In the modern age, Lloyd's Book Shop is almost undiscoverable. It has no website, nor any other online listings. There aren't any author appearances or big events that would draw folks there.
That's because it's Lloyd Hooker's home. The only thing identifying the quiet Rice Village bookstore is an unassuming sign that simply says "Lloyd's Books."
Hooker himself is a retired librarian whose first job was at the Heights Public Library. "I majored in History," he says. "I tried school-teaching, and it was disastrous." So he went on to get a degree in Library Science in Nashville. After a decade spent working for universities, first for Rice's Fondren Library, and then at Penn State University, Hooker spent a quarter century in service of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, where he was the Central Office Librarian.
"Can you Google on that?" Hooker asks when looking at the smartphone we're using to record the conversation. "Google has wiped out the reference librarians," he says with a chuckle.
Lloyd opened the shop in 1992, following his retirement from government work. "I was going nuts with nothing to do, and I was driving my family nuts, too," Hooker explains. "You always hear about bureaucrats not doing anything - well I did a hell of a lot! I was used to dealing with at least five or six people daily. I was just kinda lost after I retired; it gave me something to do."
The shop itself is a small bungalow on Sunset Boulevard, just blocks away from the main Village drag. A sign by the doorbell reads, "Knock Hard!" And while Hooker has never posted regular hours, he remains readily accessible. "At my age, you have to go to the doctor a lot, and other things," he explains. Inside, his cat Ponzi - named well before the Madoff scheme was made public - lords over room after room of books.
Art Attack's guided tour included reflections on a great many of Lloyd's books - at 79 years old, it may take him a moment to remember, but he's got a story for nearly every tome in the building. "A young lady came in here one day; she said she wanted a book on human anatomy, so I said 'I have Gray's Anatomy.' 'Oh,' she says, 'that won't do. I have to have something that has anatomy for everybody, not just people named Gray,'" he says with a hearty chuckle. A biography on Napoleon III: "That's how you can tell if anyone knows about history, if they know him." And a large biography entitled The Jameses prompts Hooker to note, "Illiterate people think that one's about Frank and Jesse." (In reality it's about William, Abigail, and Henry James, Jr.)
Obviously, Hooker has more than a few anecdotes. "I'm the only librarian you'll ever meet that found a dead body in the staff lounge," he declares. In the early 1960s, Hooker found a janitor, resting in a chair inside the staff lounge of Rice University's Fondren Library.
"I lost it, I couldn't talk," he remembers. "Fortunately they were having a meeting of anatomists, many of whom were MDs. I went out and I found one, and I grabbed the poor little guy. I couldn't talk, so I pulled him across the mezzanine, and I pointed out Mr. Johnson (the janitor). He looks down, and says, 'he's dead.' I reached down and grabbed him and asked, 'are you sure?' He looked at me and said, 'I'm a doctor, if I say he's dead, he's dead.'"
Histories are Hooker's favorites, and customers will learn quickly that the man knows his way around a story. "I'm a little old-fashioned; I don't use computers," he says. The shop's shelves are stacked with history, classics, religion and philosophy, as well as fine editions, first editions, and children's books.
"It's the customers that keep me doing this. I was a circulation librarian at Rice, a reference & document librarian at Penn State. I like dealing with people," says Hooker. Circulation work is the shits, it really is. But the kids were so smart, it made it interesting." The shop is never crowded - except for the sheer volume of books - so every customer gets personal treatment from Hooker himself. In fact, before we could even ask a question, he'd already inquired, "What can I help you find?"
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It's clear that running the shop brings Hooker a real sense of joy, and with a broad smile he finishes our conversation saying, "I'll do this until the doctor says I can't do it anymore - or die in the saddle."
Lloyd's Books 2426 Sunset Boulevard Houston, TX 77005 713.520.5861