The Chamblin Bookmine: A Bibliophile’s Fevre Dream…

Jeff VanderMeer • May 27th, 2009 @ 6:25 pm • Culture, Videos

What do I do to relax after a refreshing car crash? I make a little video with meta-narration about my favorite used bookstore in the world: Chamblin Bookmine. At the very least, it should show you just how ridiculous the place is, in the best sense of the word.

Ann and I have traveled the world and visited many a great bookstore, but none, not even the Strand, can compare to Chamblin’s, in Jacksonville, Florida. “Bookmine” is an apt title because it’s the only bookstore I’ve ever gotten lost in–it’s that big. You could literally fit anywhere from four to eight other used bookstores inside of it. (David Moles, can I get a “Hallelujah!”?)

If you don’t want to view the video, here’s the link to the photos in a flickr set, although perhaps not in the right sequential order.

The thing about Chamblin Bookmine is that they take everything–I mean, everything–of any possible value. With the result that you can even find, in addition to truly precious first editions and limiteds, you get such specificity of subject it’s insane. Like, a whole couple of shelves devoted to:

…or a whole end-case devoted to:

You go to the cookbook section and it’s a whole bookstore all on its own, with a shelf of books just devoted to:

The science fiction/fantasy section is so complete that the anthologies shelves not only include placards for particular series, but a burgeoning area for miscellaneous anthologies with titles starting with “T”–and all of the other letters of the alphabet, practically!

Of course, this means you’ll find just about every book you could dream of there–just their trade paperbacks in general fiction take a good three hours to wade through, let alone their gargantuan mysteries section that would take up the entire shelf space of our best Tallahassee used bookstore–including some you might look askance at…

Even better, everything is, for the most part, properly organized. Even the somewhat disheveled but huge history section is divided up into categories by country and historical period.

If you ever get a chance to visit, you should take the opportunity. People come from hundreds of miles away to visit the Chamblin Bookmine, and for good reason.

Tomorrow: Our book haul while on vacation, and some notes on a smaller but worthy bookstore, Wolf’s Head in St. Augustine.

51 Responses to “The Chamblin Bookmine: A Bibliophile’s Fevre Dream…”

  1. Charles Tan says:

    Looks like you had a blast!

    Hope’s all well with the VanderMeers, car crash aside.

  2. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yes, all is well. Just getting checked out at the doctor’s tomorrow, and have to deal with getting a new car. Ann luckily seems perfectly fine, not even whiplash.

  3. Dan Read says:

    I have uncovered untold treasures in that store, and spent entire afternoons stacking up books to take home. One time I bought an entire collection of Chester Himes first edition paperbacks. The non-fiction and paperbacks are a particularly rich vein at Chamblin’s. It is indeed a truly amazing place. Someone told me a nasty rumor the other day that this store had gone under, and seeing your post comes as a great relief!

    Dan

  4. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Actually, Dan, they’ve opened a second location. And built onto the existing one.

  5. Alex Carnegie says:

    LOL @ ‘Brain Rack’

    I’d love to visit that bookshop, looks wonderful. Kind of saddening to think that independant & second-hand bookshops are in decline these days…

  6. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Not Chamblin’s. These guys are very savvy. They find all kinds of ways to make extra profit, most of which are invisible to the consumer.

  7. Paul Riddell says:

    Seconded on “Brain Rack”. And who’d thought the creators of the Cybermen had fallen that far?

    Seriously, Jeff, you enabler you. I already _had_ a reason to come out that way next year. Am I going to need an 18-foot rental truck to bring stuff back?

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yes, you are. Depending on the timing, we can even make an expedition together.

  9. Sam Tanry says:

    I just wanted to throw a shoutout to John K. King Books, Michigan’s own freakishly large used-book store, around a million titles, four stories, and two smaller off shoot locations.

    Check it out if you haven’t already.
    http://www.rarebooklink.com

    BTW, I’ve just read CoSaM, Veniss, and Shriek in the last month, enjoyed them all greatly! I can’t wait for Finch.

    And as further sidenote, you got me into Borges, for which I am forever indebted to you. I’ve read up through Artifices in my Collected Fictions, and am in awe.

  10. August W. says:

    For what it’s worth, I think Strand is horribly overrated (8 miles of books, and not a single one that I’m looking for – ever!) and this place looks INCREDIBLE.

