"Well, how is your room?" Jock asked me on the phone. I had just arrived in Eugene, Oregon after a six day train trip that has taken me across the country to the Wordcrafters Conference.
"Guess what I have a view of?"
"Um, a wall?" he ventured. He had listened to me complain endlessly about how disappointed I was in the hotel room that I had in Washington, D.C.
"No, the bookstore!" From my window I had a clear view of Smith Family Bookstore a block from the hotel. Their lovely blue sign stenciled on the brick wall was like a beacon to my soul. Jock commented that I should feel right at home, and given that he has commented on several occasions that he has seen most of the US and parts of the third world through the windows of used bookstores, he is justified.
Other people however, have asked what I could possibly buy at other bookstores, when I own one myself? Well, at Capitol Hill Books (CHB), which I love so much I carefully structured my lay-over in DC to give me time to visit, I am constantly amazed at the stock they receive that we would never get. Since Washington DC is a city with a constantly rotating international population CHB sees European, Asian and colonial editions of books that would never make their way to Wilmington. In addition their theatre script section reflects the rotations through the Kennedy Center and the National Theatre so they tend to have a much more current selection of shows than we would find. Case in point I picked up Tom Stoppard’s latest play script for $7.00.
So what is it I look for at a used bookstore? Primarily things that are out of print that we don't tend to see in Wilmington, NC. Like many people in the book world, I have certain things I collect: Edith Wharton, first editions of Gore Vidal and James Baldwin, post-colonial play scripts, obscure counter-culture literature, etc. Even more so, I love many mystery series that are out of print, especially Sharon Kay Penman's Justin De Quincy books. I found one at Capitol Hill books in D.C. and another at Smith Family in Eugene. A couple of Edward Abbey’s out of print minor works and some of Penman's older and hard to find historical fiction all came home with me. I think part of it is the need to continue the hunt - because though the reading of the books is fun - the thrill of the hunt is even more fun. Also, to be blunt, visiting other serious bookstores connects me with my colleagues in this strange world. We are all fighting skirmish-like battles in our little corner of the world to survive –but because we are all independent and usually tucked away in our own stores we don’t connect that often. IT is good to connect and see what is happening elsewhere, how others are responding to looming problems and preparing for the next step. In addition these journeys remind me that the ongoing game of Tetris that we play with boxes to unpack and move is not limited to us. It is the hallmark of a good used bookstore: that there is more to come and always another treasure to be found in the next box.