We didn't buy books in every store we visited, but we did enjoy the hunt as we sifted through who knows how many books in those 21 stores. And amidst it all, a few truisms seemed apparent. Yes, if you can believe it, lessons learned (or reinforced) in used bookstores. The simple morals of the bookstore story...
- Everyone likes to find a surprise under the tree at Christmas, and that's the way you sometimes feel when you see that certain out-of-print title staring at you from a shelf in the back corner of a crowded store - or up a ladder on a top shelf, or in a pile on the floor, or right in front of you as you step up to look! In one store, I crouched down to look into a short little glass-doored shelving unit, and one of the books behind the door might as well have had a bow on it! It was a treat to discover!
- "What? More words?" (General Allenby in the film, "Lawrence of Arabia"). There isn't necessarily greater wisdom in an abundance of words, just as piles of dusty abandoned books don't necessarily make a better used bookstore. Time after time we found that the vastly bigger bookstores did not necessarily have more books that we wanted to buy, but instead had too many books that nobody wanted to buy! Bigger isn't always better, and the humble store of 30,000 titles may be in far greater touch with what you as a customer are looking for.
- If you're hungry for words that give life, you're likely to get hungrier looking in a used bookstore. We found the lack of Christian content (amidst a good deal of other spiritual content) in most of the stores we visited to be surprising and disheartening. Whether it's a reflection of bookstore owners having their own spiritual bias, or an owner simply not wanting to invest in what they know customers are no longer looking for, there either very little Christ-exalting material in most used bookstores, and if there is, it's often nothing but old obscure books that look like they've been on the shelves too long.
- Be diligent in your seeking, but don't be reluctant to seek help. There's certainly a thrill in finding something on your own, and there are often staff who don't have a clue what's in their shelves, making it necessary to search diligently if you want to be sure you haven't left a gem behind. But some staff know more about how to find what you're looking for than you do. And sometimes we'll miss finding it if we try to go it alone.
- "You gotta know when to walk away, and know when to run!" (Kenny Rogers, "The Gambler"). It's called price too high, value too low. I've walked away from many a used book that I really wanted because I knew it was priced way too high for something too unnecessary in my life (even for an avid book collector). Besides, a cheaper version may be in the very next store!
- Write it down. If you're a frequenter of used bookstores, keep a list in your wallet of the books you're looking for. Memories are unreliable, and nothing will muddle your memory more than a room filled floor to ceiling with books, books and more books!
- Holidays are for what you never have time for any other time, and if you've read this post this far, it's because you too love used books. Make a visit to a used bookstore wherever you may go on your holidays! Checking store locations is one of the first things I check online before taking a trip. I wish we had a selfie from each of them, but the image above includes most of the stores we visited this year (and also includes Munro's, a new bookstore in Victoria that we visited long ago on our honeymoon, so we had to go back again while visiting Victoria).