10/10/13 - An Ode to Second-Hand Bookshops

Of all the places in the world, I probably feel most at home in second-hand bookshops.  It could be because I was essentially raised in them; my parents seem to have a finely tuned radar for tracking them down and they have always made up a large portion of family holidays and day trips.  Second-hand bookshops, stately homes and ruined castles - that's my childhood in a nutshell.

There's something about the smell of well-worn and well-loved books, the teetering piles waiting to be shelved, the adventure of searching for something you didn't even know you wanted until you set eyes on it.  My favourite finds are the ones with hand-written dedications; birthday and Christmas messages with relevant dates, sometimes a cryptic little message or inside joke.  I love the idea that this book had a whole life before you came along and found it, hidden in a dusty corner of a little shop in the middle of nowhere.  I like to imagine who received it as a gift, their relationship to the person who gave it to them.  Does the choice of this particular book as a present say anything about how they felt about each other?  Did the recipient like the book, and was that influenced by the fact that it was a gift from that particular person who bought it with them in mind?  Whenever they saw it on their shelf, whenever they opened it and saw the inscription on the title page, did they smile?  I always end up painting these little pictures in my head with most vintage or second-hand items, but books are always the most personal.

Recently, I went for a lovely Saturday afternoon walk with my parents in order to make the most of the unseasonably gorgeous weather we've been having recently.  As part of this walk, we ended up in a local second-hand bookshop where I picked up four of a five volume Penguin set of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories.  I've read many of them before in various collections, but when I saw them with their matching, if rather dated, sixties covers I had to have them!  They worked out at less than £2 each, and when I got home I went straight online to try and find the final copy to complete the set.  They're not in the world's best condition, but that's part of the appeal.

Particularly if you're an English student, second-hand bookshops are an utter godsend.  You can pick up a whole year's reading list for basically nothing and sometimes they even have handy notes written in the margins - take all the help you can get, kids!

So get yourself down to your nearest second-hand bookshop and embark upon the journey of a lifetime.  Give an old book a new lease of life.  Consider it your good deed for the day.

Do you frequent second-hand bookshops?  Tell me about your best purchase in the comments!

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