell if the authors will keep their popularity.
James Lorson, owner of Lorson Books and Prints, keeps a small stock and prefers to specialize in proven writers and works. He marvels at some of the prices commanded by new works of fiction, such as the Grisham book. “You can buy a pretty good book for $2,000, in my opinion, and that wouldn’t be one,” he said.
The advice of Lorson, and other dealers and collectors, is for beginning collectors to buy authors and works they have a personal interest in, rather than buying for speculation. The first rule of collecting, he added, is to buy copies in the best condition possible--which isn’t always easy. “Books are made to be handled, yet collectors are looking for pristine condition,” he said.
Most works of modern fiction are collectible only in their first edition (a term used interchangeably with first printing) and in their original dust jacket.
“Dust jackets are of prime importance,” said Michael Cahill, owner of Cahill’s Book Store in Fountain Valley. First editions of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald have sold for about $25,000 at auction, in fine condition and in the jacket, Cahill said. On the other hand, “I’ve sold two copies without jackets in the $350 range.”
The rule holds true for newer collectibles as well. “If a book is going to go up in value, it’s going to be a copy in fine condition,” he said.
“I really don’t think collecting books as an investment is something to recommend. It’s too capricious,” said collector Stone. “That shouldn’t be the primary lure.”
His greatest joy as a collector, he said, is coming across a book on his want list. “When you find something you’ve been looking for for a long time, that’s enjoyable,” he said. “Especially when it’s underpriced.”
Fred Masino of Newport Beach started collecting about six years ago, beginning with some of his favorite authors--William Styron, Norman Mailer, Irwin Shaw and James Jones. “I was just looking to read every one of their books,” Masino said, and he started haunting the local used-book shops for reading copies.
“Then when you notice one book for $10 and one for $150, you start wondering what the difference is,” he said. Through talking to dealers, he started learning about the hobby of collecting, and then asked himself, “If I’m going to buy these books, why not buy a nice first-edition copy?”
He has since moved to collecting some classic American authors, such as Hemingway, Steinbeck and Faulkner. His collection was helped along by a bit of luck. An architect and theater consultant, Masino was traveling frequently to Las Vegas to work on the MGM Grand Hotel and won four $1,000 video-poker jackpots in six months. The winnings made him a popular figure among local book dealers.
“I thought, ‘Well, heck, I’ll go buy something I wouldn’t normally buy,’ ” he said. Among his purchases: a $750 first-edition copy of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
“It’s been fun,” Masino said. “I’ve enjoyed the book collecting, whether it’s $200 books or $10 books.”
Masino stressed that the best source of information on collecting is the dealers themselves, most of whom are passionate about the subject of books and more than willing to help guide a collector.
Many of them started as collectors themselves, such as Brad Wilson, owner of the Book Store in Costa Mesa. He collected for years, until he had filled a double garage with books. “It just came to a point in our lives when we just decided that maybe we ought to do this as a business,” he said. Opening a bookstore “was sort of in the back of my mind, but it wasn’t something I planned on.”
He and his wife, Nancy, opened their shop two years ago. Like most book dealers, they work to personalize their business, keeping an eye out for books in their buyers’ areas of interest. It’s a labor of love, he said.
“I think the service end of it is a big part of it, a real key,” he said. “The different people you meet is one of the really nice things about the business.”
Used book stores take all forms--from small specialty shops offering a handful of antiquarian treasures and paperback stores trading heavily in romances and mysteries, to general used-book marts that carry a little bit of everything. The following sampler of some of Orange County’s bookshops includes all types.
There are other sources of used books: thrift stores, some antique shops, even garage sales. Libraries often have sales of used, donated books that can turn up some treasures; the library at UC Irvine and the Laguna Beach Library operate year-round shops with limited hours.
* The Book Baron, 1236 S. Magnolia Ave. A very large shop with general used books and collectibles in all categories, including magazines and paperbacks. Open Monday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 527-7022.
* Sunshine Books, 8944 Knott Ave. Large stock of used paperbacks, mostly romance and science fiction. Open weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 761-1552.
