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 Goodmans 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.
Goodmans 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. Theres 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. Id 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 hadnt 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] didnt 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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