Sunday, October 21, 2007

Turning back the "Pages": Remembering a great old bookstore

Back when I was a wee lad of about 9 or 10, I happened upon Pages Bookshop of Reading. Sandwiched between a pizza joint and an auto parts store in a run-down one-story building on the edge of the town common, Pages (known to me and my friends simply as "The Bookstore") soon became my favorite store/hangout, and a place that helped shape who I've become today.

It sounds corny, but Pages was a place of wonder for me. I still recall its creaky red floorboards and the smell of old books and newspapers that wafted out onto the street when you opened the front door. The place was dusty and dirty and, in addition to books and comics, contained some odd collectibles and old models stuffed into odd, cubby-like shelves on the walls.

But it was also stuffed full of the stuff of fantasy.

Back in the 80's when I discovered it, Pages had a prominent shelf of role playing games, including Dungeons and Dragons, Star Frontiers, Car Wars, Runequest, and more. It kept a supply of dice and a few racks of lead miniatures. I remember thumbing through issues of Dragon magazine that I couldn't afford and mentally recording variant rules, adventure scenarios, and monster ecologies to feed my game with cool ideas (this was in the pre-internet days, remember).

In the back of the store were a few towering rows of old hardcovers that no one ever seemed to buy, and whose inventory never seemed to change. But Pages also had a nice selection of paperback fantasy and sci-fi novels. I still have several on my bookshelf today. The bottom of each book was stamped with a letter code: A=50 cents, B=85 cents, C=half cover price. It was cheap, and I stocked up on lots of titles from authors like Poul Anderson, Michael Moorcock, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and of course, the inimitable Robert E. Howard.

Pages specialized in comic books and had it had a big collection of titles on the front racks, but even better were the seeming miles of long boxes stuffed with back issues. You could buy up old titles for 50, 60, or 75 cents, in most cases. I bought a bunch of old Captain Americas and Spidermans, Fantastic Fours, and other classic Marvel titles.

But my favorite memory was finding two old boxes full of back issues of Savage Sword of Conan. This was a great black and white magazine, featuring Howard's stories adapted for the comic medium but almost 100% true to their source material. The stories were raw, bloody, and not afraid to show female flesh, and illustrated by some terrific artists like John Buscema and Roy Thomas. Each issue was $1. Every week with my allowance I used to buy 2 or 3 issues, then stop off at Berson's pharmacy on the corner for a Pepsi and a candy bar. I relished the long walk home and the anticipation of reading SSOC with my feet propped up on my desk, drinking a cold soda and enjoying every page. Those wonderful black and white illustrations and Robert E. Howard's amazing yarns swept me up, and for a while I was part of another, much cooler world.

Just as sweet are the memories of the times my gang of my friends and I would walk to Pages on Saturday mornings. We'd browse for what seemed like hours, then head next door with our loot to Christy's Pizza. Christy's had small pay televisions, which (if I remember correctly) gave you a half-hour's worth of TV for 25 cents. I remember stuffing in coins and watching cartoons like Thundarr the Barbarian and The Smurfs, eating pizza, and reading comics. Good times.

A few years ago the town demolished the old building that housed Pages and Christy's Pizza. Sadly, "The Bookstore" has been replaced by a decidedly prosaic bank.

Sigh, just what Reading needed.

I'll bet there's a lot of kids now, in Reading and elsewhere, that would have loved to have had a Pages in their neighborhood. I also believe (and I'm firmly up on my soapbox now) that most kids could benefit from having a local bookstore. In fact, I'm of the belief that a town just ain't a town without a place to buy, sell, and swap used books. While the trend now is giant chains, I find it hard to believe that any Barnes and Noble or Borders could pack into it as much cheap entertainment--or as much wonder--as Pages did.

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