by PAUL K. HAEDER & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & "I & lt;/span & have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library." & r & & r & While Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges lived a life consumed by books, he's not an author found in Harold "Hal" Moos' Book Traders, located in the Garland District. But after talking with Moos and studying his bookstore's 2,500 square feet of space housing 50,000 books, it's easy to understand how his life typifies Borges' sentiment.
Moos is known in Spokane as the King of the Paperbacks, and for good reason: Ripley's Believe It or Not has ranked Moos' particular paradise as "the world's largest paperback book library."
Up on the South Hill, housed in the basement of his house in the Rockwood neighborhood, Moos has packed away (as of the most recent count, in March 2007) some 357,000 paperbacks. It's a collection 12 times bigger than Ripley's runner-up.
Moos, who went to junior and senior high school in Sprague, who attended college at Whitworth and WSU, and who helped create pageants in Walla Walla (think Miss Walla Walla and Miss Junior Miss), spent his life garnering his hefty retirement working for Goodyear Tire company, managing 30 stores and, at one point in his tire career, flying five times a week.
Books, however, are his obsession, and reading has been in his blood since before puberty. Moos showed me Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins series in the children's section of his not-quite-2-year-old store at 907 W. Garland Ave.
"When I was, oh, 5 or 6 years old," he says, "on Saturdays and Sundays, I used to read six to eight books."
The Emilie Buchwald axiom, "children are made readers on the laps of their parents," resonates with Moos, who helped raise his grandson who at 12 -- he's now 25 and produce manager at Fred Meyer -- opened up his own bookstore called King of the Paperbacks.
That was a two-year enterprise. In the less than two years since Moos opened Book Traders, he has seen more than a half-dozen independent bookstores in Spokane close shop. Over the decades, Moos has received three bookstores' entire inventories free of charge.
While Moos reads James Patterson and Dean Koonz, he's the first to admit the customer is king in his bookstore. "They're bright and know more about each category than I do. They're real specialists when it comes to reading."
Wendy Lane, for example, lives on the Yaak River in Montana but drives to Spokane to take care of her ailing mother -- and to stop at bookstores. Last week, she set both Moos and me straight on one of her favorite authors, Frank Herbert. (Lane may hang out with environmental author Rick Bass, but she still gravitates toward science fiction works, especially the Dune series.)
While romance rules Book Traders' shelves -- Nora Roberts is the No. 1 seller with 500 titles out of 20,000 romance pulps in the store -- followed by mystery (Patterson) and then intrigue, Moos has created all sorts of sub-categories and has hardbacks to boot. He carries so-called racy works, but no pornography. "Some of the newer Westerns are really full of racy stuff," he says. (Hint: Read William W. Johnstone.)
Moos' friend Rod Wells frequently mans the counter, and Moos says he's got applicants coming in who want to work in a bookstore, some for no pay. "It seems that everyone wants to work in a bookstore," he says. Whether it's the mystique or the smell of musty books on so many shelves, books are coming back in style, Moos says.
"When we first opened two years ago, no young people showed up," Moos says. "I can't believe how many people in their earlier 20s have been coming in the past year. I hear them say, 'I just love this store.'"
Tumbling economic indicators, peak oil prices and digital burnout might be the cause of more parents pushing kids to read. For Moos, the favorite area of his many-sectioned bookstore is the children's titles.
A customer's 21-month-old daughter looked at the books, and Moos was magnetized by the child's presence of mind as she daintily grabbed a paperback.
While Moos doesn't boast, he does admit to having more than half a million books at home, including the Ripley's collection, antique books (as in Poe's first edition of The Raven) and titles yet to be catalogued.
Like any good bookseller, Moos collects his own stories and possesses other manifested lives and pleasures. He and his Las Vegas daughter are working on lingerie catalogues, and Moos goes into the nuances of that garment trade, giving me advice on what makes for the best lingerie model. ("You're looking at a woman no taller than 5-[foot]-4.")
He also hawked plush animals and lingerie in the Flour Mill for four years; after a water main broke and ruined the merchandise, he moved Dream Makers up to the Lincoln Heights district for five years.
Moos will be ready for the Garland District street festival on Aug. 16 with 50- and 60-cent books displayed on the sidewalk. His customer base is growing, with 22 accounts recently opened. Customers bring in books for trade credit, and he makes a few quarters off of each transaction. "It all adds up," he says.
While Moos finds time to woo younger female acquaintances (considerably younger, by his account), he still harkens back to his first and only wife of 30 years, Donna Joy, whom he met while she was doing baton tricks as a Mead senior and he was going to Whitworth. She died young, in her 40s.
For now, Moos manages the store, but he's hoping for someone to come in "when the snow flies in Spokane." He wants time to read, watch TV news and sports and screen films -- "and video poker in Vegas a few times a year."