/ Mark Frauenfelder / 2 pm Mon, Nov 28 2011
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  • A visit to an unusual bookstore in Quartzsite, Arizona

    A visit to an unusual bookstore in Quartzsite, Arizona

    Quartzsite is a town of 3,000 people in western Arizona. It calls itself the Rock Capital of the World. But I didn't come to this fine town to look for interesting rocks. I came to visit Reader's Oasis, an excellent bookstore run by Paul Winer. By Mark Frauenfelder

    When I arrived, Paul was outside, going through a stack of books to price them. He also wraps every book in the store in a plastic bag. This is probably necessary because the area is very dusty and windy, but I didn't like the bagging, because it was harder to browse the books.

    Here is a video of Paul playing boogie boogie musicon the piano in the middle of the store.

    The store is a visual, treat, with lots of ephemera on the walls.

    The price for vintage paperbacks ran from $3 to $10, which isn't bad.

    Here's the humor section. The cover of Pumping Mad was painted by the great Jack Rickard, who died in 1983, two years after this paperback came out.

    This part of the bookstore is a trailer attached to the main building. You can see it in the photo at the top of this post.

    The Customer Convenience Cottage in the parking lot was very clean!

    As usual, I scooped up every 1960s children's science book I could find. I will easily earn back the money I spent by selling the astronauts book to Pescovitz at a fantastic markup.

    Bonus! We stopped at the Hi Ali Swapmeet, just a bit down the road from Reader's Oasis.

    I really wanted to by a cast iron skillet here, but my wife didn't want a used skillet. I tried to talk her into it, but no dice.

    She was OK with letting me buy this Wagnerware Magnalite 4133M-Sidney water kettle designed by Gordon Rideout, though!

    I wasn't the only one to buy something at the swap meet. My older daughter bought a turquiose ring and my younger daughter bought a bolo tie that was fashioned from a cow vertebrae to look like a steer's skull.

    We didn't spend too much time at The Rock Pile, because we are not rock hounds.

    I liked the hand lettered signs, though!

    Reader's Oasis Books
    690 E Main St
    Quartzsite, Arizona
    (928) 927-6551

    / / COMMENTS


    1. This is gold – a total emotional rollercoaster. The shock at the sock, the smell of dust in my nose just looking at the books from afar, the feelings of pity for Pescovitz, the sideways glare at Mark’s wife for her intransigence, the joyful leap of win when she relents to the beautiful kettle, the shock and awe that the Frauenfelders are not rock hounds!

    2. So, a long write-up. But what about the guy in the weird loin-cloth. What’s up with that. Why ignore it. Now you know that’ll be the only thing everyone here is going to comment on.

      Would I go to a store where the dude walks around like that? No. How hasn’t he been arrested yet?

      It’s weird. Despite how interesting the store is

      1. I don’t know if this has been answered yet, as I”m still going through comments, but Paul is a well-known and well-liked eccentric in the area.  If you google “the naked bookseller” you will come up with more info on him, but from what I remember, he used to be a nudist hippy in California back in the day, and eventually settled in Quartzsite.

        He’s very friendly and will always answer your questions, so if you ever visit, make sure to say hi to Paul!

    3. I had three of those science books as a child (the magnets, reptiles, and fun-to learn science book).  The great thing about a good kid’s science book is that even when some of the details turn out to be wrong, it will still inspire a love of science. (Or, rather, reinforce it, since all kids are born with an innate love of science, though sometimes we call it “curiosity”.)

    4. The bookstore seems great, but I think I need a unicorn chaser for the top image. I notice that wasn’t a very tight side-hug, there.

    5. With all the times I stopped in Quartzsite for gas on my way to or from my parents’ old place in Prescott Valley, AZ… how did I never notice this place?!

    6. Honestly,  I thought nearly-naked-dude wasn’t real (like he was a wooden indian or something).  Rare that an actual human stands on the opposite side of the uncanny valley, no?  

      Still, it gives some insight as to why we didn’t see that many other patrons in the shop.

      1. I had the same reaction… upon first glance, it looked like someone standing behind a cardboard cutout or something. I think it’s the contrast between his totally hairless body and his long-hair-and-beard head.

