Monday, February 9, 2009


On her blog, Joanne recently asked about where we go for inspiration. I didn't even need a moment to think about it. One of my favorite places to be is in used bookstores. It’s about more than just a love of literature. It’s about holding a book someone else has owned, a book someone cared enough about not to throw away. It’s about being in a place that connects generation to generation, culture to culture, and age to age.

Sometimes I’ll crack open a book to see a cache of forgotten keepsakes: an old bookmark, an old letter, a note in the margin, a name on the inside cover. Once I bought a used book simply because there was a loose photograph of a woman inside. I felt an odd but instant kinship with this woman, choosing to believe she was the previous owner of the book. A hotel cocktail napkin fell out of a book once. It had a name and room number on it. Was there a story there?

Even the term, ‘used bookstore’, conjures up for me instant atmosphere: dusty, un-inventoried, and overflowing shelves to the ceiling; creaky floorboards and irregular lighting; controlled chaos; the lovely musty and heady smell of old books; tilting towers of lettered spines. It’s like a treasure hunt, this browsing and searching for idle hours in a place that seems detached from the rest of the world and where the pace is slow motion. You never know exactly what you’ll find, but the longer you stay, the more you’ll leave with.

I know some who feel used bookstores are beneath them. I, on the other hand, love their worn, disheveled, slightly shabby interiors. As I wander down their treasured aisles of out-of-print books and lost knowledge, it seems to me that more life is able to take root and grow there. When I have to leave, it's always reluctantly.

"It was clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down." — Agatha Christie (1963)


Joanne said...

Oh I love used bookstores. They're a breed unto themselves. Your description perfectly fits our Book Barn here. I once opened a book on Ellis Island to find an old photograph tucked inside and I just knew it was left there to commemorate the woman, the journey she took from the old world, across the sea, past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island. I can only imagine her story.

Sydney said...

Oh I am right there with you. And there are very few books that I feel the need to have new anymore. My favorite haunt is a bit of a jog -- Shakespeare and Co across from Notre Dame. I think like you, I may write up a post about it. I just loved reading it and learning more about you too.

High Desert Diva said...

I love to browse through used bookstores when I'm vacationing...something about finding the unknown, in an unknown place.

Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

The thrill of a treasure hunt. Yippee!

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

They are the best places, aren't they. I love the way they smell, too!

Dave King said...

I can see why it is such an automatic place for you. Our bookstore is not quite that fascinating, but it is one place to go to, certainly.

sizzie said...

A topic near my heart! Although, I find that often here with you, Peggy. And the last photo and the quote fit perfectly. As always, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Poetikat said...

Wow, if they think used bookstores are beheath them, what would they make of my thrift-store scavenging, I wonder?
You should read author, John Dunning's books, Peggy - they are mysteries, but the main character is a rare book collector so the stories usually revolve around books and their world. Fascinating.
I too, will buy a book purely for what I find - or might find within its pages.
Just one more reason why I know you and I would have a fine time together in person.


Poetikat said...

Me again. I just had to say how inviting that photo is. I can imagine perusing at my leisure. A nice cup of tea and a biscuit would finish the scene off nicely.


Bee said...

Words, picture, quotation: all perfect!

I adore well-loved books -- and there is something so charming about finding mementoes from the past, even if it is only a signature. (I also like to leave things in my own books. Particularly postcards or a few little notes.)

The Pink Cowboy said...

oh Dear Comrade, I am one of the bibliopaths of this earth. A book is a treasure. My perfect abode would be a bed in the middle of a grand old library. Some of my best friends are books. MMM I like that phrase. Regards...;-)

Peggy said...

Joanne, I love stories like that... Finding a picture in a book is such a treat!

Sydney, Shakespeare & Co is such a great name for a used bookstore! I love it!

Diva, I agree about being in an unknown place. When I can't find any bookstore, let alone a used one, I feel a great sense of sadness and loss for the community. It's as though its core is missing... no concentration of the wealth of great minds.

Peggy said...

Meri, it is like that, isn't it? A treasure hunt!

Pamela, the smell is so distinctive you can almost taste it. :)

Dave, I believe all used bookstores to be works in progress. I think they have to age. Give it time! :D

Sizzie, it's always nice to see you! Isn't that last quote a doozy? I just love the way it describes the picture.

Peggy said...

Kat, we need to arrange a bookstore-crawling day. Wouldn't that be fun?! As to your second comment, after the tea and biscuit, the only things missing would be you and me. :)

Bee, that's a great idea... leaving your own left-behinds in books. I think I'll start doing that too. It's like paying it forward in a literary sense. Grand idea!

Cowboy, I couldn't agree more. I'd adore a big bed with a big bedside table and a great reading lamp in the middle of a beautiful old library. Mmmm. :)

Poetikat said...

You got it, Peggy - name the date!


willow said...

You KNOW how much I adore them. And your picture looks exactly like it could have been taken at my local favorite, the one I'm always talking about!!