Jul 13, 2008

Meme: Doomsday

I've paraphrased this question, go to Booking Through Thursday for the entire thing:

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable, with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

I support my reading habit through several sources: the local library, online swapping sites and used bookstores. If my local library burned down, that would be awful. I love libraries. This one is in walking distance, so I'd have to drive to the next closest library (still in town) and only go on weekends when I have the car. I'd certainly volunteer and help restore the library if I could. But I'd feel worse about the loss of an entire library than its immediate inconvenience to me. It would not stall my reading much as I am currently wading through a huge pile of books I acquired at The Book Thing right before we moved. And the occasional one arrives in the mail from Paperback Swap. There's also a thrift store nearby where I pick up books sometimes.

It seems to me that used bookstores are slowly dying off, and that makes me very sad. I can't afford to buy books new, and I love poking around used shops with their narrow aisles, piles of books overflowing off the shelves, fellow patrons with that familiar crick in the neck scanning titles for their next treasure. But when I lived in San Francisco, I saw three or four used bookshops go out of business. I did get lots of books at their final sales, but felt terrible looking at all the rest still crammed on the shelves: what would happen to all those poor books? More recently, when we lived in Fairfax, I searched futilely for a used bookstore nearby. We lived in an area full of wide busy roads, and strip malls or "shopping plazas" everywhere. None of them had a used bookstore. I finally found one in the next town, a half-hour drive. I was thrilled when the guy there gave me a paper listing used bookstores in the area- until he began to tell me which ones to cross off, because they'd closed in the past few years. None of the remaining ones were in driving distance. Such a shame. I haven't even looked for a used bookstore in my new town, yet. I must soon, if only to help them stay in business by being a patron!

On the other hand, it is easier than ever to find books online- I can search and find almost any title I want, I just have to be willing to pay the extra cost of shipping. And trust the book will stand up to its description! It's so much more satisfactory to turn a book over in your hand before purchasing it. I usually buy books for keeps, so I'm picky about their condition. Is the spine tight, are there loose pages, does it have a funny smell? Did someone underline the text, dog-ear the pages or leave a coffee ring? Do I like the cover design, are there interior illustrations, is the text hard to read? All things to consider, that you can't always know via the computer. So I don't buy many books online- yet.

Hm, I think I've strayed quite a bit from the original question, but it was fun.


  1. The economics of used bookstores is getting increasingly difficult. Beyond internet competition (where the condition of the used book can vary wildly from the description) the main concern is rent prices and landlord willingness to rent to a used bookstore. Our store in Charlottesville's lease will be up in 2 years and I fear that, after 30 years in the same shopping center, we will not be able to afford the expected 50% increase the new owners have been levying on the other merchants.

    I was lucky to find a willing landlord to open our second store in Richmond a few years ago and hope to do the same in C'ville when the time comes.

  2. I love used bookstores, and I go to ours as often as I can. I find it a great way to get books that are out of print , older editions, etc. I've worked in Ottawa's oldest used bookstore when I first moved here, and I learned alot about older books that way. Then I moved to a new bookstore to work, and learned even more there. I don't know what I'd do if the current bookstores I go to, both independents, closed. I do shop at Chapters (like your Barnes and Nobles) and have just discovered Amazon online, but i'm like you - I prefer to support independent bookstores, used book stores, before buying online, because I love to feel the book in my hand, look at the cover, and lovingly pay for it and bring it home. Great post/answer to the question, Jeanne!


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