Monday, December 7, 2009

S-LYB Awesome Bookstore Series Installment #1: Eljay's Used Books (Pittsburgh, PA)

Posted By: Elle Ewok

Eljay's Used Books
1309 East Carson Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

The Semi-Literate Yinzer Bookclub members are very lucky in that we collectively travel a good deal. We always make a point to research whatever interesting bookstores a particular city or town has to offer and visit once we get there. In this series, we will review some of our favorite bookstores located all around the country and even abroad.

However, there is no place like home so we will start right here in our favorite city EVER: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Usually, unique bookstores are heavily advertised as must-see cultural amenities in most towns. I was recently in an amazing independant used bookstore in Asheville, N.C. (which was proudly advertised by the town tourist board) and lamenting Pittsburgh's lack of such a wonderful place. Except I was wrong. Pittsburgh DOES indeed have such a wonderful bookstore, in fact we have many. Everytime I think Pittsburgh cannot get anymore awesome IT DOES. The thing about Pittsburgh is (much like the city itself) our hidden treasures are ... well, hidden. Not because they are hard to find but because our tourist board doesn't advertise this type of stuff in any type of mass-commercial manner (nor anyone else for that matter). Let me give you an example, I was in Seattle last month and Spudbabe and I went on a "foodie" tasing tour of Belltown, Seattle. All I could think was how Pittsburgh should have such a foodie tour, particularly of the Strip District. Well a short jaunt on google and I find out Pittsburgh DOES have foodie tours, in fact we have more than Seattle. []

The moral of this story is Pittsburgh has everything (including stuff alert locals don't know about) and is wonderful and better than everywhere else. Moving on...

So I have driven past Eljay's Used Books on Carson Street in the South Side many times but never stopped because finding parking in the South Side turns me into a monster and makes me want to hurt people. However, this Saturday afternoon I stopped because I promised a friend who is in town working on the new Russell Crow movie that I would take her to some great bookstores. Since she lives in LA I wanted to show her Pittsburgh's funky side, which unfortunately mandates stopping in the South Side and dealing with parking.

Eljay's is narrow and dark with highbookshelves. It smells like an attic and is cluttered. In short, it is everything a used bookstore is supposed to be. The books you ask? Beautiful. All hardcover, all in wonderful condition and all interesting editions. There are only three or four long rows of books but they are jam packed with treasures. There is only one paperback section of fantasy/sci-fi and it is well stocked and has a good selection. Almost, everything else is hardcover. There are also bizarre sections of medical books, ufo-ology, psychiatry, occult etc.

Highlights: The fiction section is amazing. Interesting editions in hardback of classics and contemporary fiction and everything in between. I could have spent all day in the fiction section alone. There is also a huge Sci-Fi/Fantasy section of hardback books as well which made me very very happy. The poetry section looked fairly impressive as well although I didn't check it out in any depth. The Military History Section was great, Boyfriend would have lost it (books seperated by war seems to lack nuance but I liked it).

Lowlights: The Children's section was not too impressive in size nor content which is too bad because strangely enough it is in the Children's section where you can find the most interesting stuff in used bookstores. Also, I didn't come across any Folklore section (if it was there it was so small I missed it) which was disappointing. Of course, as with any establishment in the South Side, the worst thing is the parking situation.

So what did I buy? I got a hardcover 1987 edition of Beloved by Toni Morrison. Cost = $6 (the same edition retails on Random House for $29.95).

Eljay's Used Books is independant and funky and located in a "cool" neighborhood (which will please the hipsters) but also has substance and selection in the major literary disciplines (which will please taxpaying squares like myself). I would count it among Pittsburgh's many unadvertised assets.

You can visit Eljay's Used Books facebook Page at:

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