Used Book Stores

November 24, 2010 at 12:00 am 5 comments

Is it just me, or is there something magical about used book stores? There is some ineffable something about them that makes going to one an experience rather than an errand. When you go into any old corporate bookstore, odds are you’re going in for something specific and the odds are equally good that you will emerge some time later with it in hand. That’s what they’re there for, corporate bookstores. They have stock, they have bulk, and they probably have a sale on, particularly at this time of year.

But used book stores. They are something else entirely. In used book stores, you can almost feel the hand of fate stretching out to you. Used book stores are for perusing and magically finding that book you needed but didn’t know you even wanted. Used book stores are about discovery and random chance in a way that big book stores that sell new, shiny, unmolested tomes are simply not. In a used book store, there is always the chance that literally anything could find you. You may go in looking for something specific, but you come out with twelve other books you’re newly in love with.

Since I moved to London, I’ve been exploring the used book stores on offer in the area and my current favorite is called Walden Books (it is totally unaffiliated with the somewhat icky mall chain of the same name in the States). It’s only open Thursday-Sunday, which makes it all the more desirable for its elusiveness. There is a tiny courtyard in front of the store that is filled with rolling carts of shelves that you must move one of to see any of the others. It’s a mess, but mostly filled with old Penguin paperbacks, the sight of which makes my heart sigh happily.

Inside the store is equally cramped and filled to overflowing—I mean this most literally as there are books on top of books, in front of other books, falling off of those books onto the piles of books on the floor, which is liberally littered with, of course, more books and the odd magazine. There isn’t an obvious method of organization, but the shelves are all somewhat labeled with pieces of paper Scotch taped on some years ago and now peeling off.

Unsurprisingly, the proprietor is a stoic middle-aged man who has a positively encyclopedic knowledge of the stock. He isn’t outwardly pleased when you make a purchase, he simply takes mental note, and he doesn’t bother with small talk, only talk about the facts of what he does and does not have. Occasionally there is someone else on hand to watch the outside carts, but more often it’s just the one man. And he’s perfect for the store.

My favorite section is the one marked in letters so far up on the shelf you can hardly read them as “Pocket Classics.” The section starts in tiny shelves above a doorway and winds it way down to the right of the door to the floor. And it is entirely comprised of editions of classic literature that would fit in your pocket. I’m not particularly tall, so anything in the alphabet before “L” is more or less lost to me, but I can happily ogle the bits of the alphabet I have access to. And they’re directly next to a large chuck of pocket Shakespeares in the “Plays” section directly to the right, which is almost a bonus.

If you are ever in London (or if any of you are already!), I highly recommend stopping by. I’ve found some wonderful new book-friends there over the past few months (although I’ve missed some, as the proprietor matter-of-factly informed me that the very book I wanted had been purchased just a few days previously by some mythic Other Reader).

What’s your favorite used book store? I’d love to hear all about your local favorite, so please share in the comments!



Entry filed under: Musings and Essays. Tags: , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  November 24, 2010 at 9:22 am

    This is awesome — that entire paragraph about books and the hand of fate is just beautiful. I envy you your bookstores!

    • 2. Corey  |  November 24, 2010 at 11:54 am

      Aw, thanks! Glad you liked it! If it makes you feel any better, I totally envy your rummage/book sales. They sound so much more amazing than any I’ve ever encountered!

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by cindy koepfer, LiteraryTransgressor. LiteraryTransgressor said: Ah, the used book store…happiness! […]

  • […] and most of them were overpriced, all of which somehow devalued the books and the store for me. Used book stores live on the uniqueness of their stock and that enchants me. Anything else just feels like a […]

  • 5. Bookish Loot « Literary Transgressions  |  December 15, 2010 at 12:10 am

    […] case you can’t make out from the picture, we’ve got Lamb’s Essays on Elia (from Walden Books), Vanity Fair (from the Christmas market), Untrodden Peaks and Unfrequented Valleys by Amelia […]


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