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…