There used to be a small bookshop at 720 Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. From the outside it was entirely nondescript, but inside, it was a portal to magical worlds, with time machines able to take one back to being twelve years old. It was a bookshop specializing in collectible science fiction (SF) books.
The store was owned and operated by a man named Barry Levin and his wife, Sally. And since I have read and loved science fiction since I was a kid, I began frequenting the bookstore. Soon Barry, Sally, and I became good friends.
Their bookshop had a magnificent array of first edition hardback classic SF books. Every visit I would usually buy one or two.
Barry loved to talk, and since the bookshop was seldom crowded on Sunday afternoons, the three of us would have long rambling conversations about science fiction books, magazines, and authors.
Both he and Sally were people of wit and humor, with the deepest knowledge of science fiction of any two people I have ever known. Barry laughed a lot, and had a wonderful, contagious laugh. Just hearing his distinctive high cackling laugh would usually start me laughing.
We had all grown up during 1950s and early 1960s which coincided with the heyday of science fiction paperback books. Among the most memorable were the so-called “Ace Doubles,” which the great editor and publisher Donald Wollheim pioneered. For 35¢ you got 2 short novels. Their lurid covers alone were worth the price of the book. Barry and I had read literally hundreds of them.
We also remembered the SF magazines of the day like Astounding/Analog magazine, edited by the great John W. Campbell (himself an accomplished author).
And Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine edited by the erudite Anthony Boucher.
Barry and Sally’s bookstore even had a tiny upstairs reading room with a sofa, rocking chair, a floor lamp and bookshelves full of great SF books. Often on the table near the sofa was Barry’s sacred book, so worn that his finger prints were permanently marked on the cover. Barry and Sally were devout believers in Judaism. Barry wore a beard, a yarmulke, and closed his shop on Saturdays.
Sadly, after I left Los Angeles in 1996, I lost touch with Barry and Sally. I learned later that Sally died in 2006. I think the years weighed heavily on Barry after Sally’s death. And not all his many friends, or his much-loved science fiction books, or even his sacred book, could save him from loneliness. Barry died in September 2016, apparently by his own hand.
I still have many of the collectible books I bought from them, and when I reread them, I remember very fondly the pleasant afternoons we spent together, reminiscing about reading stories that set our imaginations on fire.