We Heart Used Bookstores
Is it hard to pick one book you love best? Have you a smorgasboard of favorites? PHS Assistant Editor Sherri Skanes talks about the joy of finding treasured books in some interesting places.
Last year I moved across the country from the beaches of California to a small town in Indiana. I spent the winter revisiting old friends as I unpacked each box of books. When spring struggled to emerge, I found myself longing for some new reads, but I wasn’t sure what my options were. Then one sunny morning I headed downtown and passed a shop I hadn’t noticed before. Painted on the window in flowing blue script, it read, Turn The Page…
Books! I opened the door and crossed the threshold, inhaling deeply as a little bell announced my entry. There is something about the smell of books, particularly if they are housed in a century-old building. The combination of paper, leather, wood, brick, and a slight musky scent soothes my soul. It doesn’t matter to me that they are used. In fact, I like knowing I am not the only one to have experienced their stories. It makes me feel as if I belong to a secret club.
The store’s front room had very tall ceilings, and the ancient, dark wood bookcases reached the very top. A rolling ladder circled the room. It was a labyrinth of overstuffed shelves and cases and stacks of books at every turn. I spotted the section for romance, and immediately lost my mind. Every author I have enjoyed since I began reading the genre in the 1970’s was there! Where to begin? .
Cruising through the alphabet, I quickly picked out five that caught my eye—including some author debuts long out of print. Next, as I scoured the children’s section I came across a favorite series from my childhood…Trixie Belden. I greedily grabbed every one they had. My arms were filled with a dozen books, and I laid them out on the counter as if they were delicate crystal. The soft-spoken proprietor announced that today was “Ten on Tuesday” and I was entitled to my choice of a stuffed bear, a coffee mug, or two more books, since I had purchased the required ten books, and it was a Tuesday. Holy cow, could it get any better? Yes, yes it could. I had a total of fourteen books, and still had change left from a twenty-dollar bill!
Since that day I have visited often. One advantage of a used bookstore is that they will usually buy your unwanted books. I know, I know, there is no such thing as an unwanted book! But if you find your shelves a bit overcrowded, it’s nice to be able to trade in a few every now and then. In many small towns you have the benefit of generations of readers that have been collecting for decades, so finding vintage, antique, or first editions is not out of the question.
Even large cities have their gems. I found my most prized tome at a thrift store in Los Angeles. The store was a little run down, definitely on the creepy side, and obviously well picked-through. But I had a whole hour to kill and there wasn’t much else to do while I was waiting to attend a meeting. When I pulled open the glass front door my allergies went into overdrive from a thick waft of dust, but I was undeterred. I glanced first at the dishes—always my first move, since you never know when you might find some old Blue Willow. As I made my way toward the back of the store, I caught sight of an entire wall of books! My eyes watered from the increasing volume of dust in the air, but I felt compelled, as if some invisible force was pulling me into the shelves.
There was no rhyme or reason to the order of the display. Paperbacks were wedged between hard covers. Cookbooks rubbed against romance novels. The books were not only stacked with the spine facing out, but also on top of each other. I have a few very antique-looking books from the 19th century that I use as a decorative display on one of my side tables, so I thought to search for some supple, slightly tattered linen spines. I spied a green sort of tweed cover and pulled it out to inspect. The Egg and I by Betty McDonald, the embossed spine read. A small gilded rooster was all that graced the front cover, and it was absent a dust jacket (like most of the other books there, but oh, the irony of it in this store!). I was familiar with the story, but had never read it. Turning the pages I noticed there was no edition listed…could it be a first edition? For 25¢ it was definitely coming home with me.
I continued to shuffle books around, until I spied a plain, greyish blue book. It was in pretty good shape, obviously old. Four words printed in blue, with artistic swirls cascading down the spine–I caught my breath. My hands started to shake. I had seen photos of it in collector’s articles! My favorite book of all time! I dared touch the four words: GONE WITH THE WIND.
I cracked open the pages to inspect the date of publication. It was indeed a first edition. I ran—yes, ran—to the cashier to pay for my items. I hurried out the door, feeling like a criminal. Like an art thief absconding with the Mona Lisa! I just paid twenty-five cents for a book valued at over a thousand dollars! But even more than that, it was my Holy Grail of books… My personal treasure! I collapsed in a heap on the closest bus stop bench, and opened the plastic shopping bag. It was still there! I quickly closed the bag, lest anyone might see my prize. It was too precious to share in that moment. I had such an adrenaline rush that day, I was almost too exhausted to attend the meeting. All I wanted to do was get home and revel in my discovery.
As you may have already concluded, it has been my experience that browsing used book and thrift stores can be an adventure! There are jewels on those shelves just waiting to be re-discovered. Why not explore one for yourself? You might find a treasure all your own!
Sherri Skanes is an aspiring author, artist, and proud mother of a United States Marine.
You can follow her adventures in life on Twitter.
Do you have a favorite hobby, book series, TV Show, getaway spot or passtime? What brings you joy? Let us know in the comments or tell us on Social Media using #ThingsWeLove