How To Experience a Bookstore With All Your Senses

Books give a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything. – Plato

For me, reading is not an occupational afterthought, but a vocational necessity.

As Vision Room Curator for Auxano, books are a daily reference point in my work life. The primary use is for our book summaries. I am currently in our sixth year of releasing a book summary every two weeks. The first two years focused on a single book each issue, called SUMS.

For the last four years, SUMS Remix has been focused on a single problem statement, with three solutions from three different books, along with a practical Go Ahead action for each, designed for church leaders to put into immediate action.

With a four-week production cycle from initial research to shipping the finished issue, I am typically engaged in six to twelve books for SUMS Remix at any given time.

But there’s more…

As Digital Engagement Leader for Auxano, I am responsible for providing content for multiple accounts across three social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. On an average day I will post about 25 different items, many connected to current books I am reading, focused on vision clarity and leadership.

In my role as Guest Experience Navigator, I am constantly searching for resources to help churches provide exceptional Guest Experiences. One of my primary resources is the world of customer experience in the corporate world, easily adaptable to use for Guest Experience resources. From those sources, I maintain the Essential Guest Experience Library.

Finally, believe it or not, I read for pleasure. Most nights I will read several hours on topics ranging from Disney to all kinds of history to how things work to science fiction to biographies to thrillers – and more.

As I have written before, my passion for reading was instilled in me by my father, who modeled it for me from an early age. He was self-employed as an owner-operator of a Gulf gas station. Working 12 hours a day for six days a week, he often spent a couple of hours each evening looking through a book about WW II history or travels across the U.S.

So where do all these books come from?

Amazon and I are on a first name basis, and have been since 1998, with my first book order being The Power of Servant Leadership by Robert Greenleaf. Things have accelerated a bit since then, with my patient and ever-smiling mail carrier now delivering 2-3 packages per week.

I maintain a huge wish list on Amazon, and family and friends looking for gift ideas soon roll their eyes at the choices they have!

Because I read and write so much about books, I’m fortunate to receive many complimentary books from authors before their publication.

As an Amazon Associate, I benefit from purchases from my two websites. All the funds received are turned right around and used to purchase more books.

Then there’s the weekly trip to my local library, picking up a couple or more books that are new releases.

While all these are great sources, what I really love to do is browse used bookstores.

Within a short drive from my house, I have two Goodwill stores and a Habitat Restore, all having a good selection to browse through. In the greater Charlotte area there are several more that I try to visit every couple of months or so.

That takes care of local bookstores, but what about others around the country?

Give me an hour to kill and I will most likely head to a bookstore. When I’m in another city for work or pleasure, the first thing I search for is used bookstores (the second is the local’s favorite doughnut shop).

So it was not at all unusual for me to schedule a couple of hours to visit bookstores while in Detroit recently.

On the recommendation of a friend who lives there, Greg Gibbs, I left early for the airport, and headed through downtown Detroit with an address and a sense of anticipation.

Greg had just told me the minimum – a legendary used bookstore that had been around since the mid-60s with “a lot of books” (I should have known he was up to something by the grin on his face).

What I found was a bibliophile’s dream.

John K. King Used and Rare Books occupies an old factory building. Since 1965, it has been built upon in-person service. The books are not on a database or listed online; if you are looking for something in particular, you need only inquire.

Unpretentious and plain on the outside, it houses a treasure inside:

  • Four floors in an old factory in downtown Detroit
  • Over 1,000,000 books
  • Every imaginable subject
  • No computerized inventory
  • No air conditioning
  • Hand drawn maps, matching hand-lettered signs on every floor, every aisle, and every section
  • Super-knowledgeable staff who could answer my questions without a blink

Nirvana.

John King’s Bookstore is best experienced with all senses: upon entering you first encounter the smell of old books. Some people are bothered by it, but I find it absolutely mesmerizing.

The creak of old wood floors conveys its own feelings: whether five years or fifty years old, the books speak to a source of knowledge all-too-often unappreciated today.

Walking up the stairs to the first level and turning the corner, your eyes take in rows upon rows of books, crammed into shelves, from floor to just within reach of an outstretched arm.

Taking the offered hand-drawn map of all four floors, you can start anywhere your dreams take you. There is at least one staff member on each floor, and a telephone that goes to the front desk as well.

For me, it was the art section, followed by the film and theater shelves. A few finds: a December 1940 Atlantic Monthly magazine with a feature article on Walt Disney that I had seen referenced in several WD biographies; a beautifully illustrated 1940 promotional magazine for the release of Fantasia; several other hard-to-find Disney books.

I was only able to spend a couple of hours there, but I did speed walk all four floors and every aisle, pausing at length at more than a few.

All too soon I had to leave for the airport. As I paid for my purchases and headed out the door, I was grateful to thank John King for his perseverance, passion, and pure joy in the written word.

Somewhere nearby, you probably have a used bookstore. It won’t be anything like John King’s, but in some ways, it will be just like it.

What are you going to read today?

 

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