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John K. King Books

We are all in search of a space that moves like our minds, fast and quick, slow and powerful, stretching off into a thousand lines of flight, from sex to gardening to labor history, transmitting in a million peculiar ways the spirit of our own becoming. And though Al Green has not been touted (yet) by John K. King Book’s Web page for perusing its rare book room, I honestly believe that JKB is the retail version of this utopian space, a space not unlike the soft, funky and clairvoyant folds of Al Green’s “Explores Your Mind.” Four floors tall, organized by subject, displayed for your pleasure.

Mr. King (Yes, there is one: I’ve heard him speak over a walkie talkie held by a clerk while pricing back-issues of Playboy.) has sold used books in Detroit for more than 35 years and now rules the market. The building off the Howard Street exit of the Lodge was one of the first and most important entrances into the city when I was a lonely high-school loser and continues to be a place of exploration and discovery, a vast library with exceptional pencil-written prices in the corners.

My own highlights: Summer 1997 — JKB North in Ferndale, I found the slim Detroit pressing of French revolutionary Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. Last summer — the Big Book Store on Cass, I picked up a series of ’80s rock mags with Prince on the cover. And, of course, Fall 2000 — downtown Detroit branch, I priced a series of ’60s Playboys, one featuring an interview with Malcolm X. We all have our weak spots. What John K. King bets is that we will find them, in their sweet immediacy, among the stacks of his bookstores. He hasn’t been wrong yet.

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