The bankruptcy of Borders puts another nail in the coffin of the big box bookstores. As a reader, there’s nothing better than browsing the stacks and looking for new books to discover. I admit, I love the sheer volume of books available in places like Borders and Barnes and Noble, and the combination of books and a café is appealing. But the cost of a new book is often a deterrent for me. And if you’re looking for an older, less popular book, or something by an indie publisher, you have little chance of finding it.
Used bookstores, on the other hand, are a book lover’s paradise. Books for a quarter? I’ll take a dozen, please! I got hooked on SF/fantasy through used bookstores. I didn’t read much genre fiction as a kid, and I’m embarrassed to admit that when I initially picked up The Hobbit, it bored me (both The Hobbit and LOTR are now favorites, though). The first SF/fantasy books I tried to read were a jumble of confusing names and places, so I gave up on them for a while. Some friends in college successfully reintroduced me to the genre, and then after college a friend who shared my love of fantasy and creepy tales took me to his favorite used bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island. (Note: the year was 1996 or so, before Google and Amazon.) The best part about this
bookstore was its amazing SF/fantasy section. What better place to be introduced to H.P. Lovecraft than in his hometown? I started with The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and At The Mountains of Madness and immediately became a fan, drawn in by the lush, descriptive language and bizarre and wondrous creatures. It’s sad to think that Lovecraft would probably never be published today, with the prevailing belief that readers don’t have the patience to wade through that kind of prose. I actually prefer reading authors who really care about the craft of language in addition to telling a great story. From Lovecraft, I moved onto Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and The October Country, Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, and C.L Moore’s Jirel of Joiry. This bookstore also had a number of books that had been part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in the 60s and 70s, with beautiful cover art. I splurged on some of the short story collections edited by Lin Carter, partly because I loved the covers.
Not only did these books make me a fan of the genre, they also raised the bar pretty high for used bookstores. After that, I tended to judge a used bookstore by the quality of its SF/fantasy section. I’ve found a few good ones over the years, including one in Boston that was solely devoted to genre fiction, but none that ever matched the store in Providence.
Eventually my bookshelves filled up and the backlog of books to read became a bit overwhelming. I started to avoid the temptation of used bookstores. Then the big bookstores popped up everywhere, driving out the independents. Now the future of print books themselves seems to be at stake. You can download a book to your e-reader with the touch of a button without even getting up off your couch. I see the appeal in bringing an e-reader on vacation rather than lugging several books around, but I’ve rarely browsed for books online. It just doesn’t have the same appeal as perusing the musty shelves and pulling out a book to read the back cover blurb, admire the artwork, and flip through the pages.
But I’m a throwback. I drive a stick shift, use a Mac (okay, maybe Macs are trendy these days), and I don’t even own an e-reader—yet. I’m a reader and an author and a book lover, and I’m proud to display my love for the genre in the form of well-worn paperbacks. Those pretty book covers don’t look nearly as nice on your Kindle.
What about you? What kind of fun experiences have you had with used bookstores? Let us know in the comments!
Cindy Young-Turner is the author of Thief of Hope, a fantasy novel published by Crescent Moon Press. Check out her website.
Sydney, a street urchin and pickpocket in the town of Last Hope, has managed to evade the oppressive Guild for years, but there is no escaping fate when she’s sentenced to death for associating with the resistance. After she’s rescued by a wizard, Sydney is forced to accept that magic-long outlawed throughout the Kingdom of Thanumor-still exists, and the Tuatha, a powerful faery folk, are much more than ancient myth and legend. When the wizard offers a chance to fight the Guild and bring Willem, bastard prince and champion of the Tuatha, to the throne, Sydney embraces the cause as a way to find her own redemption. But Sydney’s fear of the Guild, distrust of authority, and surprising connection to the Tuatha threaten Willem’s success. Can she untangle the strange threads that entwine her life not only to the fate of the kingdom, but also to Willem himself?