When I was growing up in New York City, there was an area along Fourth Avenue which was called “Book Row.” It existed from the 1890s until the 1960’s. Over its six blocks stretch there were some thirty-six bookstores, mostly selling used books. As a teenager I used to wander about there, beguiled, looking at, and now and again buying a book. The only one of the Book Row stores that has survived is The Strand. Today it stands in book fame along with such fabled bookstores as Portland Oregon’s Powell’s, or San Francisco’s City Lights.
By the time I turned sixteen—1953—I was already something of a bibliomaniac, with a firm passion for reading, a library of my own, and perhaps, just thinking about writing.
For my birthday present that year my father took me to The Strand. When we got to the bookstore he told me that his birthday gift was that I could buy up to twenty-five dollars’ worth of books. “And if it’s a little more than that, don’t worry.”
Considering the cost of books today, twenty-five dollars doesn’t seem like a great deal of book-buying money. But if you run it through one of those inflation calculators (which you can find online), by today’s value that twenty-five dollars was worth about two-hundred and fifty of today’s dollars.
For my father, who was rather a miser, this was rather an extraordinary gift. Not only do I recall my elation but I have a distinct memory of wandering among the bookshelves. I can have anything! I recall buying fiction, books about American history, and books about my then obsession, railroads.
I selected so many I was given a box to take home all my books.
Astonishingly, I still have a couple of those books on my shelves today.
And I still love to wander about used bookstores, more so, in fact, than a bookstore which has just new books. A used bookstore is a place of memories I have yet to have. Indeed, it’s rare for me to buy a new book. My most recent acquisition was a book published in 1906.
And when I buy my books I do so mostly on-line. I am often tracking down a rare (as in scarce, not valuable) book for the research I do for my historical fiction. When I get them I am often saddened to discover the book has been discarded from a library, not used, not wanted, except by the likes of me.
When I moved away from Denver to our log house in Clark, Colorado, there was the painful question of what to do with some five thousand books. I just had no room for them.
The solution was easy. I gave most of them away to used books stores, stores like Books for a Buck. I love such places. You can buy a lot of books for twenty-five dollars.