Avi WordCraft blog

Used Bookstores

“Books aren’t eggs, you know. Simply because a book has aged a bit doesn’t mean it’s gone bad.… What is wrong with old? Age isn’t a disease. We all grow old, even books. But are you, is anyone, worth less, or less important, because they’ve been around for longer?”

— Nina George, The Little Paris Bookshop 

By far most of the books I purchase are used books. It would be easy to say I do so because they are often cheaper than new ones.  The usual truth is that I get them because I can’t find them anywhere else other than a used bookstore. Most important of all, I take great pleasure in finding them. 

I find it hard to avoid such places. Many a time, when travelling to a new city, I scold myself for going to such stores rather than viewing the local historical sites. I do it anyway. 

For me, such places are sites of serendipity. [Serendipity: the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

It’s hard to know how long I’ve been going into used bookstores. When I was a boy there was a used bookstore in my neighborhood. I could walk there, and often did. The book dealer would merely nod to me as I came in. Then I would go to the far, far back of the store where—under a dim and dangling light bulb–he kept his children’s books. For twenty-five cents or so I could—and did—buy books.

The earliest such books I purchased—I recall—were the Thornton W. Burgess animal tales. I amassed a large collection, before going up (in a literary sense) to the Freddy the Pig books. 

Some of my early experiences in bookstores are recounted in my book, Catch You Later, Traitor

These pandemic days I don’t—sadly– need to go into a store.  There are any number of online sites (ABE books, Biblio, Bookfinder, and more). In doing my research, I come across an intriguing title, search it out online and, in a matter of days, I have it in my hands.  Thus, on my desk sits Spalding’s Official Basket Ball Guide for Women: 1919-20, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the novel, Elizabeth is Missing

Sometimes, in these books I find notes, letters, pressed flowers (once, lucky me, a four-leaf clover) which add to their charms. 

And there are inscriptions: “For Lucy: That was the best Merry Christmas, 1967.”  “It was as a wonderful weekend.”  “G—Here’s that book I told you about. You’ll see what I meant.” 

Each inscription has its own hidden story. 

In my current confessional mode, I admit these books have a singular and comforting (for me) smell. It’s somewhat musty, a mix of old paper and ink. Maybe I smell that way.  

And yes, now and again, I come upon one of my own books with an inscription. “Susan. You’re going to love this one!” 

Since it’s in the used bookstore maybe Susan did not love it.  But someone else, I hope, will; Discovered, as in a “happy way.” 

9 thoughts on “Used Bookstores”

  1. I love used bookstores because sometimes you find treasures, like an international version of a well-loved story!

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  2. Wonderful thoughts. Used bookstores are my happy place. My favorites are stores with new and used and they are mixed in their shelves without dividing by price. All are welcome and the new absorb the aroma of the well-loved.

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  3. First- what a wonderful quote by Nina george!!! And what a flashback to my own childhood! I too, would walk to a local bookstore (Beb’s Books) that had a used book section that I could browse to my heart’s content! Sadly Beb’s Books closed many years ago yet I have kept some of those special purchases over the years, treasures that took me to other lands and times. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. I couldn’t agree more, AVI! I am now a retired school teacher. I started out my career as a substitute teacher. On days when I didn’t get called to teach for the days, I would get lost in some used bookstores that I found along the routes to some school systems in which I signed up for subbing. I like you, look for the bookstores when I’m traveling, especially the used ones, but that has temporary stopped since the pandemic. I smile as I think about the old, musty-smelled bookstores where the owner briefly greeted you with a quick smile, while a cat slowly strutted around the dimly-lit room with wooden-plank floors. But I always left with a treasure trove of books, many of them, yours. Great post, AVI. 🙂

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  5. There are few things that give me more pleasure than browsing through a used bookstore. I, too, cannot pass up the opportunity to visit one wherever I go. As you say, they are “sites of serendipity” and the chance discovery is such a joy.

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