I know that there are so many other resources available at this point in time with which to obtain information, but I have a never ending list of reasons why I love a good used book. Given the fact that my favorite used bookstores are disappearing across the country I feel the need to shed light and re-enliven a dying industry. That is not to say that I think I am single-handedly capable of saving said industry, rather that I would be amiss if I did not even try. So this here is a collection of the reasons why I personally love used book.
First things first let’s start with libraries. Because where you get your books matters as much as the books themselves. Libraries are like snowflakes each one unique and beautiful in its own right. Growing up in cities the library’s I grew up in were architectural feats with grand stairways, marble columns, statues, and stained glass. Places where you could feel the dedication and love of literature brought to an aesthetic state through architecture. Places with shelves so high they seemed to touch the sky and plenty of cozy nooks and cranes to snuggle up with a good read.
I then traveled around Europe and I fell in love with the libraries of Norway. Not because of architecture or for the expression of art through stone but rather because of the spirit of collaboration and unity through literature. In Norway nobody needs a library card in order to take a book out. You don’t even need to be a citizen of the country, you only need to have a thirst for knowledge. I was blown away by this idea, that where you live would not determine the access that you have too books. In fact there was one day where I was backpacking lost in a country where I did not speak the language and walked into a library after hours. The librarian stayed there and kept the place open so that I could use the computer and make a plan for the evening. I was touched by the sense of servitude to the greater good.
And then I moved to Vermont and the word library took on new meaning. In Vermont a library may be a ”take one and leave one shelf” at a general store, a drawer at the doctors office, a spare shed, or a collection of 20 books sheltered on a trail. Much like the essence of the state it feels like it has been taken into the hands of the people and not a show but rather the God honest truth of the region. Given the rural location of where I live the little libraries themselves contribute much to the cultural life of the community. I can often be found at a movie night, or story hour, or puppet show offered free of charge.
Now when you would prefer to own a book there of course are book stores. There are your mainstream atrocities with ghastly prices and lighting or there are the tucked away treasures that run purely on a love of words. Where the person behind the counter is probably reading a book, where the is a recommendation section in the front and over a time you get to a know a person by reading some of their favorite words, where there is a cozy section for children and playing and interacting of all ages is encouraged. I love when new and used books are sold side by side. I think there is something beautiful when something second hand book is elevated and put up front with new items rather than being sent to a second-hand shop where the book section is a thing that happens amongst the chaos rather than being the main attraction.
Then there is the rarest of all the jams, a full on the used bookstore. They have all of the creative imagery and dark looming corners of a Disney movie. In my experience most of these venues look the same, there is little to no decoration, no storefront window to draw you in. You’re brought there by curiosity or a search for a specific product that you know a specific person can help you with. There are shelves with seemingly little order or direction to them. Their are stacks of books left on the floor, perhaps from a previous customer who very zealously thought they would take them home or perhaps from an organizational process left halfway through. Despite these seemingly hectic circumstances if you ask the proprietor of the shop for direction they will know exactly where to find the book you’re looking for even if it happens to be in one of the stacks of books on the floor. This never ceases to amaze me.
I will say that at times I do order used books online. And while I lose the experience of going to an actual shop for the item I need, it does not in anyway diminish the joy experience upon opening that book for the first time. I love seeing a dogeared page and wondering where a person stopped. Or the notes taken along the margins in someone else hand, an in-depth analysis by someone I will never meet. But striking treasure is when you find an old bookmark. Be it a boarding pass, or a gum wrapper or some foreign money parentheses as seen above parentheses that somebody took their personal relationship to the piece of paper that I am now holding. But streaking treasure is when you find an old bookmark. Be it an old gum wrapper, boarding pass, or some foreign money (the featured photo was found in a used copy of Tom Robbins “Ducks Flying Backwards”).
Then are the ways a used book speaks to the senses as well. There is the color of a page worn with time or having survived water damage. There is the smell of a book, one that smells of childhood, or of a particular place or a past lover. There is the feel of a page well worn.
For all of these reasons and more, I have been known to pass my books on to people. In fact, I would say about 75% of people that come into our house leave with a book bequeathed by me or my husband. That I lend books with the encouragement to write in them, that I leave particular notes for people in a book, that I pass on my own enthusiasm to the next reader. I humbly believe that when you share a book with someone you share a piece of yourself with them.