(Wo)Man vs. Books

On the content of and decision making in used bookstores.

I have been known to get into heated discussions over the Kindle, and it’s cousin the Nook. I don’t own either one but have no problems interrogating a stranger on the benefits of the device. So you can keep five books in your bag, and I can’t fit more than two. I see your slim and sexy packaging in that designer bag of yours. Are you reading a classic, too? Nothing says e-books like Louis Vouitton and Charles Dickens.

Books are my guilty pleasure. It is a hands-on, all senses alert. There is the feel of a crisp page, the snap of a new spine, the smell of ink and the sight of words. New books, old books, paperback, hardcover, from the library or from the store. Crime, comedy, murder, mystery. From E.B. White to Ernest Hemingway, I am a full blown bibliophile.

photo courtesy of Bookshop Blog

So it should come as no surprise that I support used bookstores. My mother and I have a confirmed Barnes & Noble addiction, complete with membership, and can often be found loitering at the friendly neighborhood BN. Now that the Midwest has taken that away from me (I am an HOUR from the closest one & 800 miles from my mother) – I find myself turning toward local bookstores.

This phenomenon has carried over from my travels, where I frequently sought out bookshops that would take the books I’d read and offer me credit toward a stack of secondhand books. I had superb luck in Budapest and Prague, and no luck in Seville, and am just starting to examine the goods at hand in Charleston, IL .. with occasional detours to book heaven in Chicago.

Last weekend I went to nearby Mattoon (Matt-Toon) and opted for the Book Loft, just down the corner from the train station and across the street from a firearms store (yes, really). It turns out to be a fully stocked, delightful place with its fair share of romance novels, Westerns, and Bibles. I buzz through to the contemporary section and snatch one, two, three books off the shelves. I act like I don’t want a fourth one, but I do – so that comes too. Am I looking for specific titles? Not necessarily .. but I’d know it if I saw it. Wandering through all the purple jacketed Jude Deveraux and the curly script spines of Nora Roberts, I look away from those and on toward my next big read. The smell of dust, ink and mothballs is overwhelming.

At the counter I turn over two books for credit (Einstein Girl and Icy Sparks), and stack up my four: Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, Andre Dubus’ House of Sand and Fog and Mr. Hemingway’s Moveable Feast. In the scratch of a #2 pencil on the inside cover, the most expensive book is $6.00. The cheapest is $2.50.

The cashier smiles politely, and tallies up my contribution with great precision on a handheld calculator. Each book going home with me is documented in his careful penmanship in a spiral bound notebook by author and title. He tilts his head at me and says “you know, if you continue exponentially, next time you’ll walk out of here with eight books!” I smile at this kindred spirit and think, why yes sir .. I will.


One thought on “(Wo)Man vs. Books

  1. How, HOW did I miss this post last week!? One great thing about the Midwest is locally-run bookstores. I could have spent hours NOT studying but peruising the Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City. And I’ll have you know there’s a cool bookstore in Seville with artsy, off-beat books.

    And you can really say you’ve lived in the Midwest when you’ve been to Mattoon, qué pasada!!!!


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