        That looks like an awesome bookstore though. I’d shop there, no matter the owner’s attire. And given Arizona’s hellish heat, I almost can’t blame him.

    7. Haw.  At first glance I thought the proprietor was wearing a fully body outfit.  I thought the physique just didn’t go with the apparent age.  After reading the comments I went back and clicked on the the image.  Mark, you are a brave man.  

    8. I love the kettle.  Good eye!  Some day all stores with paper books in them will look like this.  You don’t get adventures like that on a Kindle.

    9. Paul performed as a boogie-woogie piano player named Sweet Pie many years ago. I have album of his named Pleasure Pudding with songs like “Too Drunk to Ball” and one about a girlfriend name Kay he is looking for … the chorus goes “If you see Kay, tell her, tell her, tell her, tell her that I love her” (say it out loud). 

        1. See if these bring back memories …

          Red Neck Blues: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHuNar1OzEA

          All around the clock (starts with Jasper’s Cow Story): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NonPkR7QchQ

          and the immortal classic: Too Drunk to Ball: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVZt7Gpwqao

          1. I clicked a few related links, and found this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHGvdNKG6NE&feature=related&t=20s  (advisory: cannot be unseen).

            I think I’m done with the internet today.

    10. I suspect that they’ve just stopped making good quality cast iron pans – the odd time I’ve seen new ones, they have been distinctly inferior to what can be had in antique stores and the like.

      1. One good reason to buy quality used iron or aluminum cookware is the energy cost to produce it.  It takes an enormous amount of heat to cast a frying pan, and almost as much to recycle the metal.  The longer the useful life of the article is the more the energy cost of the production averages out.

        1. Though now I think of it, it makes sense that the old stuff is higher quality on average than new stuff – when we find old stuff for sale, it’s stuff that someone the owners held onto for years, because it was worth holding onto.  It’s quite possible they made crappy pans 70 years ago, but  they didn’t last 70 years – their owners chucked them and got good quality ones once they could afford them.

        2. I purchased my Dutch oven from a Flea Market. Knowing I reduced Reused and recycled is a good feeling. IT replaces the thought in the back of my head, wondering if the previous owner used it to remove the meat from a human skull he dug up. A thought I chose not to share with my  wife when we purchased it. A thought I have kept to myself until this moment.  Thank you for letting me share.

    11. my 90 year old grandmother played a great trick on my cousins after going to that bookstore. she had her picture taken with the proprietor while on a road trip with my dad. after the she got home my cousins were visiting and asked about the trip. my grandma told them that she had big news; she’d met a man on the trip and was thinking of moving to AZ. cousins pause and look at each other and then my grandma pulls out her photo with that guy. they totally believed her and thought she was going senile (even though she had been with my dad the whole trip). to her credit i don’t think she ever told them she was kidding. concerned, they called their mom and texted her the photo which she passed to my uncle (my grandma’s son) who i think just busted out laughing and told them to lighten up. 

      that same grandmother is the one that hepped me to buying used cast iron a) because it’s already seasoned;  b) it’s cheaper than over priced new cast iron and c) the quality is  much higher.

    12. The owner of the bookstore is a nudist, he wears the knitted sock thing to keep things legal while in the public…he’s quite a character and the bookstore is worth the stop if you are on your way somewhere and happen to pass Quartzite.

      When we were there it was like 120 out there and he had a bowl of water out for the doggies…was a metal bowl mind you, but the thought was nice :)

    13. Is there anyone left on the internet who hasn’t seen that dude before? Kind of hard to forget. Got to admit, in that climate, he’s probably got the right idea.

      You’re wife’s crazy, I’d have taken one of those old dutch ovens in a second – very cool!

    14. Daaang I’m a little bit turned on by all those skillets. Also, those knick-knacks. Also, grandpa’s abs up there.

      Those are some dang nice  skillets/knick-kacks/abs!

