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Shelf Life 

Eli Goodman’s secondhand knowledge

Thursday, Oct 6 2005
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Eli Goodman has been the sole owner of the Cosmopolitan Book Shop (7017 Melrose Ave., L.A., 323-938-7119) for nearly 50 years. I stumbled upon his cluttered gem of a store in the ’90s while attending Fairfax High School up the street. Cosmopolitan Books is responsible for about 80 percent of my not-too-shabby home library. I found most of the treasures I sought in recycled books by Henry Rollins, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Ayn Rand and so many others in Goodman’s store.

The busy 82-year-old, something of a cross between Larry David and the Six Flags guy, was initially reluctant to speak with me recently.

“I am in the store seven days a week,” he says in a slight New York accent. “I am a workaholic. This is my wife, my life and my child.”

Goodman’s passion for books began in childhood — his father was a writer-editor-publisher who also collected books. Ironically, Eli was born with strabismus (crossed-eyes) and had much trouble reading, until the age of 12, when an operation corrected his vision. Decades later, Goodman still becomes emotional when he speaks of books.

“All I have to do is see a word as I flutter the pages,” he says, imagining one such page. “Oh! I have to look into that.”

Needless to say, Goodman has a few stories to tell. There’s the one about Michael Jackson: “He came into the store several times. It was very exciting because he would always have a bodyguard with him. I’d rather not go into details there, but he bought some things, usually picture books.”

Then there was the time about three years ago when a “chap” came in selling a book by Jack Kerouac containing an inscription the On the Road author had written in French, referring to Neal Cassady — whom Goodman hadn’t even heard of at the time.

“Now that was a unique book,” Goodman explains. “Not only was it signed and limited and numbered, but it had a very unique inscription signed in a manner which apparently [Kerouac] didn’t sign very often.”

Goodman later parted with the book for a hefty but, he felt, fair price — the most money, in fact, that he has ever made from any single item. Here, certainly, is one man who knows the value of judging a book by its cover.

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