I’ve never seen an entrance that more snugly exemplified its store’s name. I was walking down Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles with my cousin, George, and our patient driver and tour guide, my brother Thom. For some reason, only steps away from the door to our destination I looked up above my right shoulder and high on the wall was a sign for The Mystery Pier Bookstore…a sign, but no store front. Hmmmmmm!
Upon closer inspection, the sign first directed me to enter a short, dingy hallway, the kind that on a rainy night might shelter a shadowy, trench-coated figure, nervously fingering the black jack and pistol in his coat pockets. After only a few steps I reached the hallway’s abrupt end and made a right turn that put me at the top of a long, dim staircase. The only way to go from there was down towards where the murky light gradually brightened. Each step took me further from my friends and the sunlit street above. I reached the bottom of the stairs and saw The Mystery Pier Bookstore.
And, just let me say, the store could not have been less noir! The Mystery Pier Bookstore is a quaint little bungalow fenced within a cozy courtyard. The hardwood floors and tastefully displayed books were typical of many good used book stores. What really sets this bookstore apart, however, is that every book in the store is a first edition, many are signed, and all are quite collectible. As owner Harvey Jason was quick to point out to me, “This isn’t really a browsing store.” I quietly disagreed. For me this was only a browsing store since every book was priced at hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Still, Mr. Jason was gracious enough to show me, and later my friends, around.
The mystery and detective fiction that contributes to the store’s name is only a small part of the attractions found there. The crown jewel of Mr. Jason’s wares was a signed first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird, priced at $25,000. After seeing that volume, carefully locked inside its book case, the severity of our sticker shock lessened and we could simply enjoy what we were seeing: all manners of rare books by writers like Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and, most especially, Kurt Vonnegut. We looked on reverently, like pilgrims admiring a saint’s finger bone in its reliquary. Still, it was difficult, when seeing yet another treasure, not to engage in mental mathematics just in case there was some hitherto un-thought of way to make the buy. We could have nosed around the store for a lot longer but, having confessed to our status as looky-loos, we said our thanks and left after a reasonable interval.
If you are not due to visit West Hollywood soon, perhaps you can enter the world of rare books through these titles which can be found in the Library’s collection: How to Identify and Collect American First Editions: A Guide by Jack Tannen; The Man who Loved Books Too Much: A True Story of a Thief, a Detective and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett; and A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas Basbanes.