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Ellen Sterling

Ellen Sterling

Posted: February 21, 2010 04:02 PM

The other night I attended the monthly meeting of the Las Vegas Writers Group. The speaker at the meeting was Debra Belkoff. Her expertise is in book retailing and she was the manager of late, lamented store, The Reading Room which, until it closed last year was the only bookstore on the Las Vegas Strip. She talked knowledgeably and lovingly of the need for bookstores like that while at the same time reminding the 50+ writers at the meeting that they'd have to get on board with e-publishing.

I love bookstores and she started me reminiscing about those that were so important in my life.

First was The Book Mark. Located in Queens, New York, it was in walking distance of our family's home up until we moved when I was in sixth grade. It was owned by two spinster sisters named Rose and Esther and we referred to it as "rose-n-esther's."

Not to be all icky, but in that store there was a whole world. I met all sorts of people and went all sorts of places. Nancy Drew was a pal, as were all the wonders in Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels: The Occident and the Orient. Years later, sitting at the sound and light show in Giza, I sharply recalled Halliburton's black-and-white photos of the Sphinx and the pyramids.

In short, I learned early on to love books.

When we moved east to Nassau County, Long Island, there were lots of bookstores but the one I remember best is Womrath's. Still operating today with branches in the Bronx and New Jersey, I remember this store as having a Lending Library. That is, a reader could rent a book for a few cents a day. Those are almost all gone but it was a great way to bridge the divide between waiting until your local library had the bestseller you wanted to read available and buying the book. It was so handy. Too bad those kind of stores are pretty much out of existence today.

As an adult I moved even further east on Long Island (it is, indeed, a long island) and there was -- and still is -- what I believe is the world's best bookstore.

That is The Book Revue in Huntington, New York.

The store was opened in 1977 and today its 17,500 square feet of space is brimming with new and used books, magazines and life. They have an active book group and even discount books for outside groups.

What I loved most about The Book Revue is the opportunity to meet authors who come there to read from their books and answer questions. The list of authors they've hosted is really impressive, especially considering that the store is located almost 50 miles from New York City. (In fact, I lived more than 25 miles from the store and even in bad traffic or weather it was worth the trip.)

One of the most memorable people I saw there was my favorite mystery writer, Michael Connolly. He suggested the audience that night read Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island) and talked about what I think is the best contemporary mystery novel ever written, The Poet.

I also saw, among others, Susan Isaacs, Nelson DeMille (both Long Islanders), Michael Crichton (grew up on Long Island), Jonathan Kellerman, Jon Stuart, George McGovern, Sir Roger Moore and Dr. James Watson. Clearly, an impressive group.

Farther afield are Manhattan's Strand Bookstore ("18 Miles of Books") and Drama Bookshop. Wonderful resources.

Here in Las Vegas, there are really no small, privately owned bookstores. Of course we have the requisite chains and they're terrific. They have everything you want and if they don't, they'll order it. The Reading Room offered something they lack -- an atmosphere in which you could go in and talk books with people who know books. The chains do have these types but it's not as easy to meet them as it was in smaller shops.

Las Vegas does have independent bookstores, including one devoted to gamblers. Two of them are especially worth visiting. The oldest is Bauman Rare Books in the Shoppes at the Palazzo. Here is a treasure trove of the literary world, some centuries old and many author-signed. I could spend hours there browsing and talking books with their most knowledgeable staff. It's one of the few places in which I wouldn't mind working retail.

The other store is in the new City Center. The grand opening was February 20 and featured special guest Kelly Bensimon . She is a very beautiful, very nice, interesting woman of many parts -- one of The Real Housewives Of NYC and author of American Style, The Spirit of the Hamptons and The Bikini Book.

All of her books were published by high-end French publisher Assouline who specializes in books on fashion, photography, art and design. Their books are very luxe and beautifully printed.Assouline's new shop is lovely with very comfy seating for the browser.

Bauman's only other retail outlets are in New York and Philadelphia. Assouline has 12 outlets in places as far-flung as Dubai, Toronto, Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles.

So, Assouline and Bauman are two reasons for a book lover to be happy to live in Las Vegas. With tourists coming here from every corner of the earth, these high-end ventures into bookselling are undertaken. For the less high-end book lovers among us, they are wonderful, worthwhile places to pass the time.