    It brought back to mind the old Discworld saying about a library (or bookstore) being a genteel black hole that reads…

  11. Adam says:

    That store is ridiculous. We had a store like that in Duluth, but it got closed down because of numerous fire code violations. I really enjoyed the Walter Moers quote. He is such an underrated, underread author. Everyone should pick up copies of the Zamonia trilogy (soon to be quadrilogy as soon as The Alchemaster’s Apprentice is done being delayed); they are some of the most fun you’ll ever have reading.

  12. myReport » Infinite bookstore video says:

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  13. The Chamblin Bookmine at Ecstatic Days « Hot Buttered Toast says:

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  14. Tyler P. says:

    I must visit this store one day… or make a week of it! I work at a used book store in Springfield, MO and this place makes ours look like child’s play.

  15. J. T. Glover says:

    Whoa! That is some bookstore. Love the granularity of the categories. The paperbacks you hold up are the reasons I (from a reader’s perspective) always snerk at the complaints about it being impossible to find vintage SF. My trouble in used bookstores is more typically *not* finding the vintage SF.

    My uncle’s long-running Seattle used book store closed recently, and I always liked to see his arrangement of things. Some of it was prosaic, but then there were other areas–”Mythology of Gender” is one I remember fondly.

  16. NeilW says:

    >including some you might look askance at… (The Monkey’s Fist)

    Kirkov arrived at the appointed hour. Shook the salty rain from his macintosh raincoat and surveyed the scene. From his limited experience of British pubs he would have expected a boisterous, beery buzz on a Friday evening, but the atmosphere in this place was subdued, perhaps even cowed. The patrons clustered at the wooden tables stared into the murky depths of their pint glasses and sucked at their facial hair while a group of sincere-looking musicians growled and wheezed out some kind of incomprehensible folk music in the background.

    On his second pass Kirkov spotted his contact in the far corner. There were two full pints on the table, and his fingers played nervously with a length of hairy string, winding it into a complex, compacted knot.

    Kirkov sat opposite. “This had better be good, comrade.”

    Andriev looked up. He was scared. “The Americans know.” His whisper was hoarse. “Our mission is a failure. The submarine fleet…”

    “The Americans,” Kirkov spat the hateful word, “know nothing.” He grabbed the string from Andriev’s fingers and the other had the good sense to look ashamed. “Nothing. Now tell me…”

    He didn’t realise how loud his voice had become until he heard the silence. Turning, he saw that the entire congregation was now staring at him. The drinkers looked fearful, but the musicians glowered with rage.

    The singer cocked a hairy eyebrow, then, in a peevish voice, said: “Do you mind?”

  17. jeff vandermeer says:

    ha! yes, neil, I did include that one for you!

  18. Jim C. Hines says:

    Glad to hear that Ann’s okay.

    And wow. I’d second Sam’s shoutout to King Books, but this looks like it might top even King. ::Bookstore envy::

  19. David Moles says:

    Chamblin is something else. I’m not sure who would win in a fight between Chamblin and Powell’s, but a whole lot of 1/25 scale Tokyo real estate would get destroyed in the process.

  20. Steve Buchheit says:

    Oh man. Do they allow you to bring your own picnic lunch? Because I can see that I might not make it out of that store before dinner; if I started at breakfast.

  21. hellbound heart says:

    oh god this is my kind of shop….it’d bore my hubby to tears though….only time i saw him pick up a novel was when we were ‘courting’ and he tried to read one of my books to impress me…..got halfway through and just couldn’t make it…….poor soul…

    love and peace….

  22. NeilW says:

    >ha! yes, neil, I did include that one for you!

    Me and a scant handful of other unfortunates. I just loved the idea of a cold war spy thriller featuring the world’s grumpiest sea shanty band. Did you buy it, or just photograph it and “lose” it again in the stacks.

    Seriously though, that does look like an awesome place to spend a few hours.

  23. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    We just lost it in the staks. Let it go for someone else.

    Yeah–what we do is we bring in books to trade or sell, let them sort that out while we shove off to the European Cafe for some beers, and then come back to browse for a few hours when they’re done.

    David–yeah, I haven’t yet been to Powells. Very much looking forward to it. My understanding is they carry many more new books, though, right?

