January 2006 Issue
By The Book
Search for a long-lost tome or favorite author? These stores speak volumes.
As winter settles in for the long haul, there's nothing like hunkering down with a good book to pass the time. These four bookstores offer an eclectic mix of titles, as well as the chance to get reacquainted with old favorites and editions not found at the mall.
It has the makings of a great whodunit: A weapons tester from Las Vegas retires to the Otterbein College town of Westerville with his wife, a former fourth-grade teacher at West Franklin Elementary School in Columbus, to specialize in mysteries. But it's here the plot twists a bit: John Cross and his wife Toni sell them, not solve them.
In its present location since 1996, Foul Play Mystery Bookshop stocks more than 30,000 used books - mostly paperbacks from the 1930s mixed with a generous smattering of hard-cover editions - many comprising a treasure trove of gone-but-not-forgotten authors ranging from Dorothy Eden to Stuart Palmer. The store's ambiance provides the ideal backdrop for the genre: Volumes are stacked floor-to-ceiling in a stately 1880s Victorian decorated in shades of rose and mauve that's home to four cats named after the couple's favorite protagonists.
As Miss Harriet Vane, a feline of mixed breed named after a character made famous by Dorothy L. Sayers, settles into Cross' lap, he shares his belief in what makes a good mystery ("The writer should know the subject and present a believable puzzle"); mourns the fact that Virginia Lanier is no longer writing mysteries ("Death is no excuse"); and summarizes his business philosophy ("We deal with books to read, not to collect").
Those hankering for a spot of tea with their tome will find selections ranging from peach passion to Scottish breakfast, as well as pots to brew it in. You won't find much of what megastores like Barnes & Noble and Borders promote. And Cross wouldn't have it any other way.
"Big stores can give you John Grisham and Mary Higgins Clark, but they don't know the history of, say, a Jill Churchill or Mary Daheim or any of the smaller authors out there," he explains. "We know the field. We know the books.
"You're never going to become a Bill Gates running a store like this," Cross adds with a smile, "but I love talking about books and meeting people."
Inspector's Holiday by Richard Lockridge, 1971 hardcover edition, $2; Witch by Barbara Michaels, 1989 paperback, $1.
Feb. 15, 7 p.m.: John J. Lamb, author of Echoes of the Lost Order, will be speaking and signing books.
Feb. 25, 2 p.m.: "Upstairs/Downstairs at Foul Play" features appearances by nine Ohio mystery writers, including Sharon Short, Heather Webber, Jeffrey Marks and P.L. Gaus, who will discuss their latest works.
A fine vintage
Oh, the smell. That wonderful whiff of fine old books filled with pages aged to absolute perfection.
"Funny you should mention that," says Ohio Bookstore owner Jim Fallon with a chuckle. "I've worked here for 49 years, and don't notice it anymore. But that's usually what people say when they walk in the front door."
Fallon may be immune to the aroma, but not to the beautifully bound editions themselves - all of them rare - that the Cincinnati store is known for. First-edition Faulkners, Fitzgeralds, Steinbecks and Hemingways are here, as well as antiquated editions that collectors covet, such as Bibles dating back to the mid-18th century, and histories, including Laws of the Northwest Territory, published in the Queen City in 1796.
Although the cost of some is equivalent to the price of a second mortgage, others are no more expensive than a new paperback. The concept of what's rare and what's not, Fallon explains, is all in the heart and mind of the beholder.
"I've sold books for $50,000 and up to discriminating collectors, and people come in here off the street and find a $10 book they've been looking for 20 years - and it's the rarest thing in the world to them," says Fallon. "It just depends."
The storekeeper began plying his trade there in 1956 at age 13, sweeping floors and delivering books to customers. He bought the business in 1971 and spruced up the white terra cotta building, a former paint factory built in 1916, adding oak bookcases, library tables and chairs. Muffins and lattes, however, are nowhere to be found.
"I don't want to sell food, and I don't want to sell drinks. I want to sell books," Fallon says of the more than 300,000 volumes he's surrounded by.
"My greatest pleasure is when people come in here and ask for a book, and I get the opportunity to talk to them about what they like to collect. I learn a little bit from every one of them."
Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio, by Howard Jones, published in Circleville in 1886, featuring hand-colored pictures, $15,000; Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, first edition 1876, $2,000.
The book bindery in the basement. Fallon's sons, Jim Jr. and Michael, specialize in the intricate art of restoring antique volumes, ranging from church baptismal records to military documents.
