Thursday, October 05, 2006

Get Used

I'm not a big fan of shopping, and I'm even less interested in recreational shopping, but given the choice of spending an afternoon browsing around a great library or a great used book store, there's a good chance I'd pick the book store. Michelle and I took Tuesday off in honor of my birthday, and spent some time at Cellar Stories, Rhode Island's largest used book store. I've been to the store a couple times now, and it's definitely a top-shelf used book store.

I've spent a lot of time in used book stores across our great nation, and I've come up with a list of things to look for and to watch out for when shopping for used books. First, the things to look for:

  • Clutter: A used book store should be cluttered. There should be more books than shelf space. Boxes of uncategorized books lying around are always a plus. Books and Memories in Syracuse is probably the most cluttered used book store I've ever seen. I have no problem with that, but I wouldn't complain if they decided to tidy up a little bit.

  • Oddity: There should be a good selection of odds and ends of dubious historical and/or literary value. Appliance repair manuals from the 1950s, books predicting the extinction of all mammals by 1987, etc.

  • Pulp: All great used book stores should have a prominent collection of pulp novels. Here's a good example. Note: I've never read this book, but I did stumble upon it at a used book store in Oak Park, IL and the title has stuck with me.

Things to watch out for:

  • Customers: Used book stores should be empty. Frankly, I have no idea how any of them stay in business. If there are a lot of customers in a used book store, it's probably because it's maintaining an acceptable level of neatness and/or refusing to shelve books that no sane person would ever want to read or purchase.

  • Decor: The less effort put into the aesthetics of a used book store, the better. Be wary of any store smelling of fresh paint. Ideally, all vertical surfaces in the store should be covered in shelves that reach from the floor to as close to the ceiling as possible. If the store has any furniture, it should be uncomfortable, used, and at least 30 years old.

  • New Books: It's very hard to run a new & used book store that preserves the used book store look and feel. Powells Books does a good job of it, but most stores can't pull this one off and probably shouldn't try (unless they want to make money, or something).

I'll end on a PSA in case this post has actually inspired someone to visit a used book store for the first time. The sale price for a used book is always written in pencil in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the book. Any book store that fails to observe this convention is not a used book store, regardless of the ownership history of the books they are selling.

1 comment:

MDS said...

Why no mention of Acres of Books in Long Beach, California?