    15. Used and cared for cast iron cookware is about as good as it gets.  I bought a new cast iron skillet 15 years ago, and it is still coming into its own.  People look forward to inheiriting “seasoned” cast iron cookware in my home town.  I think your wife just needs to cook with the good stuff some time, if you can get a friend to loan it out (hint: don’t wash it with soap and water, scour it out with cornmeal or sand or whatever you have (dry plastic scrubbie might work, I haven’t tried it) – don’t leave food residue, but the pure carbon on the pan is key to it’s utility).  If you must buy new, Mark , shoot me an email, and I will give you the details for initially seasoning it.  Obviously you have a good eye for excellent cookware!

      1. It’s not carbon, it’s polymerized oil. You don’t want it to actually burn to the point of being a carbon deposit.

    16. We were driving through the main drag of Quartzite a few years back when my wife cried out “Oh, my God, there’s a naked man over there!” and I looked over just in time to see… well you know what I saw. I think I remarked that he’s not naked, he’s wearing a hat. Then he popped up on an episode of “The Desert Speaks” and I knew he wasn’t a mirage.

    17. re: Hi Ali or Hi Jolly http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hi_Jolly

      Hi Jolly or Hadji Ali (Arabic: حاج علي Ḥājj ‘Alī; Turkish: Hacı Ali), later known as Philip Tedro (born ‘Ali al-Hajaya 1828—December 16, 1902), was an Ottoman subject of Jordanian parentage, and in 1856 became one of the first camel drivers ever hired by the US Army to lead the camel driver experiment in the Southwest. Hi Jolly became a living legend until his death in [Quartzsite] Arizona. Once, insulted because he had not been invited to a German picnic in Los Angeles, he broke up the gathering by driving into it on a yellow cart pulled by two of his pet camels.

    18. He’s really got to work on his tanning technique, it’s not very even at all, in fact it’s extremely localized in one area.

    19. People interested in older, quality appliances may want to check out a book called “The Durability Factor” (from the 70’s, I think). It advocates buying older goods because they’re more durable than modern versions and are designed to be repairable (think motor brushes and the like).

      And Paul’s not naked- he’s got a hat, sunglasses, pendant, sandals, and whatever that other red thing is (and no, I am NOT asking!)

    20. This is hilarious because I grew up in Parker, AZ.  Parker is the county seat of La Paz County, which is where Quartzsite is located.  Parker is about 40 miles north of Quartzsite.

      I have been to this bookstore many times, and have met Paul.  He’s great.  It’s one of my favorite bookstores, in fact. Packed full of stuff! Most of my John Steinbeck books are from there. 

      I live in Phoenix, now, and when I visit family in Parker, I almost always go through Quartzsite, so I try to visit as often I can.

      Also, the Quartzsite drama has been hilarious this year. I still have many friends in the area, including cops and people in the local government. Not a whole lot goes on in the area, as I’m sure you can imagine, so this has been pretty exciting for them, haha.

    21. This is precisely why paper bookstores are always going to be a different, wonderful kind of discovery. Some oddball proprietor and a ton of castoff books that travel through the decades to be discovered by you. 

      As much as I love the convenience and technology of the kindle/iPad experience, there’s nothing like the fun in digging through an old box of books and finding something that grabs you. 

    22. This is a horrible horrible town. Rode through it on a cross-country bicycle trip and always remember it for the “motel”: half of a leaning double-wide. For $60 a night.

      1. Meh.  I grew up in the area.  It’s not so bad.  There are far worse.  Ever been to Salome?  Bouse?

        And I’m pretty sure there are a couple of other hotels in the area.

    23. 1) About the used cast iron – it is the way to go. A properly used one is already ‘seasoned’, making them pretty darn stick free.

      2) I looovveee going to rock shops in Colorado and AZ. I rarely buy anything there – even at the reasonably priced ones. I guess paying for stuff I want to find in the wild doesn’t appeal to me. But then again – I like in KS/MO, which doesn’t have much in the way of exotics.

      Lately, my best finds are fluorescent minerals within rocks in decorative rocks around the neighbors bushes.

      3) Nice sack sack.

      4) The Rock Pile should read the Flag Code once in awhile.

      “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.” (Flag Code, Section 8k)

      Also, if you are going to fly a flag more often than just the 3 or 4 holidays, then you should invest in a stitched nylon flag with embroidered stars.

        1. You know – I know you’re not supposed to use the flag as drapery or clothing. But I can let that slide usually. People aren’t doing so out of disrespect – on the contrary – they are doing so to show their love.

