Monday, Aug. 3, 2009 | 2 a.m.
The best bookstore in Southern Nevada is four trailers nailed together off Highway 372 in Pahrump.
But before we detail the charms and history of the Bookworm Haven, we need to define our terms — specifically, “best bookstore.”
Sellers of new books are out of the running. Too much of their shelf space goes to ugly ephemera, fad diets, self-help and $25 hardcovers written by cable TV shouters, books with titles like “Flaming Umbrage: Why People You Disagree With Politically are Irrational Maniacs and How to Gnaw Their Neck Tendons and Wear Their Skin Like a Beret.”
Buying books at an online store is efficient but sterile. It doesn’t count.
And we dismiss entirely electronic toys such as the Kindle, devices where you don’t actually buy a book, but the ability to read the text, at least until Amazon decides to delete it. You want something that costs hundreds of dollars and gives you the ability to read a book? Buy some glasses.
No, a used-book store is a better class of bookstore. The ranting manifestos, being objects of permanent display on coffee tables and in home offices, rarely make it to a used-book store. Used books are usually just what they claim to be: used. Somebody read them.
However, too many used-book stores traffic in first editions and signed books. A true book fiend regards these objects like a junkie regards a 19th-century opium syringe. Nice, but beside the point.
No, the best bookstore sells titles that are not only used, but used and cheap, and specializes in paperbacks. The stock will stretch across decades of authors. There will be so many books that the shelves can’t contain them. Books will be stacked on top of shelves and on the floor. Ideally, there will be a smell, an earthy must of aging paper.
Welcome to the Bookworm Haven, the best bookstore in Southern Nevada and the only bookstore in Pahrump, at 920 Fifth St. and open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
You can spot the bookstore from the highway by the bright yellow and black sign painted on one of the trailers. Inside you’ll find wonders and delights by the armful. Paperbacks are $2 but the price drops to $1 if you have a book to trade in.
The Bookworm Haven got its start in 1985 as one trailer, which Kaye Valdes and her father bought and renovated with narrow shelves built out of two-by-fours. They opened it, Valdes says, “because I read. I’m an avid reader. And this was the only way I was going to get more reading material.”
They stocked it with Valdes’ personal library, plus all the books of her siblings, parents, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews — about 2,000 books, all in all. It’s grown one trailer at a time to its current four, with a fifth, unconnected trailer holding excess inventory.
It’s never lost money but it’s never made much either, Valdes says, which is why she works full time as an Allstate Insurance agent, leaving the running of the store to one full-time employee who takes in at least 150 books a day and sells just as many.
Business comes from a mix of Pahrumpians, snowbirds and RVers. The store relies on word of mouth and barely advertises, confining itself to one ad in the free monthly Pahrump paper, the Over the Hump Saver. The bookstore used to have a billboard out by Highway 160, Valdes says, but horses chewed its posts and the sign fell over in the wind. That was 10 years ago.
And somehow, out of all this, comes a bookstore not only unlike but better than anything else in Southern Nevada.
This is how great the place is: Perhaps you love Gregory Mcdonald’s mid-’70s “Fletch” mysteries. On a recent visit, not only did the Bookworm Haven have a stack of “Fletch,” it also had all three books in the lesser-known “Flynn” series.
Want another? This is a bookstore that knows its books well enough to shelve Richard Stark next to Donald Westlake, since they’re the same person.
Heck, the place even has a wit to its shelving. Lacking a science section (hey, you can stock only what people sell you) the store puts an evolution book in the exact middle of a shelf divided between “Men” and “Reproduction.”
The title of the evolution book? “The Selfish Gene.”