You know that scene in Disney’s version of Beauty and the Beast where the Beast gives Belle a library? Not knowing what awaits her, Belle closes her eyes and follows the Beast into a secret room inside the castle. When she’s finally given the go-ahead to open her eyes, Belle gasps and marvels at the sight around her—she’s literally standing in the middle of a gigantic, book-filled wonderland.
Well, guys . . . I think I’ve figured out what it’s like to be Belle.
Granted, no one has gifted me my own library (yet), but a trip to John K. King Used & Rare Books in Detroit has given me a glimpse into the ultimate book lover’s paradise.
Located just off the interstate in what used to be a glove factory, John K. King houses a literal one million books. The mind reels at that number, but upon entering the five-story building, there is no debating the fact that the self-proclaimed “largest used bookstore” in Michigan isn’t inflating any claims. Inside, expansive spaces are made narrow with rows of book cases, filled tightly from top to bottom. If that’s not enough, books that don’t fit onto the shelves are organized in piles around the book cases, filling every spare corner. It’s awesome, and a bit overwhelming.
I first learned about John K. King from the buzz surrounding its recent mention in Business Insider. When a Detroit business is deemed the second-best bookstore in the world, you just have to check it out, ya know? Little did I realize, I’ve been passing this building on countless visits to downtown Detroit for a few years now. As it turns out, a structure I thought had long been empty has actually been thriving for over 30 years (and that’s just the current location). That’s great news for anyone like me who continually mourns the dying culture of American bookstores.
True, John K. King isn’t your typical Barnes & Noble, but what the facility lacks in coffee and e-readers, it makes up for in authenticity. Antique books, author-signed books, and other rare gems (I came across an 1872 first-edition copy of Mark Twain’s Roughing It) are sprinkled throughout a seemingly endless selection of stories. In fact, John K. King has almost every genre you can imagine, from Michigan poetry to celebrity biographies. It’s quiet, it’s musty (in the best way), and you can pay by credit card. What more can you ask for?
As for me, I was able to stock up on a mix of political, sci-fi, and comedic books for my sister’s birthday, and my husband found a few music CDs he’s been hunting for a while. I also immersed myself in a display of old postcards, but decided to leave those for another visit. Not that I’ll run out of items to browse any time soon, but it’s still nice to have something to remember for next time.
Have you visited John K. King Used & Rare Books? What are some of your favorite finds or tips for navigating this massive collection?