Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Unexpected Joy Of Second-Hand Bookshops

Dusty Shelves

 An article in The Telegraph by  Theodore Dalrymple says much about the love some individuals, including this writer, have for second-hand bookshops and about their decline in the face of a public who like only new objects of acquisition, which includes, of course, books. Yet, there remain a few stalwarts who resist modern convention for reasons that only such species will understand.

Dalrymple  writes:
How many hours, among the happiest of my life, have I spent in the dusty, damp or dismal purlieus of second-hand bookshops, where mummified silverfish, faded pressed flowers and very occasionally love letters are to be found in books long undisturbed on their shelves. With what delight do I find the word ''scarce’’ pencilled in on the flyleaf by the bookseller, though the fact that the book has remained unsold for years, possibly decades, suggests that purchasers are scarcer still.
Alas, second-hand bookshops are closing daily, driven out of business by the combination of a general decline in reading, the internet and that most characteristic of all modern British institutions, the charity shop. Booksellers tell me that 90 per cent of their overheads arise from their shops, and 90 per cent of their sales from the internet. Except for the true antiquarian dealers, whose customers are aficionados of the first state and the misprint on page 287, second-hand bookshops make less and less economic sense.
Second-hand booksellers are not in it for the money, of course: it is probably easier to make a good living on social security. The booksellers love books, though not necessarily their purchasers, and in their way are learned men. When they have been in the trade for many years they know everything about books except, possibly, their content. Possessed of astonishing memories, they say things like “I haven’t seen another copy since 1978”. Some of them seem destined to be mummified among their books like the silverfish, and probably cannot conceive of a better way to die.
A good part of my collection has come from such shops; and I have met my share of cantankerous, if not helpful, book-shop owners. I have always made it a point when visiting a new city to find a few second-hand shops. I have rarely been disappointed. Part of the joy is to find the unexpected, to sit in the stacks and find a book that you normally would not have initially purchased. You read a few pages, including the previous owners' scribbles. A second-hand book that can be had for a few dollars makes such acquisitions painless and fun.
 
You can read the rest of the article at [The Telegraph]