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Books abound

Unusual niches and great selections make metro Detroit's small booksellers worth looking up

 

Published 11/26/2008

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Few spaces satisfy as wide a spectrum of curiosities and passions as a bookstore. Bird watchers, crime trainspotters, and art obsessives are rarely in the same building on a Saturday afternoon — except when they are scouring the aisles looking for that perfect book on exactly what animates them. Whether you are merely a bibliophile or an outright bibliotaph — a hopeless hoarder — you probably have a certain reverence for those hallowed places where you search for that next bound volume of aliment. A good bookstore is a symposium of human interests, beyond a simple offering of volumes for sale.

There is also the physical joy of the book, from the cracked spine to the crisp, starchy pages. You fall into a book and it becomes a part of your identity, just as it defines your living space by simply sitting on a shelf. Even people who claim they are not attached to possessions admit they cannot leave their books behind. So to in celebration of bibliophilia, here is a sample of the diverse bookstores that metro Detroit has to offer.


Cross Street Books
523 Cross St., Ypsilanti; 734-484-3000

Cross Street Books is the unknown, unkempt jewel of the Michigan bookselling scene. At first glance, it’s a little overwhelming, a disheveled landscape of book piles and lumbering, overstuffed shelves. Fortunately, you have Sheridan, the shop’s talkative and committed proprietor, to guide you. There is a method to the madness, and Sheridan knows what lies beneath every tower of books. The selection is genuinely impressive, with vintage and contemporary titles reflecting both the store’s proximity to a major university (Eastern Michigan) and Ypsilanti’s diverse population. The Black Studies section, though moderate in size, has a better per capita selection than even John King’s big store in Detroit. You’ll also find a bevy of philosophy texts, a lovely selection of novels and, frankly, just about everything else. Cross Street Books is a homey, unique browsing experience that is not to be missed.


Shaman Drum Bookstore
311-315 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-7407

Perhaps bookstores like Shaman Drum can only sprout up in the shadow of a major university, on streets lined with grad students. The store is one-of-a-kind in Michigan, specializing in scholarly and cultural titles as well as cutting-edge new releases. "Cultural studies," a designation that spans film criticism to avant-sociology, is a niche that Shaman Drum fills exquisitely. There is also an immodest selection of books on art history, religions big and small, and nontraditional poetry, as well as academic and art journals and magazines.


Black Star Community Bookstore
19410 Livernois Ave., Detroit; 313-863-2665

With a name that pays respect to legendary black nationalist Marcus Garvey, you better believe that Black Star Community Bookstore is imbued with an activist spirit. Detroit has a handful of places to find books related to the African diaspora, including a great bookstore connected to the Shrine of the Black Madonna also on Livernois Avenue, but Black Star is where you go to read up on political movements like the Black Panthers or indeed Garvey himself. Black Star is a bookstore that seeks to widen the discourse within Detroit’s Black community, regularly featuring speakers, discussions and forums on issues from local politics to African history. Here’s a place where the Pan-African spirit of W.E.B. DuBois and Kwame Nkrumah lives on and thrives.


Library Used Bookstore
169 W. 9 Mile Rd., Ferndale; 248-545-4300

The Library Used Bookstore is the perfect neighborhood bookshop for a diverse, socially progressive community like Ferndale. You can find everything from fine art monographs, cheeky old copies of Playboy, and an eclectic offering of everything from cookbooks to vintage Philip Roth novels. They also have an intriguing selection of rare books spanning the 20th century. They are picky about what books they will put on the shelves, and this model proves rewarding for the dedicated browser. Probably the best overall used book shop for its cozy size.


John King North
22524 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-548-9050

This spacious, well-organized shop is the northern spin-off from the legendary downtown store. Not only is it easier to navigate than its big sister downtown, it’s also less hectic and features a more personable, laid-back staff. The shop is like a biblio-magnet, with new titles streaming in and brisk turnover. The Women’s Studies section is one of the best, and it sits alongside a fabulous assemblage of poetry books. This should be the first stop on your tour of the Woodward Avenue’s "Used Book Corridor," which stretches through Ferndale and into Royal Oak to include Classic Books and Royal Oak Books.


Brian Russell Military Books
Somewhere on Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-544-3373

Anyone with a passion for military history must seek out this by-appointment-only treasure trove of books and printed materials. The proprietor ran a traditional storefront for years, but now mostly sells his books out of a storage space, by word of mouth. His selection scales the heights of completeness and breadth. There simply is not a battle in history that goes unrepresented on these shelves, from Waterloo to Dien Bien Phu. Recent sightings include a book of Herman Melville’s verse about the U.S. Civil War, a pictorial history of Prussian conflicts, and a leather-bound volume on guerrilla war against the Romans. The owner says he sometimes gets in hundreds of new titles a week, so rest assured there will be new bounty when you next return.


Truth Bookstore
Northland Mall, 21500 Northwestern Hwy., Southfield; 248-557-4824

Truth Bookstore aims to cater to all aspects of African-American life, from politics to nutrition. Located inside Northland Mall, Truth is an independent bookstore with a mission. One of its great services is the emphasis placed on African-centered materials for young people. Any parent who wants to expose their children to something besides mainstream, Eurocentric images will find plenty of choices for all reading levels. Also expect a well-stocked offering of books on the family, international politics, business and personal finance. If you’re just looking for a beach book, they have those, too, sitting alongside books on sociology and theology.

Brad Duncan is an encyclopedia of world history. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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