word craft


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!

  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.

  3. I love book­stores so much. Often book­stores with brand new books don’t have a great selection!

  4. 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.

  5. 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. 🙂

  6. 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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