          There is NO excuse for the condition of that flag. Unless you are in battle ala Frances Scott Key, you’re flag should never get in that bad of condition.

          While on the subject of flags, I drive by a house sometimes that has a flag with a deer on it. It is black and white in a circle. It sort of looks like the Jagermeister logo, but I don’t think it is. Anyone ever see one like that?

          1. Am I the only one that really doesn’t get the loyalty to a flag?  It’s a flag.  It’s just a symbol.  Nothing more.  It’s fabric.  Just some silly old fabric.  And I really don’t think my stomping on it is going to change the fact that it’s fabric.

            1.  First off, *WHOOSH*….

              Secondly, would you flip someone the bird, then say, “what’s the problem? It’s just a finger?”

              Symbols and gestures have meanings. You may not ascribe the same meaning, to the same symbols or gestures, as others do, but, be aware that your own actions will be attributed meaning by others.

            2. It’s a symbol. Symbols have power. Don’t believe me? Walk around with a swastika on your jacket and see what sort of looks you get. Burn a flag at your local VFW and see how many shades of ass whopping you receive.

              Words are just words, right? Run around town yelling racial slurs, see what happens.

              Perhaps you have a memento from a lost relative, an ex-girlfriend, or a meaningful event in your life. It’s just a pocket watch – just some brass and steal with gears and springs. But it has more meaning for you.

              In the grand scheme, words and symbols are just words and symbols – but both have meaning and can hurt and evoke emotion.

            3. It’s fabric.  Just some silly old fabric.

              Like the Roman legionary standards, it’s the body of a god.  And failing to worship it is treason against God and country.

    24. Down with sexually repressed, freedom hating puritans.
      Disgust and fear are your choices when seeing a near naked man ?
      Long live the Pan in man until once again the public sight of a penis is accepted, respected and even encouraged.

      1. If it makes you feel better I just read the image and thought “Oh, an old hippie/freak” who’s still alive!

      2. You know, I am neither repressed nor freedom hating and far from a Puritan. I find his attire rather odd. I would find it a little less odd at the beach. I would find it even less odd at either place if he had on ‘real’ clothing – such as a Speedo.

        But hey – his shop, he can let his freak flag fly.

        I really wouldn’t have a problem if it was just me. I wouldn’t take my 5 yr old daughter in. Not because I think hes a perv or anything, but I think it would be inapproprite around her – and honestly I don’t want to deal with the questions. YMMV

        Looks like it isn’t hurting his livelihood. Play on, player.

    25. This is wonderful! What a fascinating place/man! I feel like this could be some place in Fahrenheit 451 – out in some remote area the firemen haven’t found yet. 

      Glad to see a fellow old-science-book collector! I’m a sucker for them. You can see some of my collection here: 
      and here: 
      with notes! 

      I’ll fight Pescovitz for the astronaut book! 

      That tea kettle is amazing. 

    26. I assumed that used iron skillets could be made safe by the seasoning process — which seems to involve burning a layer of oil onto the surface for a while. Wouldn’t that get hot enough to burn out any germs, if you scrub it first? (I realize that would remove the seasoning, but I’m just defending used skillets, not used SEASONING established by other people. That’s a step too far for me.)

    27. Apparently nudist colonies and rock sites go hand in hand. When I was younger my grandpa was fairly well known in the fire agate community and we used to attend annual rock shows around Arizona, New Mexico and SW Texas. 

      It was in Show low, AZ that had a family of nudists took to running through the LDS church sprinklers right behind our stand. Several years later, I went with him to an agate site between Klondyke and Wilcox that also had a whole community of nudist naturalists that used a place next door as a retreat.

      Coming from a fairly conservative upbringing, it’s something I always remember with a laugh.

    28. I actually don’t have a problem with the nudist stuff.  What worries me is that Mark got talked out of buying some truly righteous cookware. A lot of the stuff that one sees at the fleas in the Northeast have REALLY bad rust issues; the samples shown here seem to have escaped that.  I would love to get my mitts on the chicken fryer (right behind the lamb thingy) or one of the flat-bottomed Dutch Ovens.  I have a Le Creuset Dutch Oven but the enamel means you have to treat it with kid gloves; I like the idea of a really thick pot that can take knocking around.  A few hours of re-seasoning in a hot oven after a good boiling water/baking soda scrub would get rid of the “icky” factor for me.

