Winning the lottery every time in a second hand bookshop


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After another excruciating day of lessons, one of my students showed remarkable enthusiasm for a book buying spree and asked if I could direct her to a certain second hand bookshop that I had been waxing lyrical about for the past few months. I think it is only the third or fourth time in my life that I have been asked for directions to a bookshop. People generally ask for the local underground station or the way to a monument or sight, a restaurant or bar – but a bookshop, rarely.

So off we toddled, spring in my step bordering on a bounce, torrential excitement mounting as we headed towards what I consider hallowed ground. The thing about a second hand bookshop is that it always feels like I am playing the lottery and winning every time. In a regular bookshop, one is safe in the knowledge that it will indubitably hold one or more books that one will want to buy. It is tedium of sorts – books that are recommended by publishers, best seller tables, organised, well lit and smelling of raw ink and paper – books that have never been read, pristine and prosaic. However, with a second hand bookshop I have the mysterious feeling of entering a treasure trove and having to sift through it to find the one (or three in this case) that I can carry out with me.

The nearer we got to the bookshop, the more excited I became and as we entered, I had the feeling that I was entering Aladdin’s cave. I love this second hand bookshop, mainly because it is not organised as well as it should be, in the normal retailing sense, and thus offers a voyage of discovery upon every visit. It’s a small shop with a high turnover and seldom does one find the same book on two consecutive visits. There are boxes of books lying on the floor, ready to be shelved, dimly lit with a sales person who has their headphones plugged in and reading, dare I say it, a magazine. The whole effect is a little dingy – located in a back alley, nestled in the nook of a decrepit building next to a “Second Hand Bob Marley Record Store.”  Nevertheless, upon entering one has a sense of pearly gates parting, authors beatified and walking among giants.

I like… no that is too trite and “love” is too common – I lust after buying second hand books. Lust, delight, love, all rolled into one. Second hand books are a rapture because I feel they have a story of their own apart from what is written within. Who bought them? Where? What did they feel when they were reading them? Of discovering old receipts from airports inside jacket covers, of messages and torn bookmarks and lives lived by others while they were reading. Character has been added by rain, stuffing into pockets, coffee stains and sometimes, not very often, pencil marks. My imagination runs amok just by looking at the book, tracing its life through previous owners – was it sold or given away, was it left as a gift? So many questions for which there are no concrete answers – a world has to be invented and curiosity sated.

I would urge you to buy all your books from a second hand bookshop for apart from the obvious environmental benefits, who knows what treasures you might come across and where your own imagination might take you…


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12 comments

    1. Thanks, getting through Bulgakov right now and can’t decide which one to start next… it’s like having too many sweets to choose from!

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  1. I found a few good ones when my library has a book sale or gives them away free. I love when they have notes in them. I always write in my books. That’s why I hate borrowing them from a library. You can’t write in them.

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    1. I knooooww… Writing in them, using them as opposed to just putting them on the shelf, that is definitely my favourite pastime. You are lucky, I live in Budapest and libraries are all Hungarian so no book sales, however the upside is discovering little booksellers with the odd English title in the old parts of town…

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      1. Wow, that would be rough for sure. I love books. In high school I always had a book, a dictionary, and a journal on me at all times (explains my lack of popularity). I loved it. I’ve been in a book-block lately, if that makes sense. Can’t decide what to read next and I’m not in the mood to re-read something.

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      2. Well… I would suggest Julian Barnes’s “Sense of an Ending” – in fact I can’t recommend it enough. I felt like that lately, trying to finish Master and Margherita was a chore but one that paid off in the end. Like you I get book-moody, if you can understand that sentiment…

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      3. Pleasure and do let me know if you like it… It is flawless. The writing is perfect, so perfect that it makes me retch with jealousy!

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      4. I know what you mean… But you know that jealousy that comes from admiration. The wish to be able to create something so awesome. I guess I am probably too much of a perfectionist.

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