It’s a bit of a perfect storm, really, of triggered memories and associations: Larry McMurtry’s post on selling second-hand books makes me think about my recent travels out in the American West, which included a small book-shopping spree at a used-book store in Boulder, CO. And thinking about that in turn reminded me that whenever I travel in the US, I find myself obsessively hunting for the nearest used-book store and brewery combo. (Boulder had plenty of both; a week or later, I found myself in another town that did well in both those dimensions: Madison, WI. While we are at it, I might as well make note of two other outstanding cities in this regard: Chicago, IL, and Portland, OR. )
Like any reader with a half-way decent reading career, I’ve frequented second-hand bookstores and have purchased used books for my shelves. Without the used book and its associated stores, my forays into the world of reading would have been considerably less venturesome and rewarding. Indeed, so significant has the used book been in my book reading and purchasing habits that there have been some years that have seen me buy only second-hand books. At those times buying ‘used’ has become a hard-to-break habit; books can come to seem not quite right if they don’t have a ‘read’ look and feel to them. But this tends to be a cyclical thing; I return to only wanting to buy brand-new books, reveling in their biblio-virginity as I carefully transfer them to my shelves.
To explore a travel destination has meant, as noted, the tracking down and mapping of its bookstores, with careful notes made on a variety of desiderata that enable its ranking in the Grand Used Book Store Parade: knowledge and courtesy levels of staff; quality of stock; organization of stacks; the usual suspects. Like a true academic philosophy snob, I also trot out an evaluative criteria all of my own: Does the store stack ‘philosophy’ books with ‘religion and new wave’? Are the ‘philosophy’ books just ‘self-help’ and pop psychology? An affirmative answer to the first question does not sink the store the way an affirmative answer to the second does. (I continue to steadfastly fantasize and daydream about the perfect travel writing assignment: to boldly travel–by plane, train and automobile–from one used bookstore to the next, room and board paid for by a sympathetic, deep-pocketed, commissioning editor at an imaginary book-lovers magazine.)
My shelves, like those of many other bibliophiles, creaks under the weight of unread purchases, and my panicked reckonings of reading speed, number of unread pages, and my life expectancy grow ever more desperate every year. There is only one way to assuage such anxiety: to carefully convince oneself, that in this endeavor, like so many others in our lives, one acts not just for the limited span of our life but for that of others as well. This enables a rather grandiose vision of my dilettantish book purchasing: I am putting together an Inheritance for Future Generations.
That’s the ticket: keep buying, someone will read ’em.