Fortress of Books

Like you wouldn’t judge a book by its cover you shouldn’t judge John K King books by its outward appearance. Otherwise you’ll never realize that the four story industrial building with a glove painted on its side is a haven for bibliophiles. Formerly a factory, the bookstore welcomes its visitor in through its Lafayette blvd entrance. Immediately as you walk in, free books line the right and left side of the bookstore. Signs litter the walls asking patrons to visit the bookstore before perusing through the free books. Once you’ve made it past the stairs leading up to the door to the inside of the store, the first thing you will see is the store directory. Pages detail the categories, making life a little bit easier for the customer.


The first floor contains mainly the standard topics you would find in any bookstore or library. There is of course a classic section for your Shakespeare needs, a sports section so you can read about your favorite athletes. A section on Michigan history and a large art collection. Every turn you take brings you to a different category a different world you can adventure through until you’re ready for something else, possibly something on a different floor.


The second floor is a terrific mixture of topics. On the second floor, the slightly obscure taste of John K King seeps through. Surrounded by topics that lean more towards a more practical side, there is a section dedicated to the occult. Aside from the shelves dedicated to the occult, most of the books on the second floor are educational or informative in nature.


As you make your way up to the third floor the categories change yet again. The third floor is mainly books that you might pick up for entertainment purposes. Mysteries, fiction, auto business are some of the many options on the third floor.


Finally after making our way up to the highest floor, you notice the personalities behind John K King bookstores. Here on the top floor, the categories get unique. Fashion, Catholicism, LGBT, Russia are just a few of the many topics that would can go through on the fourth floor.


Each floor has books all around the walls along with the aisles of shelves that cover the majority of the space on each floor. Depending on the floor, there are a couple of display section in between aisles, visually separating one side of the room from the other. With a bathroom only the second floor, John K Kings actually contains enough books to fill a large industrial building with four floors.


booksWalking through the entire bookstore for the first time can be daunting. There are books lining the wall, shelves that seem like they might burst at any given moment, saying that the bookstore is chaotic is an understatement. But behind this chaotic appearance is a well thought out plan that makes life easier for the bookstore’s customers.


The chaotic nature behind many libraries/bookstores, personal or public is examine in Walter Benjamin’s Unpacking My Library. Benjamin examines the “dialectical tension between poles of disorder and order”(60). For a collector the fine line between order and disorder is a constant. Though King’s bookstore is well labeled the books in each section are random. King doesn’t collect books that are the same edition by the same author instead he’s collecting topics. Topics that appeal to him as a collector.

Categories go from common to obscure. The higher you get the more unique the categories become. But even walking through the categories that are typical for bookstores, titles are still unique to King’s bookstore. You can’t walk in to the bookstore and expect to find exactly what you’re looking for. You need a few hours to find something that you didn’t know you wanted or needed.


a neat surprise on the wall

a neat surprise on the wall

This is what separates John K King bookstore from other rare and used bookstores.


There is a surprise at every corner. From a funny poster to a pile of books that aren’t categorized, John K King is a surprise. Because of the high book count, every trip will result in a surprise.


Benjamin also talks about the acquisition of the items in his collection. Not all items are carefully chosen. Some items are chosen because of in unexplainable draw to the item. If we view John K King Rare and Used books as John King’s collection we read the bookstore differently. Instead of searching for a common thread between one book and another, we can look at each item as a separate entity. Suddenly we lose the desire to find a common link instead we can look at the books as extensions of John King.


However even if we look at each floor like it’s an extension of King, there is no question that King had to decided where to place his categories. If we examine why the obscure items are placed on the fourth floor instead of the first, we might begin to understand kings reasoning. Customers are likely to go through the levels from bottom to top. They would go through the titles on the first floor before going to the second and so on. Placing the typical categories on the first floor allows King and the rest of the bookstore staff to ease the customers into the King bookstore experience.


Stepping into the chaotic bookstore might a first for the customer so easing them into the more obscure topics seems reasonable. As they move up the floors they get further away from the staff and the reference desk. King strategically has phones placed throughout the bookstore. Starting on the second floor going all the way to the fourth, each floor has a phone to call the reference desk if the customer has any questions.


Overall walking through john K King books is an adventure. Going in and out of aisles, up and down stairs every moment is filled with opportunities to discover new books. With the endless supply of books and quiet corners, its no surprise that John K King bookstores get visitors from all over the country. The space that is the bookstore is unique enough for people to travel from around the world just so they can experience John K King bookstore.



Text:Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Print.

Videos: th77046. “Tony’s Visit to John King Used & Rare Books in Detroit Part One”.Online Video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 17 Apr 2008. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

th77046. “Tony’s Visit to John King Used & Rare Books in Detroit Part 2”.Online Video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 18 Apr 2008. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

Images: John K King Instagram

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