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I was about 12 or 13 years old when I first discovered the magic of used books. It turns out, unbeknownst to me, that there was a second-hand bookstore in the little shopping district down the street from our house that had been there for decades. My parents never did their shopping there, so the first time I set foot there was when a friend from the neighborhood convinced me to go with him and get a book for his mother. (It was called “The Booktique.” At the time, I thought it was extremely smart. Now, a little cheesy.)
I came back a few times on my own, buying Garfield comics and later a John Grisham paperback, since that’s what I was that summer. It closed the following year, which in retrospect was not surprising – the selection and interior had not kept up with the 21st century. But that didn’t happen until I found their collection of old National Geographic magazines, that’s when I suddenly decided that I was going to own all the back issues known to man of this magazine. The oldest I found there was from 1984, and the oldest I ever found was from 1975, but you would have thought I had found gold for how much I thought it would be worth. (I hadn’t spent more than a dollar on them and most weren’t in very good shape, so probably not much, honey.)
The point is that finding old selections of National Geographic This is what really introduced me to the vast world of used books. It wasn’t that I was really interested in the magazines themselves; I just liked owning something that was either vintage or out of print and therefore hard to find elsewhere, or not at all. Maybe I would never have found this copy of this book if I hadn’t decided to come to that second-hand bookstore that day. After “The Booktique” closed, I visited regularly two Book Markets, a Canadian chain of second-hand bookstores, where I found some out of print gems. But the world of second-hand books was one that would eventually disappear completely from my suburb, just three years after I discovered it.
Once I started commuting to town every day for college, a few months after I started school, I started looking for the best second-hand bookstores to visit, as I knew that ‘there had to be a much wider choice. It took a few years, but I managed to visit almost all of them, one of which I like to come back to regularly. (I came back for the first time in two years this summer thanks to Miss Rona.) Over time, I learned that I didn’t necessarily have to find or buy anything in these stores; it was just a matter of being around books that previously belonged to someone else and that contained their own form of magic. In a world that has become very digital very quickly, second-hand bookstores continue to provide a necessary portal to the past, a portal that might contain knowledge that is still useful to us in the present.
Personally, as an old soul who has always enjoyed pop culture from times before I was born, I like to search secondhand bookstores for out of print coffee table style books that might contain some incredibly dated information, but an enlightening view of the prospect of a bygone era. I’m not saying I would follow life advice based on the sometimes harmful misinformation found in out of print books (read: racism), but I have always found it interesting to see how decades past touched on certain topics, if any.
My local library also has regular used book sales and while I didn’t find much of outdated pop culture books there, I found one that inspired me to incorporate it into an original work of creative non-fiction. It was called The book of ages, which has acted as a sort of encyclopedia of what is expected of humans at all ages and stages of life. Some of them were hopelessly dated, while others held up remarkably well. Using a prompt from a creative writing workshop I had attended, I did something that showed the ways the book had aged well and the ways it had not aged – this which is true for almost everything, since nothing can hold perfectly over time. (unless we are talking about The breakfast club, which somehow remains effortless with each passing era.)
Either way, used books remain a vital source of literary knowledge and can serve as a refuge for those who might feel out of place in their days of growing up and aspire to explore the worlds and cultures of in the past. Something common often among used book enthusiasts is words written in books by previous owners, especially when the words seem sentimental. (Is the owner dead? Did they fall out and now hate the bitch who gave them the book? I need ANSWERS, Maureen!) I firmly believe in the idea that books have their own magical ways of choosing to come into our lives when we need them most. And since second-hand books tend to be all the more valuable because there may only be one, this magic is all the more true.