* Apollo Book Shop, 1670 Westminster Ave. General used, with a large maritime collection. Open weekdays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (714) 646-7045.
* Book Rack, 369 E. 17th St., Suite 23. General paperback. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (714) 646-6694.
* The Book Store, 130 E. 17th St. (behind the Harp Inn). Used and collectible books. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (714) 645-5496.
* New & Recycled Romances & Other Used Books, 145 and 147 Broadway. The name says it all. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (714) 645-0529.
* Thinker Used Books, 1525 Mesa Verde Drive East. Mostly paperbacks, especially science fiction, mystery and romance. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (714) 540-7771.
* Anchor Books, 18440 Brookhurst St. General used books, with specialty collections in art, cookbooks and World War II. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (714) 963-3882.
* Cahill’s Book Store, 18838 Brookhurst St. Wide-ranging used and collectible stock, with a strong literature section, including modern first editions. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (714) 963-3122.
* Aladdin Books, 122 W. Commonwealth Ave. General used and collectible, with special collections in cinema, performing arts and first-edition fiction. Open Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. (714) 738-6115.
* Book Harbor, 201 N. Harbor Blvd. General used with a large selection of first editions, along with used records and sheet music. Open weekdays, noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 738-1941.
* Fowler’s Books, 2634 W. Orangethorpe Ave, Suite 6. Paperback fiction, with some general hardcover books. Open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 879-9893.
* Lorson’s Books and Prints, 116 W. Wilshire Ave. Specialized antiquarian books along with artist’s books, miniature books and a large selection of new children’s books. Open weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday by appointment. (714) 526-2523.
* Sandcastle Books, 17301 Beach Blvd., Suite 16. General used books, including modern first editions, horror and mystery and general paperbacks. Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 847-9944.
* Book Rack, 4840 Irvine Blvd., Suite 108. General paperback. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (714) 669-1844.
* Sea Wolf Books, Irvine Marketplace, 4213 Campus Drive, Suite P-166d. Literature and nonfiction, used and collectible. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 854-1112.
* Barnaby Rudge Bookseller, 1475 Glenneyre Ave. Antiquarian books, along with maps, prints and antique furniture. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (714) 497-4079.
* Laguna Bookstore, 1100 S. Coast Highway, Suite 216. General used and antiquarian books, with specialties in illustrated books, children’s books, art books and ethnic interest areas. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (714) 497-1701.
* Mr. Good Books, 24881 Alicia Parkway, Suite C. General used books, emphasizing nonfiction, with some paperbacks. Open weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (714) 951-3966.
* Book Corral, 25571 Jeronimo Road, Suite 9. General used paperbacks. Open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (714) 855-8054.
* The Book Shelf, call for address or catalogue. Modern first editions, mystery, Southern fiction. Open by appointment only. (714) 642-5619.
* Book Carnival, 348 S. Tustin Ave. Mystery, science fiction and fantasy, new and used. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 538-3210.
* The Book Sail, 1186 N. Tustin Ave. Fine antiquarian material in all categories. Open by appointment only. (714) 997-9511.
* The Bookman, 840 N. Tustin Ave. Wide range of used and rare books in all categories, including modern first editions. Open weekdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. (714) 538-0166.
* Nix Books, 2820 E. Chapman Ave. General used, including mystery and horror, Western Americana and Boy Scout material. Open Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (714) 997-5242.
* Book Faire, 1848 N. Placentia Ave., Placentia. General used and rare books. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (714) 996-6725.
* The Paperback Exchange, 211 Avenida del Mar. General paperbacks, with some 30,000 books in all categories. Open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (714) 492-1114.
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
* Room With a View Books, 31521B Camino Capistrano. Collectible children’s books, modern first editions, illustrated classics. Open Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (714) 240-4333.
* Tustin Used Books, 215 W. 1st St., Suite 102. General used hardcovers and paperbacks, with large science-fiction section. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (714) 731-6103.
* Virginia’s Book Loft, 5515 Camino Vista. Search service only. Open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (714) 692-0644.