Las Vegas a ‘bad town for books’?

In one of his murder mysteries based around the book-scouting and used book trade (hang onto those true first editions of “Booked to Die,” friends — around $700 and I wish I had one), former Denver bookman John Dunning refers to Las Vegas as a “bad town for books.”

True enough, few folks come here to luxuriate in the splendor of our world-class libraries. Standing across Maryland Parkway from the UNLV Student Union, looking in all directions for the quaint brick-fronted coffee shops, vintage clothing emporia and used bookstores heaped high with leatherbound time travelers, the visitor is not likely to be fooled into believing he or she has been transported to Oxford, Heidelberg, Paris, Cambridge, Berkeley, or Boulder — or even Providence or Chapel Hill.

Some vintage book emporiums of note do persist here, though. At risk of the inevitable “What About Me” letters, I note the Amber Unicorn has finally reopened — seven days a week — in spacious new quarters between Chapala’s Restaurant and Trader Joe’s on the west side of Decatur at O’Bannon. Hard to find but worth the hunt is Greyhound’s Books, nestled out of easy sight at the southeast corner of Western and Oakey, kitty-corner from the site of the former Papa Gar’s. (Am I starting to sound like an old-timer around these parts?) (Phil keeps threatening to move Greyhound’s to a higher-traffic location. We’ll see.)

The nice fellow at Academy Books on West Charleston shocked us when we asked about Marie Corelli, some time back, by leading us to a whole collection stacked above one of the lintels. “Not a lot of call” for them, he explained.

And as part of a general clean-up and upgrading under the new management team of Michelle and Cal Tully, the Charleston Antique Mall, 307 W. Charleston (at I-15, also seven days, next door to the spiffy new Bistro Divino in the old Holsum Bread factory, nice wine list, closed Sunday) now sports not only a new vintage clothing boutique, but also a good-sized used & vintage book room specializing in aviation, religion & the occult, and “Nevada & the West,” an enterprise for which (this is the “disclosure” part) I’m pleased to do some unpaid consulting.

In fact, this is a great town for book-scouting in some obvious subject areas, and some not so obvious. The Nevada Test Site drew a whole generation of nuclear physicists and engineers who are now passing from the scene — meaning their technical books are now showing up at local estate sales and thrift shops. Don’t throw away that copy of Manson Benedict’s “Nuclear Chemical Engineering” (more than $100.)

Legendary disc jockey Wolfman Jack (nee “Bob Smith”) had the misfortune to die of a massive heart attack very early in the scheduled book tour for his 1995 autobiography “Have Mercy!”, which means signed copies are a bit thin on the ground. I was pretty happy the day I found my copy, turned out in a local housecleaning … signed to blues great B.B. King (since the book is unique, we’ll have to say “value yet to be determined.”)

Also turning up locally in the past year have been signed copies of Harold Robbins’ first novel “Never Love a Stranger”; Joe Pasternak’s autobiography “Easy the Hard Way” (also signed by Jimmy Durante, Art Linketter, and J. Carrol Naish); Richard Nixon’s “Leaders” (signed to former Congressman Chuck Wiggins, a former supporter whose change of heart helped convince the late president to resign); William L. Shirer’s “Berlin Diary”; and Sammy Davis Jr,’s autobiography “Why Me?”, signed not just by Sammy but also by Clayton Cameron, drums; Morty Stevens, conductor; Frank Accardo, guitarist; Earl Jolly Brown, stage manager; Dino Meminger, lighting director; James Leary, bass; Brian Dellow, security; Fip Ricard, lead trumpet, and George Genna, pianist.

I reached Frank Accardo at his guitar school in Southern California. Frank remembered Cam Cooper, to whom this book was originally signed, as “a backstage attendant at Harrah’s Tahoe, like a valet. Sammy took a liking to him and he went on tour with us; we took him to Europe. He had to have been in his 60s even then. …

“Sammy had this guy who signed his photos for him,” Frank recalled. “Most of those signatures on signed photos won’t really be his. But if that book is signed to Cam, that’s his real signature.”

Oddly enough, though, the rarest signature in the book may be not Sammy’s, but that of Hollywood composer Morty Stevens, who got his start as Sammy Davis Jr.’s arranger, later winning two Primetime Emmys and writing the theme music for “Hawaii Five-0.”

Morton Stevens died of cancer in 1991, at the age of 62. Sammy Davis Jr. — singer, musician, actor, professional dancer from childhood — died in 1990 at the age of 64.

They all passed through Vegas. And they all left something behind.

2015 update: Is this post really seven years old? John Dunning’s “Booked to Die” is now a 23-year-old book; the Internet has pushed the price of first printings down sufficiently that you can now find a SIGNED true first of Dunning’s first bibliomystery in the $300-$500 range. (Other classics have suffered similar price erosion. Firsts of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa” fetched $300 just seven years ago; you can now find them online for $100.) The Amber Unicorn is still running full tilt at Decatur and O’Bannon near Trader Joe’s, though my other 2008 landmark for finding them — the west side version of Chapala’s Mexican restaurant — has closed. Greyhound’s Books has moved closer to the Decatur core and now operates as “Las Vegas Fine Books” near the corner of Decatur and Charleston Boulevard; open about noon to 3:30. Gary has departed this vale of tears; his lamented Academy Books is also gone. And the Charleston Antique Mall was forced to relocate due to highway expansion — they’re now bustling seven days a week at 560 S. Decatur Boulevard, next to Arizona Charlie’s; dial 702-228-4783 for directions.

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Having lost a minor prosecution called the McClure case, the U.S. Forest Service seems to have followed the usual bureaucratic procedure.

Instead of holding their collective hat in their hands and apologizing to all involved for harassing American citizens over perfectly legal behavior on their own public lands, these new Sheriffs of Nottingham have jacked up their attempts to put an effective end to small-scale, family-based independent mining and prospecting in the Northwest.

According to my sources, the new rules proposed by the Forest Service (to 36 CFR parts 223, 228, 261, 292, 293, etc.) would require the filing of a formal “Plan of Operations” just to go dredge a claim, followed by months of waiting to get the POO approved. In addition, those wishing to do some weekend placer mining would have to post a serious cash bond — amount to be determined, though the independent miners figure a thousands dollar would be a nice round number — for each site the miners or prospectors wish to visit — every time.

“If you’re not already aware of it, the feds are really scaling up the assault on access to public lands recently,” writes in correspondent Richard Hager of Oregon. “The sheer number of ‘management’ changes (i.e. closures) being floated simultaneously these days is stunning. … In fact, there’s a nationwide ‘travel management’ thing cooking that looks like it will (literally) shut down 95 percent of the roads in the public lands (essentially, every road except main ‘through’ routes.) Wood-gathering, game retrieval, etc., would all have to be done on foot.”

More discussion at

The old notion was that the wilderness lands were being preserved ”for our use.” The new idea, of course: “preserved FROM our use.”

There’s only a day or two left to file comments on these proposed rule changes before the May 27 deadline. Check out Web site or e-mail

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