I received my orders via email from the all powerful Hancock. He commanded me to write about this wondrous place where I found classic pulp during my vacation. A giant talking head that reminded me of a powerful wizard was just something you couldn’t ignore; besides, I love bookstores.
With this in mind, I head to City Lights, one of my all time favorite bookstores while on vacation in London Ontario. Like all real gems the entrance to this cave of wonders is located in one of the emptier parts of downtown on Richmond Street and King. Outside of LA Mood, an awesome comic shop where this writer did a book signing for his comic Veritas (which you can order at Indy Planet), all that surrounds this section of downtown are old and dusty buildings. Old pawn shops and music places and abandoned apartments line up along the side of the street. There is graffiti and a faint smell of sewage in the air. I approach the bookstore with trepidation. Would it be the same after being gone so long?
I see the familiar bars in the windows and the bargain books in the boxes decorating the entrance way. The door is old and creeky and I fumble my way inside.
I open the door and gape. Here there be books. Seas of them stare up at me on the floor. Most of them are divided by their sections and categories and are in large cardboard boxes, although a few seem to have escaped from their confines are just hanging around.
To my left is a bookshelf filled with the latest vampire and horror fiction craze. I notice the books Marked and Twilight hang side by side as two guardians of the gate. They greet you warmly with their black covers and insignias. Both series are there in abundance and it serves as a gentle reminder to the reader not to be greedy. There are wonders here yes, but at the end of the day you have to feel the wrath of Stephanie Meyer and PC Cast as you make your way to the exit.
After that cursory glance I notice some of the other books alongside the vampire army and to my amazement there are some nice books up there. Brian Lumley is hanging around with his Necroscope series. There is a touch of romance and violence with Ilona Andrews and then there are the many faces of horror behind Twilight. Truly there are good books right from the start tempting you to take them home. The wood creeks as I step inside. The building talks to me as I try not to sneak past the cashier gazing right at me. The wall of shame hangs behind him. The wall contains pictures of silly mortals who thought they’d steal a book in this place and get away with it. Each victim has their image ingrained in the background forever. I pass them and wave high to the slightly overweight man behind the counter as I cross the threshold of being an accidental tourist.
I’ve been here before. I think I know where I need to go. I proceed to walk to the back of the store. My quarry was located back there, as was the greatest temptations for a reader like myself.
City Lights has a marvelous science fiction section. It is easily a quarter of the first floor. You go past the part where the store sinks and dips and it’s on the other side. It is not only in alphabetical order but the authors themselves are categorized. You can see classic ABCs of science fiction like Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke with pulp favorites like Burroughs, Norton, Zelazny. Series like Conan,Tarzan and Doc Savage…wait a minute, Doc Savage?!
I grab it and look and there can be no doubt: The man of bronze sits there idly. I glance inside the cover and find it’s the right price. Sold. You don’t find Doc Savage just anywhere. Satisfied with the book I continue my exploration of the section. I pass by Charles De Lint, saddened to see they don’t have any more books I don’t already have. At this point, this cave of wonders feels like a familiar haunt. I love good science fiction and pulp and City Lights has tones of books for me to read and rediscover.
Looking back at the pulp series at the very top, I find a name I am unfamiliar with. John Norman towers above the B section right beside Tarzan. The first book is called Tarnsman of Gor. I open it up and read the first page. I was sold. This looks to be a fantastic book. I can’t wait to review it.
I stop there. My treasures have been found and I proceed to the checkout. I pay for my books, say a quick goodbye to the Twilight/Necroscope Section and head out the door, saddened that the experience was over, but happy I did it in such a place.
I’ve been very fortunate to be in some very cool book places, but City Lights is one of a kind. If you ever go to London Ontario it’s worth going in and taking a look, whether you are saying hello to a familiar book or like me are always seeking new works to try.