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Timeless writings have histories of their own at McKinney bookstore
Kelsey Kruzich / Staff Photo - The Book Gallery store owner Jim Parker and his dog, Abby, are always happy to greet visitors at their family bookstore. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
They say never judge a book by its cover, but the complete opposite can be said when browsing the shelves at The Book Gallery in McKinney.
From a corner desk towered with books in his shop in historic downtown shop, store owner Jim Parker and his assistant manager and schnauzer, Abby, pride themselves in being stewards of literary preservation.
With the tinkling of the front door's bell, visitors are instantly transported into a world that existed before the advent of the Internet and e-books.
"There's still a great love for books, and a great love for people to just smell an old book," Parker said. "There are lots of old, old books [here]."
Don't bother looking for anything battery operated or electronic for sale here, just books - 10,000 to be exact. Some are relatively new and slightly used, but many more are decades old and have been read time and time again, their contents held in countless hands.
One is an aged first edition of the personal memoirs of Teddy Roosevelt, which he wrote in between presidential terms while hunting in Africa.
"That will go before Christmas; it is really rare," Parker said. "Of all the political writers throughout history, Roosevelt and Churchill were the two greatest."
Parker has had a passion for books for roughly 40 years, thanks in part to travels taken during his time spent working in corporate America. When he retired, his wife encouraged him to open a store and share his hoard with the rest of the world.
"My wife said, 'OK, I'd like a couple of rooms back if you don't mind,'" Parker said. "This is my stash. It's all in here."
Parker and his wife still travel worldwide in search of the next rarity. One such find is a first edition of "The House on Pooh Corner" - the very first Winnie the Pooh book - which they found in England. The irony, Parker said, is he will probably sell it online to someone else in England.
"They love their books," he said. "They're old but they're new."
Another of the matchless and valuable gems found in Parker's glass cases is a leather-bound first edition of Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi," the perfect Christmas gift for a serious collector, Parker said.
"It's just beautiful; we just got this one in," Parker said. "Somebody will get this [for Christmas]. This is the book where he changed his name from Samuel Clemens to Mark Twain."
Books here run anywhere from $20 to $3,000, their prices depending on their condition. With an entire wall devoted to first editions, other highlights of The Book Gallery include rare and signed works by authors like Hemingway, Dickens, Wordsworth, Cather and Tolkien.
A first edition of "The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant" also came in just in time for the movie "Lincoln," recently released in theaters.
Parker's store itself is a rarity, as family bookstores like The Book Gallery are hard to find. His store has attracted Hollywood more than once, as a year ago, it served as a backdrop for the movie, "The Language of a Broken Heart."
Just last week, Parker starred in an episode of "Storage Wars Texas," in which one of the contestants found a first edition of a Dr. Seuss book Parker told them was worth $800.
With technology replacing pages, Parker said it's up to today's children to carry on the tradition in spite of iPads and Nooks.
"You have to have a generation that grows up to that, to really appreciate it and to want to collect it," he said. "You get a generation that doesn't, and I think it will fade away."
Parker has an extensive children's section, and although they might be a bit more worn than the others, their meaning holds more value for their ability to keep future generations engaged, Parker said.
"Grandmothers will come in here and say, 'I tried to read to my three grandkids on a Kindle, and I'm sitting there and I don't have any big illustrations and I can't point out to them how Peter Pan looked or Wendy looked without having a book,'" Parker said. "Children's books, I think, will always continue on. If you read these to kids, they'll end up reading to their kids."
Young or old, visitors are typically amazed by the store's nostalgia (and smell), with most finding a book from their past that triggers far-away sentimentalities.
If they don't, Parker worries about a dying art.
"The saddest thing is when people walk in and they can walk around the entire store and never recognize anything," he said. "To me, that's sad. Somewhere in their schooling, they went wrong."