    Jeff

  24. Waku says:

    I used to live walking distance from Chamblin Bookmine. I grew up running around the aisles getting lost in all the books. What’s really crazy is the bookmine isn’t even all their books. They have tons in storage that they don’t have room for.
    Chamblin Bookmine is one of the very few things I dearly miss since I’ve moved to NC.

  25. Jonathan Wood says:

    I now trying to clear my mind of some terrible piece of slash fiction involving the monkey’s fist and an unexpected salami…

  26. Return of The Fist « ayeahmur says:

    [...] a dark and stormy night, ask me to tell ye the tale…), I found this discovery by the Vandermeers in their latest expedition in the incredible repository of paperback entertainments, the Chamblin Book Mine in Jacksonville, [...]

  27. Rox of Spazhouse says:

    I am one of Ron Chamblin’s long time customers. I remember when his store was on Herschel St. before the inventory grew to the size it is now, Ron was working on building a plane.

    Neat video.

    Now he has Chamblin uptown store as well.

  28. David Moles says:

    Jeff, I think Powell’s probably wins on new books and remainders, and Chamblin probably wins on yellowing mass-market paperbacks.

  29. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Yeah, cause Chamblin doesn’t really deal in new and remainders. But they have a wealth of hardcovers too. Since they expanded the annex…

  30. daily comic book covers says:

    what an awesome video, and the boing boing link will help with traffic, so rad.

  31. The Dream - Making Beats ( Two hits , in two Hours) says:

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  32. Michael says:

    Looks like one of those bookstores you spend all day in and lose complete track of time. :)

  33. Revelshade says:

    Thirteen O’Clock and Other Zero Hours is mis-shelved in anthologies. It’s a collection by Kornbluth with, strangely, the editor Blish’s name on the spine.
    I know that was driving you all crazy, but it’s cool. I’ll call in the morning and let them know.

    If only I didn’t live in the opposite corner of the 48! Oh well, there’s always Powell’s.

  34. James says:

    Just came back from a visit to Powell’s, actually. Just two shopping bags worth of purchases this time.

    My uncle’s long-running Seattle used book store closed recently

    Was this Horizon, by chance? I found some great signed mass-market paperbacks by Avram Davidson there; in each inscription he complained about the stupid cover art the publishers had chosen. I miss that place already.

  35. Jeff P says:

    Wow. Now I wanna move to Florida…

  36. Ed says:

    Oooh! I found a book in that picture that I want (the collection by Damon Knight)! And I quickly found it online for $1! Thanks!

    PS: Wouldn’t it be better if that bookstore were in a less hot, humid climate, further from hurricanes?

  37. Bill Ectric says:

    Wow, I don’t believe it. I take a few days off and when I get back, you’ve been in a car wreck AND visited my favorite bookstore! I’ve been going to Chamblin for years. Were you just in there, Jeff?

  38. Bookworm.gr | Χαμένος Σε Αχανές Βιβλιοπωλείο says:

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  39. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Bill:

    We stopped by for a couple of hours on our way to St. Augustine for our anniversary. If we come back to Jax for more time, perhaps we can do lunch.

    Jeff

  40. John Leeson says:

    Discovered this cavernous book store about 10 years ago and since then have always stopped both going and coming from the annual Miami International Book Fair. Powell’s is great–neater and more space–like Targets versus a department store. But the fun here is discovery, getting lost, and in the process coming out with far less dough than I had when I walked in. Another great place is Bookwise in Boca.

  41. Chamblin’s – Heaven on earth for bibliophiles « GoLo says:

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  42. » Chamblin's – Heaven on earth for the city's bibliophiles GoLO Jacksonville says:

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  43. Bryan says:

    I shopped here for over 20 years. Well I’m disabled and my car got damaged parked in the handicapped spot. Ron Chamblin agreed to settle with me for $700. My estimate was $1100. I agreed just to quickly resolve things. Well he sent me $500 and said for me to contact him and he would “consider” sending the rest. I called him and he cussed me out. Keep in mind I was very professional and never directed any inappropriate language at him. I’ll never shop there again and it looks like I’m gonna have to sue him now. If you shop there just keep in mind that he might not keep his word and that his business seems less than professional to me after what I have gone through. It’s a shame that he would treat a disabled person on a limited income this way. Shame on you Ron and your business!

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