Scenes of childhood
Customers come to Harriett Logan with a snippet of childhood, carefully preserved between the pages of a book not forgotten, yet not quite remembered.
Logan calls this game "Stump the Bookseller." Today's challenge: A visitor who remembers spending quality time with her father after supper, reading a series of hardback biographies that were a staple in elementary school libraries during the 1960s. All she recalls is that each one featured an orange cover, with silhouette illustrations inside.
"They're over here," Logan says gleefully, guiding the wide-eyed visitor to The Bobbs-Merrill Company's "Childhood of Famous Americans Series" from the 1940s.
Twelve dollars is a small price to pay for the piece of the past linked to Martha Washington: Girl of Old Virginia.
Although Logan also specializes in women's literature and history, as well as fine and performing arts, it's the children's section that draws young parents and baby boomers to her Shaker Heights shop, Loganberry Books, which she opened in 1994. They enter searching for books they loved and lost and now want to share with their own children. They rarely leave disappointed.
"I love making people happy," she says. "It's truly my dream job. I wouldn't work so hard if I didn't enjoy it. This really is a treasure house of memories."
Logan was working toward "being a professional student" at the University of Illinois at Champaign, when she discovered she much preferred spending time in the library and working at the nearby Jane Addams Book Shop than being ensconced in academia.
"So I ditched the Ph.D. pursuit in theater and came home to Cleveland," she explains.
Her inventory, which has grown over the years from 20,000 to 70,000 volumes, is comprised of rare and out-of-print offerings. Any new books for sale are reprints of classics, including Ludwig Bemelmans' Madeline series, or books about those who authored them, such as The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey, released last fall.
"I like a quality book which is three-fold: it is quality of writing, of illustration and of construction," Logan says. "Many of the cheap new kids' books chintz on all three of those ingredients."
Dr. Goat by Georgiana, 1950 Whitman Tell-A-Tale, $185; The Wonderful O by James Thurber, 1957 first edition, hardback, $35.
Jan. 5-30 during store hours: Vintage literary wall maps used in elementary school classrooms
Feb 4, 1â€“3 p.m.: Book signing with Cleveland writer Emanuel Carpenter, author of Where Is the Love?
It's a booklover's dream come true: A kaleidoscopic, seven-level, city-block-long fun house filled with tome-packed nooks and crannies at every turn. Start on the ground floor where a potpourri of new arrivals, ranging from a chronology of Renoir paintings to a Martha Stewart cookbook to a history of football, await perusal. Then it's on to current paperback fiction, six stairs up to the right; or classic literature to the left. Or down to religion and philosophy. Then around the bend to biography and true crime.
The Book Loft of German Village's reputation as a sprawling literary haven has spread beyond Buckeye boundaries. Travelocity voted the Columbus store one of Ohio's Top Ten "Local, Secret, Big Finds" for 2005. It's easy to see why actress Brenda Vaccaro, in town for a play several years ago, spent an afternoon in the History Room, adding to her collection of books about American Indians. And last summer, Eric Clapton stopped in to stock up on books about political science and current New York Times best sellers.
"The store is constantly evolving," says Roger Tompkins, a former Morgan County junior-high school teacher who founded The Book Loft 28 years ago. "You never know what you'll find." That's why, he adds, a map of the store is available at the door.
Housed in two century-old connected buildings - one a saloon in its former life, the other a nickelodeon at the turn of the last century - the Book Loft sports 32 connecting rooms, ranging in size from the closetlike 9-by-10-foot Irish history and culture section to a dining-room-sized area devoted to poetry. Each room resounds with its own soundtrack keyed into the contents of the space (such as the soothing meditation music emanating from Psychology and the Mozart melodies greeting visitors to the Loft's Art section.)
Day-trippers from Pennsylvania and Michigan also make the pilgrimage in search of their favorite author or subject matter, often only breaking for lunch outside in the Dickensian cobblestoned courtyard. It's a pretty fair bet they'll find what they're looking for, since the store stocks more than 100,000 new titles, all discounted between 5 and 95 percent off the suggested retail price.
Tompkins isn't surprised by the traffic flow.
"There's something very personal about holding a book in your hand," he muses. "That feeling will never go out of style."
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, hardcover, $8.99 (regularly $19.95); Monet: A Retrospective, hardcover $29.95, retail $75.
Log on to the store's web site, www.bookloft.com, for coupons that change daily. (Past promotions include Moonlight Madness, in which books were discounted an additional 30 percent on the last night of the full moon; and Ohio State Football days, which included an extra 15 percent discount on game day.)