      1. Thanks for the tip on the Le Creuset, I’ve been considering one for years, but can’t quite get my brain around the price.  Maybe I can just skip it.

        As for that model of chicken fryer, I have a 30-year-old one exactly like it.  It is as fantastic as you imagine, with the spikes on the underside of the lid for self-basting.  Tougher to clean with the spikes, but really nice.  I mostly use it to make a tomato-based one-pot chicken stew. 

        Though I would love if it were just a little bigger.  Grocery store chickens are so big now that it’s hard to fit a reasonable amount of veggies in alongside for the cooking.  Hence my mind has been straying off to the larger Le Creuset models.

        1. If you’re near an outlet mall, you might have a Le Creuset outlet.  We have one here.  If you buy a set, it’s much cheaper.  I’ve had a set of large and small dutch ovens, large and small saucepans, small frying pan and big-ass covered braiser, which I got c. 1980.  The enamel has held up just fine, and I’m not particularly careful.  The knobs break pretty easily, but they’re replaceable.

      2. I’d never thought about the fragility factor of enamel! Now I’m happy that I have an un-enameled cast iron Dutch oven. (Emerilware brand — significantly cheaper than most of the enameled cast iron I’ve seen.)

        And yeah — I’d happily just scrub used cast iron with oil and salt, rinse it with hot water, and season it in a good hot oven for a bit. That’ll take off any crud and kill any germs. Anything left on there after that is going to be inert.

    29. I have a 12-year-old set of cast iron skillets that are just barely starting to come into their own.  I also have 3 that I picked up in various states of wear second-hand.  Two of them were actually in pretty awful shape with stuck-on food from an estate sale.  The thing is, I could see the smooth pan and the name on the bottom.  Good pans, all.

      To clean an old used- and maybe slightly abused- cast iron item, I just take it along the next time I go camping when I know that there will be a wood campfire.  I make sure the coal bed is really deep, and I put the pan in the middle of those coals for a few hours or even overnight.  It burns off everything down to the raw iron.  I then re-season the pan myself and it is good to go.  Better than new, as it is essentially sterilized and it has all those lovely surfaces worn smooth and rendered almost completely non-stick.

    30. I recently purchased a Lodge dutch oven on Amazon.com.  It was surprisingly inexpensive, so there should be no need to pine for an old rusty one in Arizona.  My new one came with instructions for cleaning and seasoning, including removing rust, which is not difficult.  

      1. OMG – how could I have missed this obvious pun and the continuation of a BB meme.

        “Take a look at this banana hammock. Just look at it!”

    31. I really loved everything about this post.  Thank God the great American tradition of staunch individualists out along the highways has not disappeared.  Nice kettle.    

    32. I’m a geologist. Part of the reason (a relatively small part, mind you) I became a geologist is because my uncle is a rockhound – but more of a gentleman rockhound; after retiring around 50 from a high-paying position in the research division at Kodak (before digital cameras took off) he traveled all over the world to look for rocks (still does) and he has quite a nice collection.

      But, it was perhaps the travel that really interested me, not the rocks. When people find out I’m a geologist, they very often (more than half of the time) ask if I like rocks, or it’s somehow implied that I must like rocks. I very much enjoy telling people that I don’t particularly like rocks. I know a lot about them and can appreciate scientifically interesting specimens, but I don’t place much intrinsic or decorative value on even the most spectacular examples.

      I’ve stopped at plenty of rock shops in the southwest and elsewhere (including in Quartzsite, though not this one). I usually don’t bother stopping anymore, because I’ve stopped kidding myself that I’m interested.

      I imagine that when I’m a crotchety old academic who always wears corduroy jackets, I will have rock and mineral samples used as decorative items in my dimly-lit leather-clad office. But, they will be samples from my globe-trotting research, and each will have a story to go with them. That’s where the value lies, not in the sample itself, which is why I don’t understand why people buy rocks and minerals they haven’t collected themselves.

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