The Joy of Used Book Stores

This ode to the pleasure of hours spent in secondhand bookshops — the thrill of the serendipitous discovery — will resonate with anyone who loves books and reading — despite the (male) author’s annoying and, frankly, weird, implied assumption that used bookshop owners are all men, and that women generally prefer shoes to books.

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Kathy Kattenburg

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  • Some of my most cherished books come from hours of haunting the 2nd-hand bookstores in Manhattan. Sadly, many have shut down. but I am beginning to see some pop up in unlikely places.I also see some shops selling both new and old books. Most of the books, of course, are out of print and some out of copyright. I have a book of German folksongs that was originally published pre-WWI as well as the best Russian grammar I ever found, circa 1940s.

    There is a privately-run library/shop near me. You can borrow or buy books and they accept donations, which keeps their costs down. I suspect it started as someone with way too many books and unwilling to throw them away. 🙂

    I winnow my library every couple of years and give dozens away, making room for more and I still have way too many. Good thing I’m a fast reader…

    • There is a wonderful new/old bookstore in Montclair, NJ, where I lived when I was married. It’s the closest northern NJ has to the Strand. It has that feel to it although it’s nowhere close in size. I can’t get to it anymore because I no longer own a car, although I’m still only 10 minutes away in driving time.

      Alas, there are no bookstores at all within walking distance of me now. However, I am only two blocks from my town’s public library.

      I envy your ability to part with books when your shelves get too crowded. I can’t bring myself to give up any book in my collection — which is one reason I’m lucky to have a library so near me!

  • The internet is a boon and a curse. As a collector of old books, I miss exactly the kind of afternoons haunting old bookshops that Kathy is describing. On the other hand, my ability to find rare stuff now spans the globe, as opposed to what I could find on just an afternoon in Chicago.

    On the whole, I prefer the old way…finds were so much more celebrated, and you could have them right away, as opposed to waiting for the mail. There was more safari to it, and less “point-and-clicking”.

  • The Used Bookshop: not the most remunerative occupation for a book lover regardless of how satisfying it could be. I live on an island in the Pacific NorthWest and residents have a roofed building at the dump-recycling-waste disposal site where we can “take it and leave it”: some clothes, modest furniture items, trinkets…and books. Browsing through a drop-off of a couple boxes I found a first edition hardcover (1898) of Thomas Henry Huxley’s “Lectures and Essays”. What a delight! Someone left it; I took it. Fee: $-0-. Ain’t life wunnerful at times. The frosting came in talking to a woman who was browsing nearby and who actually knew who Huxley was and his position on Evolution, resulting in 10 minutes of related conversation. A bookstore makes that possible with more continuity, but a chance find and discussion is one way to get by until a trip to the mainland allows for the in-city used bookstore. It remains to be determined how the nooks, kindles, i-pads, and the rest of the lot will impact the well-stacked collection of a used bookstore.

  • Luckily, I was able to build a 7-shelf book – ??? on a wall I made bare in the room that houses the computer. Each shelf is 88″ long. The top shelf is empty and the bottom shelf, which was made for very tall books is mostly empty.

    The county library has a book sale every six months. A very good place to get books.

  • Space and Time are as big a problem for me as for physicists.
    I had to turn my ‘library’ into a bedroom for an ailing mother-in-law and tho she’s long gone, most of the books are still in storage. I probably have less than a thousand in the house right now.

    I read fast but not fast enough to keep up with all the books I want to read. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise that I can’t afford to buy all the books I want to read – it would be downright immoral to have books sitting around without being at least started. Of course, just as I retire and have more time, I’ll have less money. And the libraries in my area don’t really carry the sort of things I read. 🙁

    Guess it’s time to do less reading and more writing.

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